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Interview: Pogo GM Marchetti On Getting Casually Sticky

Electronic Arts' casual game site Pogo.com has a new GM, Michael Marchetti, and is expanding its microtransaction business model to include game access and avatar items -- we talk to Marchetti about reach, plans.
Electronic Arts' long-running casual game site Pogo.com has a new General Manager, Michael Marchetti, and is expanding on-site avatars to its entire community -- we talk to Marchetti about the site's business model and plans. The EA division's announcement is that Pogo Minis, customizable avatars previously only available to those who paid a monthly subscription to Club Pogo, are now available to the general Pogo.com community. In addition, a number of popular Club Pogo games and subscription-exclusive avatar items are now available to the general public for microtransaction purchase, allowing a la carte purchasing of access to some individual games on the site. However, the new hybrid business model still has significant advantages for those paying $6 monthly or $40 yearly for Club Pogo membership, since they will get all 40+ exclusive games and access to pets, badges, and other feature. Gamasutra spoke to GM Marchetti about the change to the site, its current reach and stickiness metrics, and balancing the needs of subscribers with those who want to pay for more limited content: Michael, you recently came on as the new head of Pogo. What’s your vision for the future of the site? Michael Marchetti: I'm really fortunate to be able to lead Pogo, one of the true pioneers in the casual games business. Pogo has done an amazing job over the past 10 years. They've established a great community that appeals to an often under-served demographic in the games industry -- the 35+ female market -- and created games that are accessible and a lot of fun to play. I want to build on an already solid foundation and work with the Pogo team to create opportunities for new players to discover Pogo games as well as for Pogo players to play their favorite games in new ways. Pogo focuses on its own games rather than collecting games from various developers -- this is a bit different to most casual sites. Can you talk about why? What’s the advantage? MM: The advantage is that we are able to create games that are tailor-made to our audience and our unique offering. We have an incredibly talented internal development team that is passionate about building high quality games for Pogo. Our games contain several community features including the ability to earn tokens, ranks and if you are a Club Pogo member, badges which players get by completing weekly game play challenges. These features are just as important to our community than the number of games on the site. Having said that, we do host several downloadable games on Pogo.com that are from other developers and are exploring ways to bring appropriate titles onto the site. How is Pogo doing these days -- in EA’s view? MM: I can't comment on how we are doing financially, however, I can say that Pogo.com continues to be the stickiest site on the web, with over 16 million people visiting each month spending almost six billion minutes per month. Our strategic partnership with Hasbro has allowed us to bring some of the most popular and beloved games to Pogo like Monopoly, Yahtzee and Trivial Pursuit, which our players are really responding to positively. There is a lot more competition in the market than previously -- what niche does Pogo fill? How does it stand out? MM: Pogo has an incredible community. We get emails daily from Pogo players about what the site and the community means to them. We get wedding pictures from people that fell in love while playing on Pogo as well as heartfelt letters about how meeting new friends online helped them through a rough time in their life. Having a great place to play fun and engaging games is important, however, having a site where people can connect and share is priceless and is what makes Pogo a truly unique place to play games. Is the Pogo audience still growing? MM: Yes. Traffic to Pogo continues to grow both in the US and Internationally. World wide traffic in February was up 26% year-on-year, from 13.3 million unique visitors to 16.8 million unique visitors. The new avatar system -- what does that contribute to the Pogo site? MM: Pogo Minis were once exclusively reserved for our Club Pogo audience. For them it was a way to express themselves and their personality to the rest of the Pogo. It got so popular that we established "Amazing Mini" events on the site several times a week where players gather into a game to show off their Mini to each other. We wanted to extend that excitement and personalization to the rest of Pogo. Can you talk about the decision to open up some of the Club Pogo items to the free audience? What prompted this? MM: We are constantly evaluating ways to make the site better. We decided to include Pogo Minis in the free site because it was a key factor in making the Club Pogo community tight-knit. We wanted to allow the 16 million visitors on the site to experience more of the community and personalization that makes Pogo so great. We are hoping that this will allow for more players to express themselves and connect with others. As for the Club Pogo Premium Game Tickets, we wanted to provide a way for the free players to have a taste of Club Pogo without the commitment of having a subscription. We wanted to give our players more options on how they customize their gaming experience and connect with the community. How do you strike the right balance between encouraging subscriptions and retaining them, and providing access to your best features to the broadest audience? MM: We have to walk a fine line with providing access to premium features to a broad audience while still keeping our loyal Club Pogo audience happy. We have a constant dialogue with our community and their feedback often makes it into design and production decisions. We will continue to add exclusive content and premium features that are only available to Club Pogo members.

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