Why EA Added Dr. Kathleen to Pogo — and Why You Should Care

drkathleen-mini.jpgWhile Electronic Arts provoked a lot of conversation over the excessive purchase price of hardcore gaming studio Pandemic/BioWare last week, I think a quieter move by EA deserves about as much attention: They recently added a very curious feature to Pogo, its casual gaming site, and it’s not a game — it’s “Stress Queen” Dr. Kathleen Hall.

Hall, who has her own weekly radio show, “Live with Dr. Kathleen Hall,” and whose guest appearances include “Martha Stewart Radio” and “Oprah and Friends,” will answer questions from Pogo players via email in Dr. Kathleen’s Korner. Players can also participate on her co-branded casual game site, Take 5 to Play.

Why is this feature so important? Well, consider Pogo’s popularity compared to a game studio like Pandemic/BioWare or a social network like Facebook:

Last August, according to Comscore, Pogo boasted 13 million monthly active users, averaging 45 minutes of site activity a day. Internet darling Facebook receives disproportionate coverage with 18 million active monthly users in August, but last May, was averaging just 186 minutes in activity a month. The top games from Pandemic/Bioware, which EA just bought for $860 million, attract just a million or so players.

Demographically, 58 percent of Pogo’s users are women over the age of 35, according to EA’s Honey Hamilton, making the audience very comparable to Oprah fans. But while the movie industry and book publishers rightly bow at the feet of Oprah and her audience, the game and Internet industry’s interest in Pogo seems muted at best. Why do we read so little about Pogo in the tech media? Why is it not discussed much at game developer conferences? It can’t be for lack of mass audience appeal, so from a business standpoint, this relative inattention is inexplicable. (Except, perhaps, as evidence of latent and self-destructive sexism.)

EA’s (ERTS) unlikely collaboration with a stress expert came about after Pogo executives met Hall at a panel discussion on how to reach the Boomer demographic.

“Her message and expertise about play and its critical nature in stress reduction and living a balanced life struck a chord with us,” Hamilton told me. “Many of our players go online to play games, connect with friends, and take a break from the stress they face every day.” They worked with Hall to feature games in Dr. Kathleen’s Korner that emphasize this theme, like Poppit! “It shows a stressed-out cactus named Spike under tremendous pressure and stress,” Hamilton explained. “As the player progresses through the game, Spike’s stress melts away and he becomes more relaxed.”

If all goes as hoped, the addition of Hall should succeed in building Pogo’s user base while increasing its already spectacular stickiness. I’ll be watching this experiment closely — though I have to wonder how many others in the Internet biz will be watching with me.

Image credit: Pogo.com.