To The Masses
"What we needed was an industry leader to step up," said Kathy Vrabeck, head of EA's casual division, describing her company's effort to snare the 2 billion casual customers they expect are waiting in the wings, begging for a game they can understand. According to Vrabek, EA intends to bring interactive entertainment "to the masses." Step one: Pogo, the "stickiest site on the internet."

Founded in the late '90s and purchased by EA for $50 million in 2001, Pogo.com currently hosts over 100 games, serving around 15 million users per month their casual game fix.

"All over the world," Vrabek told 1UP, "consumers are playing games that don't require hours of intense concentration. Whether it will be playing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on the Wii with the family or downloading Madden NFL 08 on a phone, quick-to-the-fun games are bringing new players and new demographics to interactive entertainment." And new opportunities for baristas with a game design in their back pocket.

Casual games are, by their very nature, easy to play and relatively easy to design. Most, in fact, bear more resemblance to games made back when a single programmer could build a working game from his bedroom than they do the big budget, high-end blast fests of the current generation. That's not to say they're simple, just simpler. An aspiring game developer could do worse that start in casual.

Developers at the Gates
Of the 100 or so games at Pogo.com, only about a third are exclusives. The rest are made by names you may have heard of - PopCap, Big Fish, Crazy Monkey, Armor - all companies whose only game is making games, all companies who also run websites on which you can also play their games and occasionally the games of others. It's a studio system akin to the golden age of Hollywood, where the starlets are brought in to provide the goods, and the goods are then pimped as far and wide as possible.

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If you like Bejeweled, Pogo has Bejeweled. So does everyone else. Pogo also has Poppit, which is like Bejeweled, but with balloons. But again, everyone else has a Bejeweled clone, too. What everyone else doesn't have is a community.

"The thing that really sets Pogo apart from all of the competition in the casual game space is the seamless blending of unique game experiences with strong community features," Pogo Vice President Andrew Pedersen told Gamasutra earlier this year. "We have chat, tokens, a prize system, avatars, and badges - all of these things are seamlessly integrated into the game experience. ... When you come there, you don't play one game one way and then jump into another one with a different set of features. It really is one holistic experience."

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