Hard times for hardcore gamers

Total Entertainment Network dumps its name and its first-person shooters to launch Pogo.com.

Published September 3, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

One of the more fascinating indicators of the evolution of the Internet business model has been the recent rash of name changes. Dejanews.com became Deja.com and, magically, was no longer a Usenet search engine but an online competitor to Consumer Reports. The Mining Co. morphed into About.com, and traded in its identity as a topical guide to the Web for one as a place where "expert guides help you find/learn/share." (Its stock ticker changed from MINE to BOUT accordingly.)

Add to this list the Total Entertainment Network, better known as TEN, which on Tuesday gasped its last breath as a hardcore gaming network. It was best known for hosting bloodthirsty Quake battles as well as for organizing the Professional Gamer's League (PGL), but TEN was reborn Tuesday as the perky-sounding Pogo.com, a bridge-and-bingo network offering "Games for Everyone!"

For those who have actively followed TEN for a while, the change isn't a total surprise. TEN has been slowly moving its hardcore, low-latency games to the periphery, and for the last year and a half has been pushing to provide card, board and trivia games to online services like Snap. Now on Pogo.com there isn't a single blood-and-gore-fueled game to be found. (Pogo.com will, however, continue coordinating the PGL.)

The executives at Pogo.com aren't concerned about hardcore gamers anymore -- they have bigger fish to fry. Garth Chouteau, a company spokesman, estimates that the hardcore gaming market is a mere 3 million gamers, tops; he puts the potential market for Pogo.com's "family games," however, at 50 million or more. "If you look at the hardcore online game space, I would challenge you to find a company that is making money," he says.

Sure enough, the demise of TEN means that the hardcore online gaming industry -- an industry that was hyped to the hilt just a few years ago -- has lost yet another contender. Engage and Dwango, previously popular hardcore gaming services, have both been shuttered in the last two years; Mplayer and Microsoft's Gaming Zone, like Pogo.com, are also switching their focus to card and sports games. In an industry supported primarily by advertising revenue and subscriptions, it seems mainstream family fun is more lucrative than bloody gore.

But what, exactly, does the name Pogo.com mean? Chouteau says it was the best they could come up with, especially considering the current run on good domain names (other runners-up included the rather dismal Marbles.com and Gameface.com, he says). And although the name Pogo is mostly a nonsensical term with a whiff of whimsy, Chouteau believes that's a good thing: "It doesn't mean anything, and that's the benefit," he proudly says. "Just like Yahoo didn't mean anything."

By Janelle Brown

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

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