Daily Archives: September 28, 2018

The Lesson of Club Penguin Island

If you assume your customers are loyal to your product and choose to test this you may be disappointed.

Back in the early 2000s the cable company sent me a letter.

When we moved into our house it had the old dual-coax A/B cable connection that had been installed back in the 70s.  It was a bit annoying, but HD wasn’t a thing for TVs yet so it didn’t really matter.  The TV worked, I had our ReplayTV DVR running with it just fine, I didn’t really think about it much.

The letter said that they would no longer be supporting the old network and we needed to call them in order to arrange new service.

Now I had to think about our TV service.  So I went out and compared deals and ended up calling DirecTV to get their package that included the receiver with Tivo integrated. (Based upon the recommendation of a friend who worked at ReplayTV no less.)

When I had that set I called up the cable company to cancel my service.  The agent wanted to know why I was cancelling and I explained that their letter said I couldn’t keep my current service so I went shopping for a replacement.  The agent said that I actually had almost five years until my current service would be discontinued, something not mentioned in the letter.  I told the agent that it was too late, I already had the new service installed.  And that was that.

Most people are happy enough with what they have in a lot of areas of their life.  But if you make them focus on a particular area, especially if you threaten to take away their happy situation, they may decide that there are better options out there.

And so it went with Club Pengiun Island.

Penguins go mobile

Back in March of last year Disney closed down the long-running web MMO Club Penguin, a game that had over 200 million registered users over the course of its twelve years online.  It was past its prime for sure, and was looking a little long in the tooth, but it had an audience that was still committed to it and could have carried on for years based on the groundwork that had been laid.

But for Disney, MMOs and web games were apparently yesterday’s news.  Mobile games were the new frontier.  And so they developed Club Penguin Island, a mobile game using the Club Penguin IP.

And, to be sure that it was a success, Disney closed Club Penguin the day before Club Penguin Island launched.

This actually worked out worse than I predicted.  I thought Disney had enough muscled to force Club Penguin Island to be a success.  I was wrong.

Of course the Club Penguin players were angry and in no mood to favor Disney with their presence.  Plus, the new game was on a different platform, so if you were playing on the PC you were probably more likely to just move to another PC game.

Reports said the game wasn’t ready for prime time.  Club Penguin Island had server issues and a host of bugs to address over time.  Meanwhile, even those fans of the old game who were willing to come over found Club Penguin Island unable to compare to the original.  An MMO that has been able to grow for a dozen years has more content than you can reproduce on a new platform in a short time.

Things were off to a rocky enough start that by the eight month mark Disney had a beta out for a PC version of the game, no doubt in hope of finding some of the users they lost when they skipped platforms.

Basically Disney betrayed their installed base, switched platforms, and offered an inferior experience, but thought it would all work out just fine.

It did not and yesterday the company officially announced that Club Penguin Island would be shutting down.  Text of the announcement quoted for posterity:

To our Club Penguin Fans and Family:

There’s no easy way to say this but after 13 incredible years, Club Penguin will be sunsetting at the end of this year. We’ll be providing players with all the necessary information in the coming weeks via in-game messages and updates here on Island News.

Thanks to you, Club Penguin has been more than a game; it’s been a global community where you have gathered to socialize and express yourselves. In a time when games come and go within months, it was one of the longest-running kids’ games of all time and at its height, had over 200 million accounts. Players from countries around the world showed their commitment to the game by adopting 25 million Puffles and creating over 200,000 videos.

When we replaced the original Club Penguin game a year and a half ago, we always strived to make Club Penguin Island the best mobile successor to the original game. From day one of development, Club Penguin Island has been a true passion project for everyone here at Disney but, the time has come for the party to end.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your continued dedication to the Club Penguin and Club Penguin Island games and for being a member of our family. We are so grateful to have shared in this journey with you. We’re excited to bring you more new experiences around all of Disney’s beloved characters and stories across all platforms.

Please look out for more information soon and as always, waddle on.

– Club Penguin Team

I find that message to be somewhat disingenuous as for a lot of Club Penguin fans, the actual game was shut down back in March of 2017 and the stats they are quoting are heavily weighted towards it.

Still, I am sure that the fans of Club Penguin Island will be disappointed all the same.  And those working on the game found themselves facing unemployment as well.

The actual shut down date hasn’t been announced, but I imagine Club Penguin Island won’t be around to ring in the new year.

Coverage:

And What of the EVE Online Store?

Since the announcement of the acquisition of CCP by Black Desert Online creator Pearl Abyss a few weeks back there has been a stream of speculation as to what this will mean for EVE Online, good or bad.

The two logos together in space

There has been more than a fair share of panic that New Eden is going to become some sort of pay to win hellhole like Black Desert Online with special cash shop ships or gold ammo or whatever.  I am dubious that Pearl Abyss would jump right on that, and not just because CCP spent most of their AMA forum thread repeating that there were no drastic changes planned.  It would simply be dumb to to make that sort of changes to the game as it would be a quick way to kill it.  Unless CCP has something else worth $425 million, that would be a very bad way to treat their investment.

But if the panic over the downside has been overstated, it is in part because the possible upside of the acquisition lacks a direct, tangible win.  How will things be better if CCP’s primary message is that things are not changing?

My own take has been that the acquisition should/could allow CCP to focus more on EVE Online, the most valuable asset the company owns.  Without having to worry about making that next product they won’t have to keep diverting time and resources into what has largely been a waste of money sine they bought White Wolf back in 2006.

Being part of Pearl Abyss puts CCP in an ecosystem where EVE Online doesn’t have to pay all the bills and gives them the support to develop the IP of New Eden for other games.  Players win by virtue of EVE Online getting more of CCP’s attention.

Again, while positive sounding, that is a pretty nebulous stance.

Others have take this a step further and started pointing at things on which they feel CCP ought to focus.  More than 15 years in EVE Online is a big game with a lot of neglected features.

Over at Massively OP their EVE Evolved column decided to pick a couple of items that CCP ought to work on and I couldn’t disagree more with the proposed focus, and all the more so because the article’s alleged point is monetization.  Neither ideas is a money maker.

One was walking in stations, a feature I’ve beaten to death here.  The problem the feature has now is the same problem it has always had, which is that if you bring in avatars you then have to create game play to justify them.  Otherwise it is just a huge waste of time and money that would cost much more than even the most optimistic revenue estimates you could make while keeping a straight face.  If you’re going to build what would essentially be a new game you might as well go all out and actually build a new game rather than trying to stick it in New Eden.  Fortunately CCP has learned its lesson on that and said in that AMA that walking in stations was not going to return.

Me, only you can’t change my mind

The other was a bit more subtle, an idea that superficially seems to have merit, but which falls apart if explored.  That is improving or expanding the EVE Online store.  I’m not talking about the in-game store, but the web storefront that sells real world items.

The EVE Online store has long been a bone of contention and has gone through many iterations over the years, with significant gaps where there wasn’t a store at all.  But the long running consistent complaint has been pretty simple; why the hell can’t I buy some decent EVE Online merchandise?

Right now it is a semi-generic store, but you can at least buy a black EVE Online logo T-shirt or hoodie or a coffee mug along with a few other items.

The Current EVE Gear Shop

But the article over at Massively envisions a grand expansion.  It calls for better apparel, posters, ship models, and whatever.  It is a refrain we have heard over the years.  We want to buy cool stuff about EVE Online.

Except, not really.

Sure, our theoretical selves, enthusiastic about the game, are keen to throw money at EVE Online stuff.  But the real, practical, looking at the prices and having to open the wallet and get out the credit card selves?  Not so much.  Yes, there is always somebody willing to shell out for a thousand dollar floating Nyx model, but there aren’t enough people for CCP to ramp up production and keep some in stock to ship.  Those battleship models CCP made back in the day?

Everybody loved them, but not many people loved them enough to drop $125 on them.  I am pretty sure CCP took a bath on those and I seem to recall them giving them away for various events down the road. (Though now I see a few on eBay for $300 each, so maybe I should have invested.)

The reality is that for a company the size of CCP, the gear store is marketing and not a business.  I cringe every time I hear somebody say, “CCP could make so much money if they only sold…” about the online store.  No, they won’t make money.  They’ll be lucky if they break even.  The quantities are simply too small relative to the prices we’re willing to pay.

Yes, if you’re Blizzard or Riot or even Valve and have a super popular game companies like Jinx will pay you for the license to print shirts and such.  The market for some properties is big enough that third parties can pay to use the IP, do the work, and make money at it.

But EVE Online is not one of those properties.  Jinx worked with CCP in 2009, back when EVE Online was still a bit of a rising star, then declined to renew after 2011.  When pros like Jinx drop you, that is a pretty big hint that you aren’t in a league to make money on T-shirts with your IP.

I realize that this is mostly opinion on my part, but I think it is opinion backed up by some reasonable evidence.  And I’ll throw some more on top of that.

Find a game of comparable size/player base/popularity as EVE Online that has a better online merchandise store.

As I said, the big dogs are covered.  Blizzard licenses out to Jinx and others, while Riot and Valve have their own store.  But down at the CCP level things get kind of thin.

SOE used to have a store with some dubious merch.

It’s like they never saw Beavis & Butt-head

But since the dawn of the Daybreak era that has all fallen by the wayside.

Back about when EVE Online was working with Jinx Turbine managed to get a LOTRO coffee mug and mouse pad in the WB online store, but that seemed to be about their peak.

And then… hrmm… in digging around, that was about all I could find.  Barring unlicensed third parties at places like Red Bubble, there isn’t a lot of merch available from game companies like CCP.  We might, in this as in many things, be holding CCP to an unreasonable standard when we’re actually better off than other games.

Anyway, if you have any evidence to the contrary I’d be glad to hear it, but I think we might have the best EVE Online store we’re likely to get… and it is never going to be a profit center for CCP.