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.


3 thoughts on “The Lesson of Club Penguin Island

  1. HarbingerZero

    Disney is really, really bad at video games. They cut Disney Infinity off at the knees in its prime. They shut down Marvel Heroes because…the CEO of the company that had the rights to the game was accused of sexual harassment? Not sure that meant they had to erase the entire game, but okay, whatever. And this as well.

    It reminds me of when Ford killed the Thunderbird back in the 90’s when it was selling like hotcakes to replace it with a luxury version that never sold more than a quarter of what the old bodystyle did.

    Great job guys! /s


  2. Nogamara

    I do wonder what would have happened if EverQuest had been shut down the day EQ2 launched. I have no insight how big the overlap of people playing both is, but I think this could’ve a) be a big hit to their numbers and b) they’re still releasing stuff, so when was this? 14 years ago? when EQ1 was like 5 years old?


  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Nogamara – On the one hand, at least EQII was on the same platform as EQ. So there is that.

    Otherwise though, I don’t think it would have made much of a difference. EQII was, and remains, such a different game from EQ. And, in addition to it launching not fully baked, the EQII team felt the need to steer clear of the EQ lore as much as possible until the Echoes of Faydwer expansion, so there wasn’t a huge degree of familiarity to welcome those coming from EQ. Like a lot of people I spent a bunch of time at launch trying to match up EQII zones and landmarks with what I recalled from EQ. But the moratorium on lore and the cataclysm story made even that unsatisfying.

    Anyway, it was a hard landing for a lot of people and, as has been said many times in the past, most players in the initial surge into EQII ended up going back to EQ or off to WoW within a month or two.

    I think the bigger debate has always been about what would have happened if WoW had been delayed a year rather that launching at the end of the same month EQII launched. Would that have given SOE enough time to fix things? Or would it have simply removed they pressure they felt to fix things?


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