Tag Archives: club penguin

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 be 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 Life, 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:

The Fall of Club Penguin

No.  No more kids games.  Kids don’t spend well and it’s very difficult to run a kids game.  Turns out Kids do mean stuff to each other a lot.

John Smedley, Reddit AMA

Time for another MMO for kids to fall by the wayside.  Club Penguin, the 12 year old kids MMO with over 200 million registered users (as of 2013), has been closed by Disney.

We are no strangers to Club Penguin at our house.  My daughter was a fan of the game for a stretch and used to participate in events, was in a band in the game, and collected the various in-game items including hats and puffles.

Waddle around

In fact, it was a desire to collect some special in-game item that led my daughter to get her account banned when she gave her login information to a classmate who then gave it to somebody else.

Forever…ever…ever…ever…

That was a serious blow to her relationship with the game, as she had collected quite a bit of stuff.  If fact, she recently read that post I wrote about that incident and got mad at me when she realized I could have probably gotten her account unbanned if I had set that as a goal, as opposed to teaching her a lesson in account security.  She still misses some of her stuff even though that was half of her lifetime ago.  I cannot recall when I was 15 if I was nostalgic for things that happened when I was only 8.

But it really does not matter now as all of her stuff in Club Penguin is gone.  Disney announced back in January that the game would be shutting down and yesterday was the last day.  Sales have been down, Disney had already laid off some staff and closed down some of the overseas sites for the game, but that was not enough.

In a bit of an ironic turn, at least for our household, getting banned from Club Penguin became a new sport for people playing the game, and my daughter joined in

He last encounter with Club Penguin was trying to get kicked off of Club Penguin.  And that fun is over for good as well now that the game has been shut down.

Of course, I am dubious as to how badly Disney needed to shut the game down.  The financials are all buried in the numbers for the corporation and we are all pretty aware that online games in motion tend to hang onto a core audience that can keep them viable.  I doubt if the game were still independent that it would be closing.  But Disney is in the business of growth, not mere viability, so Club Penguin was sent off to join Toontown Online, another acquisition of theirs they subsequently shut down.

Anyway, the real reason to kill Club Penguin was to keep it from drawing customers from Disney’s new mobile venture, Club Penguin Island which, surprise surprise, went live on iOS and Android yesterday.

Penguins go mobile

The plan was obviously to channel Club Penguin player to the new game.

Of course, the usual reactions from the player base occurred, with people angry and threatening boycotts and the like.

Players like to settled down in their MMOs for the long term.  They want them to remain so they can come back and visit.  They get invested in their virtual goods and hate to lose them.  So expecting people to pick up from a long standing MMO to invest in a new game is a faint hope, and all the less likely when you chase them out of the old one with a stick.  Sequels are difficult as we saw with EverQuest II and Lineage II, neither of which ever outshined their predecessor.

And when the replacement isn’t even on the same platform… well, that seems like a faint hope.

Not that I think Club Penguin Island will fail.   It is a Disney product and will have Disney marketing behind it and will be featured on the Disney channel and on Radio Disney and in the Disney Store and so on and so forth.  It is just a completely different beast and will have its own fans and followers who may not have played the original.

LEGO Universe End Game

It seems that the troubled story of LEGO Universe now has an end date.

A press release went out last week and email notifications started going out to users after that letting everyone know that LEGO Universe will be shutting down on January 31, 2012.

On March 5, 2007 a press release went out announcing that LEGO and NetDevil would be joining forces to create a LEGO themed MMO.

At that point, in the MMO world, NetDevil was primarily known for its troubled Auto Assault online game, published by NCsoft, which would be closed down in July of 2007.

LEGO Universe, after a couple of missed dates, eventually went live just over a year ago, on October 26, 2010.  And it has had problems ever since.

Originally a traditional “buy the box, pay a subscription fee” model MMO focused on kids and claiming to offer parents ease of mind on safety issues, it failed to distinguish itself on all counts.

Its well established main competitors (e.g. Club Penguin, online since 2005 and Toon Town, online since 2003) offered free to obtain, free to play options along with parental controls on par with LU, while pay to play games like World of Warcraft offered superior parental options.

So the only real draw was LEGO base game play, and LEGO Universe failed to stand out in that department as well, as so accurately documented by Oz over at Kill Ten Rats.  In our own house, my daughter tried the game and went quickly from enthusiasm to boredom.  She stopped playing and has never asked to play the game since.

NetDevil bowed out of the LEGO Universe drama with a press release on February 24, 2011, which also pretty much ended their existence as part of Gazillion Entertainment, which purchased NetDevil back in July of 2008.

In June 2011, LEGO announced that LEGO Universe would go to a free to play model, the current panacea for all ailing MMOs these days.

All of which brings us to today’s email blast from LEGO.

Hello Adventurer, today we are very sad to announce that LEGO® Universe will be closing on January 31, 2012. This was a very difficult decision to make, but unfortunately LEGO Universe has not been able to attract the number of members needed to keep the game open.

We realize how sad this will make the many players who have enjoyed LEGO Universe and we are committed to providing open communication with both kids and parents as we transition through this difficult time. We understand this is a challenging change and apologize for not being able to give parents forewarning before the general announcement.

We are thankful to have had the opportunity to share this adventure with an amazing community of players. We hope you will continue to enjoy LEGO Universe for the last few months. As a thank you, if you are a paying subscriber on December 31, 2011, we will provide you the full game for the final month for free.

Again, we want to thank the fantastic community of players who made LEGO Universe such a vibrant, fun and creative experience.

Hello Adventurer, today we are very sad to announce that LEGO® Universe will be closing on January 31, 2012. This was a very difficult decision to make, but unfortunately LEGO Universe has not been able to attract the number of members needed to keep the game open.

We realize how sad this will make the many players who have enjoyed LEGO Universe and we are committed to providing open communication with both kids and parents as we transition through this difficult time. We understand this is a challenging change and apologize for not being able to give parents forewarning before the general announcement.

We are thankful to have had the opportunity to share this adventure with an amazing community of players. We hope you will continue to enjoy LEGO Universe for the last few months. As a thank you, if you are a paying subscriber on December 31, 2011, we will provide you the full game for the final month for free.

Again, we want to thank the fantastic community of players who made LEGO Universe such a vibrant, fun and creative experience.

Sincerely,

The LEGO Universe Team

The Details:

  • The game will be turned off on January 31, 2012 at midnight (EST).
  • All current subscribers (1, 6 or 12 month plans) who still have active subscriptions on December 31 will receive a refund for any remaining game time remaining after December 31 as well as free play from January 1, 2012 until January 31.
  • For example, if you purchased a 6-month subscription on September 1, 2011 (which would expire on February 29, 2012), you would be refunded $16.66 for the 2 months following December 31.
  • We will begin processing all refunds on February 1, 2012. All refunds will be made to the credit card used for the original subscription.
  • If your subscription expires before December 31 you will need to purchase an additional 1 month subscription by December 31 in order to get the free game play in January (again, any unused game time as of December 31 will be refunded.)
  • LEGO Universe game cards can only be used until December 1st 2011. Unused game cards after December 1st can be converted to LEGO Shop @Home gift cards for the same value.
  • Please note: Details on how to convert unused game cards will be posted on December 1.
  • You can continue to enjoy the free to play zone until January 31, 2012 but your last chance to convert to a paying subscription is December 31, 2011.

There is an additional FAQ with more details available.

And so a sad end to a game with such promise.  There is no curse like failing to live up to ones potential.  And I am sure this was a hard decision at LEGO.  Once you have all that effort sunk into a project, once everything is in place, once the machine is running, it is tough to just turn the switch off and send everybody home.

But LEGO has been through tough times of its own.  The first decade of this century saw them stumble and really have to rethink how they did business after many years of simply succeeding because they were LEGO.  That lead to a series of tough decisions that brought them back from the brink and set them to focus more on profitability than market share.

And that focus is clearly being felt now.  LEGO Universe isn’t hitting its goals and is going to be cut.

I am sure this is sad news for those who play the game.   I certainly find it sad, if in a more abstract sense, since we haven’t played it for months at our house.

In the end though, they appear to have failed to capture the essence of what makes LEGO building sets popular.

What should have been the direction for LEGO Universe?  Less “block-based WoW” and more “LEGO Second Life?”

(The latter with more parental controls and less some smaller quantity of flying penises, of course.)

The Convergence of WoW and WebKinz

I’ve mentioned WebKinz before.

It has been a couple of years, but it still gets some attention at our house.  In fact my daughter HAD to have a new WebKinz plush toy for Christmas this past year.

She had to have it because that is the basis of the traditional WebKinz subscription plan.  When you buy a WebKinz toy, you get a year-long subscription to their online world.  In that world, you take a virtual representation of your real life plush pal and build them a home, furnish it, and play games alone or with other people.

So it wasn’t a stretch to make a connection with WebKinz when Bilzzard announced that they would be selling plush toys that would get you an in-game pet as well.


Tangible toy with a virtual world representation:  My daughter expressed a desire right away for the plush gryphon hatchling.

The funny thing is that WebKinz is moving a bit towards WoW’s business model with Deluxe memberships.


Deluxe memberships are below the monthly Club Penguin ($6) or Toontown Online ($10) price range, running about $5 a month if purchased in the smallest increment.  That said, WebKinz is also much less of a virtual world than either of the two competitors I mentioned. (And we’ve had all three running at our house at various times.)

The one really nice thing that WebKinz has in their subscription plan matrix is a family membership.  Only available as an annual subscription, it gives you up to five accounts.  I wish Blizzard would look into some sort of family package.

And while I’m on the topic of mixing up real and virtual versions of in-game items, I thought I would mention that Figure Prints has announced the third in their series of in-game companion pet models.

Companion Pets - Series 3

Having posted about the first and second installments in the series, I would have to say that this is perhaps the best set so far, though I’m still not laying down any cash for them.  But if you have to have them, they are only available through March 31st.

People who are not fans of the cash shop trend we’re seeing in subscription MMOs will probably enjoy the irony of the Pandaren Monk pet being part of this series.  You have to buy that pet from the Blizzard Store, and then you can turn around and buy it again from Figure Prints.

Free Realms Unleashed Today

Barring anything bad happening, Sony Online Entertainment‘s new entry into the casual online game market, Free Realms, should launch some time today.

It was said elsewhere that that Sony reboots today.

Obviously SOE rebooted a while back and Free Realms is just the latest, and perhaps the purest, result of this new axis of march in San Diego.

A real transition took place last year when SOE was moved out from under Sony Pictures, who seemed inclined to a position of ignorance and benign neglect when it came to their MMO making division, and became part of Sony Computer Entertainment.  Those are the PlayStation people.

Not that FreeRealms has sprung up in the last year.  Certainly SOE has talked about RMT, velvet ropes, and different revenue models for quite some time.  But working for the PlayStation people, the team that has to compete with things like XboxLive and Microsoft Points, has got to put a more urgent spin on things.

So we’ve seen Sation Cash introduced into EverQuest and EverQuest II.  We have seen Live Gamer’s player to player cash sales interface grafted onto Vanguard. (Which probably means Vanguard gets to live for a while longer, at least as a lab rat.)  And now we have a completely RMT funded, microtransaction driven game being released by SOE.  The first of many, no doubt.

And getting back to urgency, urgent seems to be right.  I am completely surprised that Free Realms is going to market without day one PlayStation 3 support.  In fact, I predicted that such support would delay the launch.  Color me at least partially wrong on that one I suppose.  I am going to claim some small victory in the fact that PS3 support will be a while in coming.

With the dropping of the NDA on the Free Realms beta, a few MMO players have put up their views and impressions of the game. (Edit: And Terra Nova now has a discussion post about it and Gigaom is in on it too.)

Of course, the crazy thing about that is, this game is not really focused at MMO players.  It shouldn’t be.  This is a low intensity game.   It does not compete against World of Warcraft.  It is there to bring in the crowd for whom WoW is too hard core.  People who may not want to invest a lot of time in a play session.  People who don’t have mad gamer skills or the latest video card.

As such, it has some pretty low system requirements.  From the Free Realms site:

Your computer will need to have the following hardware and software to play Free Realms:

Video Card with Vertex Shaders 1.1
Intel Pentium 4 or greater processor
Windows XP or Windows Vista operating system
Broadband internet connection
512 MB RAM

We recommend you have the following hardware and software to get the best experience playing Free Realms:

GeForce 6 or better video card
Intel Pentium 4 or greater processor
Windows XP or Windows Vista operating system
Broadband internet connection
1 Gig RAM

That is pretty mild when compared to almost any MMO.  That is down in the toaster / World of Warcraft end of the range.

In fact, those requirements look very low against almost everything.  Everything except the games against which Free Realms is set to compete, that is.

In the ranks of competitors, Toontown Online is at the high end is at the high end while many are in the Club Penguin range, where a 3D card is not even required.

So for its market, or what I presume to be its market, Free Realms is coming in at the high end.  Time will show whether you can move a game with WoW system requirements into a Club Penguin world.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

I’ll be watching all of this from the sidelines though.  If I start playing a game like Free Realms, then my daughter will want to play.  But the computer she is allowed to use is an iMac, and Free Realms doesn’t go there.

So when I play online games with my daughter, I will have to limit myself to almost all of the games that compete with FreeRealms.  Or World of Warcraft.  They all play on the Mac.