Welcome to the highly anticipated (by me) return of Dearly Beloved. I felt the only appropriate way to jump back into it was to dive head first back into the world of Disney’s great MMO (for those of you who don’t remember, MMO stands for Massive Multiplayer Online) adventures. So far in this particular series, we’ve talked about Pixie Hollow and how it sparked a love of online gaming in an entire generation, and we’ve discovered what became of the old favorite ToonTown Online. This time, I’ll be talking about the powerhouse that took down ToonTown, the key to all Disney online gaming’s undoing, a true monarch of kids entertainment, none other than the one and only Club Penguin.
Assorted penguins via Pinterest // ©️Disney
The Club Penguin story begins in the early 2000s. In July of 2000, a flash game called Snow Blasters becomes the earliest known predecessor of Club Penguin. Several more penguin-based MMO attempts were made from a small Canadian team of developers who at the time were calling themselves, RocketSnails’ Games.
Eventually, in October of 2005, the game’s developers, now known as New Horizon Interactive released an MMO into the world where your avatar is the collective favorite animal of every kid between the ages of 4 and 11: an adorable penguin. Players could play mini-games and earn coins to decorate their penguin avatar or their igloo homes or even get pets for their penguins.
Like almost every other MMO, paid memberships were an option and would allow more freedom and customization within the game. After several rounds of beta-testing, Club Penguin opened to the public with merely 15,000 users, a number that blew up to almost 100 times that amount by March of the following year, and then by that same September had nearly doubled again.
Puffle via fandom.com // ©️Disney
What Comes Next
Now with well over 3 million users, Club Penguin began to catch the attention of what is arguably the biggest company in the entertainment business, Disney. In August of 2007, a mere two years after the beta-testing for Club Penguin began, Disney purchased the MMO, along with the development studio, for a whopping $350 million. New Horizon Interactive would henceforth be known as Disneyland Studios Canada and be merged with Disneyland Studios LA to focus on the now over 11 million active Penguin accounts that accumulated over $40 million annually in revenue.
CP Logo via Wikipedia // ©️Disney
By late 2008, after the acquisition by Disney, Club Penguin grew to become the 8th most popular social networking site with over 30 million members. At the time, the company was balancing four MMOs: ToonTown Online, Pixie Hollow, Pirates Online, and Club Penguin, in their hands, but it’s clear who would be coming out on top. Pixie Hollow was only live for five years. And ToonTown in its prime only amassed a fraction of the paid users that Penguin had when it was announced that it was closing down. In 2013, Disney decided that it wasn’t worth it to keep every game running anymore and while this is where so many other stories end, Club Penguin’s continues on.
The Story Goes On
In 2013, after an exciting game of last man standing with Disney’s MMOs, Club Penguin proved to be the powerhouse no one expected it to be and the Club Penguin Franchise was born. Several books, mobile apps, and console games were released as tie-ins to the ever-growing role-playing game. It wasn’t unusual for the duration of it’s run that Club Penguin would often be cross promoted online and on television with other Disney properties such as new movies.
But in 2015, after being on top for so long, it appeared as though Club Penguin’s reign may soon come to an end. It began with a studio-wide lay off of almost 30 employees. Soon after that, certain countries, such as Germany and Russia, began losing access to their Club Penguin servers.
And in January of 2017, Club Penguin announced that paid memberships would no longer be accepted and that the site would be closing down in just a few months time. Anyone with an account would be granted access to all areas included in a typical paid membership. 12 years after its initial launch, Club Penguin as we knew it was preparing to hang up the crown. After the announcement, many former players flooded back to the site in the hopes to see Club Penguin one last time as it goes out not with a fizzle, but with a bang. At 12:01am on March 30, 2017, millions of users came together as the game’s server officially went down.
Waddle On via Kotaku Australia // ©️Disney
Club Penguin Island and Private Servers
This story, like many other of our MMO stories, has a happy ending. Coinciding with the shut down of the classic Club Penguin, Disney was releasing a new mobile app version of the game, Club Penguin Island. Club Penguin Island was nearly identical to its predecessor in gameplay and style with the added bonus of being portable and cheaper. It appears, however, that that simply wasn’t enough to keep it afloat. Club Penguin Island didn’t have nearly the fanbase or staying power of the original game as it was removed from all mobile app stores in December of 2018, just over a year and a half after its launch.
Like the other MMOs we’ve talked about here on Dearly Beloved, someone or possibly even multiple someone’s have created private Club Penguin servers with a nearly identical replica of the game’s original coding. The most popular of these is Club Penguin Rewritten, which has over a million active users as of October 2017, just months after the original game’s shutdown.
Club Penguin Island via Polygon // ©️Disney
I think if the stories of these MMOs have taught us anything, it’s that thanks to the power of the internet and a little but of coding magic, the things we love can continue to live on in our brains and heart seven after they’ve gracefully faded into obscurity. I think that about wraps it up for this installment. What do you think? Should I talk about Pirates Online? Where you an avid Club Penguin user? Where you around when the servers died? Should I dive into the spinoff apps and console games? I want to hear all your thoughts! You can always DM me on Twitter or Instagram (both are @mariahcoolbeans) if you’d like to share your personal Club Penguin stories or have anything else you’d like me to cover on Dearly Beloved.