When Disney bought Club Penguin in 2007 for a deal worth US$700m, a lot of MMO players were confused. Club Penguin was a kids’ game and it was really simple. Sure, the game had 12 million registered accounts at the time, but it wasn’t even a real MMO! As time has gone on, however, there appears to be an increasing wisdom in Disney’s acquisition, especially since several MMOs since have gone the same browser-based, F2P, simple-to-play minigame route and generally appear to be thriving while the PC client-based, sub-based time intensive MMO route seems to have stumbled.
To me, the most impressive thing I’d heard about Club Penguin was that it published player-created content in its newspaper (available in-game and out) that attracted 30k submissions per day. Four people sift through those submissions and pick out the things to appear in the next edition. That seems like something pretty much any MMO could adapt and use as a community engagement tool, but doesn’t seem to be a high priority among the ‘serious’ MMOs.
Having not played Club Penguin, I thought I’d give it a shot.
Despite a quirk in trying to sign up (my character name had a space that seemed to confuse the automatic registration process) getting into the game was easy and there was lots of other players around, all dressed in various outfits.
It took me about 3 hours to get bored – I played through a lot of mini-games and could see the appeal of joining just so I could start spending those coins I was earning, but ultimately the game was just too simple for me. Walk somewhere, click a few things, make a pizza, fly a jetpack, collect rubbish for recycling – all fine, but lacking the meat to keep me engaged.
Obviously Club Penguin isn’t for me – I’m old and jaded, while the game is aimed at the young and new-to-gaming thing. However, it’s popularity points to something scary for MMO developers moving forward: by the time those Club Penguin players get older, they are going to be a lot more sophisticated in what they want than the early MMO players (who were ultimately just happy to start seeing graphics). This group will have been raised from (near) birth playing MMOs so the whole novelty of playing with others will have worn off. For a category that has relied on being able to play with lots of other people as their trump card for getting people to pay, that has to be a worrying thought.