This is a very relevant topic in our community right now, and it is actually was inspired me to get a blog on here so that I can talk with the people of the community about it in a way more conducive to thought than 140 characters. I plan on using this blog to talk about lots of big community topics going forth in a (hopefully) intellectually stimulating way; let’s go on to it.
For background, Disney has announced the closure of its video game production line, including the cancellation of the here-to-now-upcoming Disney Infinity 3.0 video game, considered to be the division’s largest success. From this point, the community has grown worried of the ultimate plan that Disney has for Club Penguin after or even prior to the launch of Project Super Secret.
I’ll start by saying that as a designer, and as someone who has owned even an admittedly tiny-by-comparison server, I think that the idea is fundamentally flawed. I started Flippr two years ago with a mission of customizing everything possible – I wanted to find out what makes Club Penguin tick, and change everything that I possibly could about it. Although I had big dreams about what I could do, I did not learn until much later what the true limiting factors were with this. Though it has since been joined by many, extremely well-crafted others (including the fabulous LimitlessCP and Pengur, owned by good friends of mine), Flippr was the first ‘Club Penguin Custom Server’. As a result, I got a front row seat at some very unique data that taught me a lot about this community as a whole.
There were many lessons presented to me in running this server, but one of them became quickly apparent: Club Penguin has a very strong core userbase that is extremely happy with things the way that they are. I learned this in a few ways. If I made a feature that corrected a well-known CP problem, such as not decorating many rooms for parties, then it was almost always very well received. If I made a decision that contradicted what CP had done or does, such as removing Puffle Creatures in their entirety, the feedback was normally split about 50-50. So what then is the point of me telling you this? Basically, the community is happy with the large brunt of Club Penguin as it stands today.
I know there are a good deal of prevalent and popular complaints. Trainman has been an incessant advocate for more storyline and EPF action, while we’ve all see Riyita’s (extremely merited) push for a new chat filter. I personally wish that Puffle Creatures had been better developed and not released in such rapid succession, but I’m most likely in the minority. Regardless though, these are not Club Penguin’s bread and butter. Players keep playing because they like the game as it is; there is a certain appeal in the general style and framework in which the game appears.
I think Project Super Secret is a very risky offshoot from Club Penguin’s core value. Remind you that there were people protested up until the last minute with the Coffee Shop was renovated, a relatively minor change in the grand scheme of things. I believe that by attempting to ‘reinvent’ the game into an entirely new system, CP is running dangerously close to alienating a good portion of its core audience.
However, allow us now to connect this all back to Disney-Video-Game-Division-Gate, a scandal named after a reference that many people in this community are too young to get. The point? Disney Infinity, in the long haul, was young. It came and went because it belonged to a generation that is aging out of traditional video games. It lived on the Wii U, a system that has struggled to gain traction for years now. Now I’m not saying that everyone who played Infinity has grown up, absolutely not, but the audience that the first edition was aimed at are now advancing into their 20s. The audience that it is aimed at now is one that is increasingly less likely to buy video games now than ever before. Even Nintendo, a staunch opponent of the phone-gaming-phenomena, has begun development of mobile endeavors after realizing that this is now the new most profitable market to which to cater.
Now, this is where things get unfortunate, and I’m sure a number of you are going to dislike my dark prognosis. Disney Infinity, despite its shrinking potential audience, has indeed been successful for Disney, and they have been able to make a profit off of the games they have released. One of the primary arguments going around right now in favor of CP is that Disney is unwilling to close it anytime soon because of the time and resources that it took to develop. I’d have to disagree. PSS was all about moving towards unification – decorating one file, and boom, it showed up all over the island. The purpose for moving to 3D was to make the development weight smaller while keeping the same audience. What does that mean exactly then? It means that most likely, Club Penguin already has a budget surplus this year. I’ll do a quick explanation.
A budget surplus is just what it sounds like – extra money in the budget. Now, all of the numbers I’m about to say are purely imaginary; they’re just nice whole numbers that I’m using to illustrate my point. Say that Club Penguin made $10 million last year from memberships, sponsorships, whatever. We’ll say that that is on a budget of $8 million. So that would equate to a profit of $2 million. Now, Club Penguin has been pretty steady for the last year in sponsorships and such, although some report declining membership sales, we’ll say it is all and all the same. This year, we’ve seen massive changes at Club Penguin. They’ve lost lots of offices, staff, and languages. Now, let’s say it takes them only $5 million to make the same game that it used to take $8 million to make. That would mean that CP would have to lose $3 million dollars before Disney ever lost a penny. Again, the numbers are hypotheticals meant to make it easy, but the concept stands.
By slicing down staff and pushing all development to 3D, as evidenced by recolored items and recycled or tiny parties, CP has been stashing away cash to cover their deficit if PSS fails. It’s a big business plan; whenever you put an investment into a radical new concept, you also need to set aside some backup money in case that fails. But Club Penguin is setting aside that money to operate if it fails – it’s setting it aside to cover the losses, then close with a balanced budget. The unfortunate reality is that PSS is hit or miss. It needs to do very well to prove its worth, because I’m sure there is nothing more that some Disney executives want to do than close down another office, another division, and repurpose that money elsewhere.
I think that the closures today ultimately send the message that this community needed to here. I’m sorry to say, but Disney isn’t operating to make anyone feel better. It is a business operating for profit, and it has every right to do so. It isn’t going to stand around pouring money into a video game industry that some say is on its final breath, and who knows, maybe it won’t stand around pouring money into a mobile game clumsily adapted to work on the desktop. Only time will tell. The only constant is that a radical change is about to hit us, the popularity of which will determine the survival of “the game we love”.
I put that last part in quotes intentionally, because I have one final point. I think PSS looks very good, honestly. It is high quality art, and there are some very good features. However, by its very definition, it is not Club Penguin in the least sense of the word. It’s a totally new ballgame, more on a Club Penguin 2 than any kind of major update. I see no appeal in it. Club Penguin dragged me in years ago, and I’m long past the time of playing it for entertainment, but I have a hard time seeing my past-self being intrigued by this new game entirely. It looks like another sheep edition in a flock of 3D open-world social games. Maybe that’s just me, and for Disney’s sake I sure hope so. But to me, there would be no additional sadness if PSS caused Club Penguin to close. In my eyes, Club Penguin will have closed the second that it launches. If you’ve never before the witnessed the end of an era, you’re about to do so.
Club Penguin is putting all of its eggs into this basket. So let’s hope that it’s a damn good basket.