Back in January, Disney broke a lot of hearts when it announced that it would be shutting down “Club Penguin,” its 12-year-old online hangout for kids. And as of Wednesday, “Club Penguin” is no more.
Disney says that over the years, “Club Penguin” amassed “hundreds of millions” of penguin accounts, and even those who hadn’t played in many years lamented the loss of a place where they spent many hours as kids.
“The fan base is absolutely passionate, beyond a level we ever anticipated,” says Disney VP of Kids & Casual Games Jim Molinets.
But dry your tears, “Club Penguin” fans, because the game has already been reborn: “Club Penguin Island,” a full-fledged sequel, is now available as a free download for iPhone and Android. Like the original, it’s free to play, but a $4.99 monthly subscription adds access to extra features and personalization options.
The reason the original “Club Penguin” had to shut down, says Molinets, was that the browser-based game had been around for over a decade, and the aging infrastructure could no longer support the team’s ideas for improvement. Even the game’s smartphone apps were lackluster, at best.
With “Club Penguin Island,” Disney is in this for the long haul. Revamped for the smartphone era with a graphical overhaul, it preserves much of the original’s charm, from snowball lobbing to impromptu dance parties. And under the hood, says Molinets, it lays the technical foundations for the game to “hopefully be around for another decade.”
Here’s the trailer:
Versus Minecraft and Roblox
Still, in the time since “Club Penguin” launched, the world has changed. Over the last few years, games like Microsoft’s “Minecraft” and fellow decade-plus club member “Roblox” have captured tens of millions of smartphone gamers, many, if not most, of whom are the kids that Disney is trying to win over with “Club Penguin Island.”
But Liza Wood, executive producer of “Club Penguin Island,” says that the game is a “more focused” experience. Where “Minecraft” dumps you in a vast open world to do with as you will, and “Roblox” offers you a wide selection of player-made activities and games, Wood says that “Club Penguin Island” walks a middle path.
It’s a massively multiplayer online game, where you and your fellow penguins are citizens of the titular island. There are quests to undertake, and storylines to follow, but you’re equally free to just hang out and interact with your friends in themed areas like a concert stage or a spooky campfire. Plus, Disney characters will make cameos.
And while “Club Penguin Island” is definitely not as open-ended as “Minecraft,” there are new options for creating customized clothing, so you can personalize your penguin avatar in new ways. Wood says that beta testers of the game have come up with excellent work.
“It’s been an amazing display of creativity for the children,” says Wood.
On a final note, the original “Club Penguin” had a reputation as something of a magnet for online trolls, who would try to outwit and outsmart Disney’s content filter. Wood says that those trolls should beware, as Disney now has even more advanced tools for making sure that rulebreakers get out and stay out — key to Disney’s vision of “Club Penguin Island” as a safe space for kids.
And now, just for fun, here’s Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of Disney/Marvel’s “Doctor Strange,” completely messing up the word “penguin” in a BBC documentary: