April 17, 2015

How Club Penguin Should End

Filed under: Club Penguin — Screenhog @ 10:09 pm

I started working on Club Penguin almost exactly 10 years ago (May 9, 2005, if you’re curious). At the time, I didn’t know how big it would become… I figured it’d be a game that I’d work on for a little while, it’d be enjoyed by around 100,000 people or so, and then it would drift away and I’d be on to something new. But then, Club Penguin got huge, and I started to think that this odd virtual world of clothes-wearing neon-colored penguins would last forever.

Yesterday was a reality check for that, as a significant number of Club Penguin employees – including many close colleagues of mine – were laid off work. Never more than now have I needed to remind myself that all worlds eventually pass away, and while I think Club Penguin will be around for years to come, it won’t be the exception to the rule. So, I’m asking myself the question: how should Club Penguin end?

To properly answer that, I should explain some things about the business of making virtual worlds. Most virtual worlds do not get popular. Club Penguin beat the odds and got very popular, as seen in this super scientific, ultra-specific graph below:

For the first few years, Club Penguin grew in popularity, users, membership, and income. (In some ways, it actually grew too fast… there was more than once in 2006 when it looked like Club Penguin’s servers would crush under the weight of their own popularity.) Like all popular entertainment franchises, it flourished, but also like all popular entertainment franchises, the growth curve couldn’t last forever. Eventually, the curve started to look like this:

The curve began to flatten out. It wasn’t growing as fast as it used to. If left unchecked, it would soon start to slide, but this wasn’t worrying by itself. In fact, it’s completely normal. Many forms of entertainment have this kind of curve of rising and falling popularity; musical groups, TV shows, movie franchises. The question is, what do you do about it? If you keep everything going as normal, the curve was going to fall, and we didn’t want that to happen, so Club Penguin was given a bump:

What was this “bump”? Well, if it was a TV series, it would be some shocking development or cliffhanger ending to an episode. For an MMO like World of Warcraft, it’s the yearly expansions of content that bring people flooding in again. In the case of Club Penguin, there were many bumps designed to extend its life, popularity, and revenue: the addition of more languages, the higher emphasis on membership during parties, merchandise in stores, console games, going to mobile phones, etc.

These are all wonderful things in the life of any product, and they do work… for a while.

Eventually, though, the bumps don’t help as much as they used to. More drastic measures need to be taken for the game to survive. Sometimes people even lose their jobs, like they did yesterday.

So, now what? Is Club Penguin going to die? Yes. Not any time soon, but like I said, all worlds die, it’s just a question of how and when. So what is the best possible way for Club Penguin to end? Well, what we don’t want is this:

Unfortunately, many virtual worlds do die this way. They get to a point where the publisher simply decides that it’s not worth maintaining or supporting them any more, and the plug is pulled.

Do I think this will happen to Club Penguin? No, I don’t, and what I truly desire for Club Penguin is for the company to start planning its long term strategy, so that instead of the plummeting graph above, it looks like this instead:

Other sites are in this same situation. Webkinz, a frequently cited competitor of Club Penguin, is nowhere near the height of its popularity, but it hasn’t died. Neopets, even older, is still up and running. Ultima Online – an MMO that began back in 1997 and almost disappeared – is not only still going, but has some months where it gains in popularity.

How? How is this possible? How can Club Penguin stick around for years and years to come? You. The community of Club Penguin fans. The thing that keeps a game like this going, more than anything else, is a committed audience. As long as there are enough people who care about the existence of something, it would be financially foolish to let them go.

I don’t know exactly what the future of CP will look like, but here’s how I would do it: First of all, the weekly updates to the game would have to be smaller, in proportion to the income of the game. Some of the parties from a few years ago would be brought back exactly as they were before; no new content would be in them, but at least you could experience them again. Many old clothing and furniture items would be available again.

And if I looked even farther ahead, in the final years of CP’s life (whenever that turns out to be), the population of penguins would be smaller, but the audience would be more dedicated. A much higher percentage of penguins would be “old-timers”, players who’ve been around for a few years. The big, news-making events would be less frequent, but replacing them would be parties with a sense of quirky humor; goofy events that happen because “why not have a party about cowboy astronauts this month?”. And if it finally came time for Club Penguin to close its doors, that final month would be sad, but joyful, as memories are shared and new worlds prepared to be born.

That’s what I would do. That’s what I hope for it. But no matter how it ends, I am comforted by the fact that I was part of something big that helped millions of people worldwide to waddle around and meet new friends.

October 28, 2014

Happy 9th Birthday, CP!

Filed under: Club Penguin,Comics,Sketch — Screenhog @ 9:17 pm

On Friday, last week, I posted this little image on Twitter. It was retweeted over 130 times. I’ve never had a Tweet go that popular before, so I’m putting it here, too.

It was drawn in about 5 minutes with a Sharpie. In case you were curious.

October 29, 2012

Club Penguin Documentary: Screenhog Commentary

Filed under: Club Penguin,Video Games — Tags: — Screenhog @ 9:38 am

On October 24, Club Penguin released something that I’ve been anticipating for a long time – a documentary. Or at least, the first part of a documentary. Either way, I was stoked to see the story of Club Penguin put to a video of some kind, and this video does not disappoint. Despite being only a 4 minute video, there are lots of little hidden tidbits about Club Penguin sprinkled throughout the video that you might not realize.

First, if you haven’t already, watch the video! Now!

So awesome. Now for my commentary!

0:01 This is Club Penguin’s hometown of Kelowna, BC.
0:04 “New Horizons” is about the perfect name for a Club Penguin documentary. Club Penguin was originally created by New Horizon Interactive, and when we made Club Penguin, we had to make our own rules about how our virtual world would work, because so few had been made before ours.
0:11 There’s Lane (Billybob). If you look closely on the shelf behind him, there is the super rare plush of the golden Viking Helmet penguin.
0:16 There’s Holly (Happy77). In the original New Horizon Interactive office, Holly and I worked on the first issues of The Penguin Times together.
0:20 There’s me (Screenhog). That room, in my opinion, is the coolest room in the Club Penguin offices. Every time I visit CP, I make a point to check out that room again.
0:27 Nickname1 was the first penguin Lance created for testing Club Penguin. Swampy was also Lance’s penguin.
0:30 There’s Lance (Rsnail). The framed picture is the original Far Side comic that inspired him to use penguins in his chat.
0:34 “massive multiplayer snowball war game” – this would have been called Snow Blasters. I still would love to see how that game would have turned out.
0:41 This was from my first attempt to create an animation model sheet for the penguins. It was not nearly detailed enough, and resulted in the penguins looking very different from one another for the first two years.
0:43 My first possible designs of the Tour Guide Hat (clothing ID# 428). After drawing these up, it was decided not to use the actual word “TOUR” since we were considering taking Club Penguin to other languages, and the question mark hat was used instead. (In Club Penguin, when a tour guide holds up a sign, it’s translated into the proper language).
0:45 I sketched these, but I can’t quite remember why. It might have been for an early Card-Jitsu prototype.
0:48 Here’s Dave. He funded the Club Penguin prototype, and was the third co-founder. Ironically, I don’t think he ever created a penguin on CP.
0:59 This was taken from the SWF file of the original www.newhorizoninteractive.com. I always liked that site design. New Horizon Interactive’s main job until 2005 was video editing and webpage creation. (Side note: There was a company based in the USA somewhere called www.newhorizon.com that also did some kind of web applications. After Club Penguin launched, they actually had to put a disclaimer on their homepage saying that they were not the New Horizon that makes Club Penguin. I feel so sorry for the amount of e-mails they must have received every day asking for a beta hat.)

1:09 The art here appears to be taken from my storyboard drawings for the first Card-Jitsu power card animations. The Ninja is from the Ninja power card, and the faint sketches behind appear to be from the Puffle Roundup card.
1:20 See that construction crane and those girders behind the fence? That was the only art I made specifically for Penguin Chat 3.
1:25 The original Snow Trekker (called the Snow Cat in Penguin Chat 3, renamed in Club Penguin for legal reasons). I think there’s a tiny version of it in a bottle in the Lighthouse.
1:49 “Items and places and minigames”. Penguin Chat 3 had no items (besides the ninja outfit, and briefly, the hard hat). It had no minigames. The Gift Shop existed so that you could buy actual, real T-Shirts and get them sent to you (but hardly anyone did).

2:00 That sketch of the party hat penguin was drawn by the second artist hired for Club Penguin. The song is “I’ve Been Delayed”, which played in the Night Club of Penguin Chat 3.
2:07 The first Club Penguin homepage. Lance was the one who designed it (as well as the New Horizon circle homepage).
2:28 The Beta Test party was a genuinely exciting day for us, if for no other reason than for the fact that the servers didn’t die. That was a big concern for us, but we had over 150 penguins on at one time, and for us, that was HUGE!!! (Fun fact: the original world we used for doing a beta test is now one of the safe chat servers.)
2:34 You know why they keep showing the same room over and over? Because it was the only one decorated. That was the entire Beta Test party. Ah, how times have changed.
2:50 My personal prediction of how big Club Penguin would get was demolished about 8 months after we launched.
2:57 This photo appeared on the front page of a Canadian newspaper, and was the very first appearance of a red puffle (see the bottom left).

3:01 Gin was the original “voice” of Aunt Arctic for the Penguin Times.
3:06 I’m not going to even try to point out details inside the pictures of the Club Penguin offices… I’m sure there are many. The important part is to notice the people. Club Penguin is still being run by an amazing team.
3:16 This was taken from this year’s Anniversary party. Rsnail, Gizmo and I were invited to the office to be special guests for the party. (I can only access my Screenhog penguin from within CP offices, so before you ask, no, I can’t meet you online. It’s locked for a reason.) This is Gizmo’s only appearance in the video, but if the rumors are true that a longer documentary is being made, I’m sure you’ll see him.
3:21 Looks like someone was playing too much New Super Mario Bros 2!
3:26 Man, Club Penguin has some awesome fan art.
3:39 Chris Heatherly, who’s taking over for Lane. EDIT: According to the Club Penguin blog, his penguin name is “Spike Hike”. (Thanks for pointing this out, Trainman1405!)
3:54 Say what you will, but I really like the room redesigns. They are slick. After seven years of growth, Club Penguin’s needed some changes to reflect the new features and games.

That’s it! I’ve heard rumors of a longer documentary coming… I hope they’re true.

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