Club Penguin is no more. Long live Club Penguin Island.
Disney shuttered Club Penguin, its award-winning virtual world known for providing a safe, fun environment in which kids and tweens could interact, for the best of reasons. After 11 years, it was showing its age, and it needed to be something it could not.
That means mobile-first, since that’s where its target audience is in 2017. Instead of simply porting it over, Disney decided to tear down and rebuild. And after some geo-testing (a.k.a. a soft launch in specific markets), Club Penguin Island is open to the world on both iOS and Android.
“We’ve got a suite of new features, and the way we’re looking at it is that we have the opportunity to evolve the brand and the product in every way we could,” Club Penguin Island producer Rebecca Warden said to Gamezebo in a recent phone interview. “From a technology standpoint, from a game design standpoint and from an art perspective, with a very immersive 3D world.”
“It’s to really reach a whole new era of kids too, that are on their mobile devices much more than desktop computers,” community manager Bobbi Rieger said. “It’s all a part of that process of continuing the adventure of Club Penguin so that kids of all ages can really come back and feel the nostalgia of classics but in a new wrapper and new environment.”
The emphasis there could really be placed on adventure. While Club Penguin Island contains the same trademark interactivity and self-expression, parts of it are also structured like a more traditional MMORPG. It offers quests and daily challenges, providing players with the option of simply hanging out or tackling its overall narrative.
In other words, while beta testers were getting silly and dressing like slices of pizza to form their own bands, they were also right in the thick of things with Club Penguin personalities like pirate captain Rockhopper and journalist Aunt Arctic.
“Those famous penguins have been really important to our players, so they really are an important part of Club Penguin Island,” Warden said. “Rockhopper and Aunt Arctic are both sort of the hosts of adventure threads, so members can opt into adventures where they’re really interacting with these characters, they’re there solving problems with them, they’re saving the island. And that, I think, is the real strength of the product.”
Like the original Club Penguin, Island has a heavy emphasis on safety, with a chat filter and reporting tools to help the community police itself. The moderators also don’t mess around, as other outlets have discovered by intentionally putting them to the test.
That’s likely more important than ever because both Warden and Rieger noted that the buzz around Club Penguin Island prior to launch convinced many lapsed players of the original world to return for a last hurrah. Since Club Penguin was around for so long, those players are obviously older now, and it’s logical to assume that they might check out the new game even though they’re no longer in its primary demographic.
Fortunately, Disney has used its soft launch period to learn all about how new and returning members might mesh, as well as a few things they might not even have fully expected.
“One thing our developers have noticed in geo-beta is that players pretty much try and get wherever they can on the island, so areas where colliders might not really go all the way, players are able to squeeze through those and enter areas that you might not normally be able to get to,” Riger said, explaining that one area reserved for members (subscriptions for Club Penguin Island are set at $4.99 a month) was accessible to non-members, and the dev team decided to leave it in as an Easter egg. “How players figure that out blows my mind. It’s incredible to watch, and you’ll go online and players will show you how they did it, and they’re so stoked about it.”