There's no easy way to say goodbye to a virtual world.
When a TV show ends, after producing seasons' worth of content, it gets to have its finale. The fans will be upset, begging for it to continue, but after the show is done, they still have the opportunity to relive it exactly as it was by catching reruns or watching DVDs of it.
When a series of video games ends, the fans get upset, but they still usually have the ability to dust off the old game console, pull out the controller, and play the game as it was.
But a virtual world... they never die gracefully. The moment the plug is pulled, it's gone. It ceases to exist, because it was never about the art, it was about the community.
On March 29, Club Penguin will close its doors.
I hadn't visited Club Penguin in years, to tell you the truth. But when I heard the news a few days ago, it still hit hard. Club Penguin was my introduction to the video game industry, and what a way to begin. The silly virtual penguins and their furball pets that I helped to create have been seen by over 1.5% of the people on Earth.
To distill the experience of Club Penguin into a few paragraphs is impossible. Any attempt to do so brings to mind a thousand memories, from the absurd to the serious, from the insignificant to the monumental:
- A digital clock that was somehow powered by throwing snowballs at it.
- Kids using the game to learn how to read.
- Hot sauce as jetpack fuel.
- A western party that was voted for, but that no one seemed to want when it actually happened.
- Secret agents that were horrible at keeping their identity a secret.
- An autistic child whose experience in making friends online gave him the confidence to make friends in real life.
- Wearing snowshoes, a sweatshirt, a bowtie, and a hat made out of fruit all at the same time just because you could.
- A Friday afternoon with a dozen other artists sketching ridiculous concepts about what penguin sumo would look like.
- Seeing Club Penguin gift cards pop up in my local supermarket for the first time.
- Rejoicing at the Club Penguin Beta Party that we were able to cram over 60 penguins into one room without the game crashing.
From May 2005 to May 2009, my job was to help make Club Penguin awesome, and it was magical. There was stress, there were conflicts, but when I look back at it, the good parts easily outshine the bad.
And that is what I hope for you. You, the faithful fans of Club Penguin, whether current or former, I hope that when you look back at this little world of flightless birds, you remember the good outshining the bad. I've heard many stories of people being inspired by Club Penguin to follow career paths that they might not have otherwise pursued. I've seen others get their first taste of caring for their community by donating to Coins for Change. Even with Club Penguin shutting its doors – a decision that I believe is unwise, considering the population of people that still care about this virtual world – examples like those mean that I can't dwell on the negative side.
Club Penguin isn't truly going away, of course. Club Penguin Island is coming out as a mobile app, and I have hope that it's able to build the same sense of community. I hope that the team working on Club Penguin Island will value their fans and listen to their feedback, and I hope that the Walt Disney Company will allow that team the room they need to make the same kind of frequent improvements that made Club Penguin great.
I have more to say, but for now, I'll end the blog post here. I'm thankful that I and the thousand other past and present employees of Club Penguin were able to make you smile. Now go, waddle on, and make new memories.