Club Penguin: A sad end and the demise of MMO games

Club Penguin’s town centre as it was seen during the later stages of the game.

On the 30th March 2017, millions of online game players joined together to mourn the loss of one of the last decade’s most popular online games: Club Penguin.

A staple in primary school classrooms all over the Western world, Club Penguin had over 200 million registered users by the time its final servers were shut down last Thursday. But despite being one of the most popular games in the world at the height of it’s popularity, Club Penguin’s traffic had suffered a dramatic decline in recent years — causing the game to finally be discontinued after thirteen years.

But why?

The rise in social media has seen a rapid change in the dynamic of internet usage for children and young teenagers — and this may be one of the reasons that interest in online games like these has decreased so rapidly. Online platforms like Facebook and Twitter designate the required age of a user to be at least 13 years old — but the ease of the sign up process means that potentially millions of underage users have access to the sites.

As the digital age continues to explode, the traditions of yesterday are also being trampled in the mud. It sounds grandpa-ish to say, but remember the days when boys would ask for a football for Christmas, or a Scalextric? And how many young girls would’ve given an arm for the latest set of Bratz figures for their birthday? Not any more.

Nowadays, everything is computerised. Just seven or eight years ago it was unheard of to have a phone before the last year of primary school at the very earliest. Now, children of six or seven years old will be prancing around with the latest flash smartphone. The parents will say it’s for protection, but they can’t be seen with anything other than the very latest model — for fear of being undermined by their peers.

A selection of the characters available on the once popular children’s MMO Moshi Monsters.

Club Penguin isn’t the only online game that seems to be dying as social media and mobile gaming continues to grip the world. Moshi Monsters is another animal-based MMO aimed at ‘children aged from 6–14 years old.’ At one point, the game was growing by 25 million users per year. The company made revenues of $46.9 million in 2012. As of 2016, turnover stands at just $7.1 million.

But that doesn’t mean the MMO’s parent companies have given up. In adapting to the climate, Club Penguin owners Disney (who bought the company in 2007 for a 12-figure sum) have released a revamped mobile version of the game, entitled ‘Club Penguin Island’, available globally on smartphones on the day the desktop version closed down.

It would be wrong to say that computer MMO’s were much better for a child’s health than social media sites or even mobile phones. The digital age in any of it’s forms has still detracted from children playing outside and enjoying non-screen luxuries as they used to.

Millions of children are ignoring Facebook’s ‘13+ only’ rule to sign up for the site underage.

But it may have an adverse effect on children’s safety. Club Penguin allowed the interaction of users with random strangers but parents had a substantial amount of power over their child’s account, and the game included the option to disallow the ability to type comments and there was significant amounts of protection, including bans for any vulgar language or people who did not use the site correctly.

Social media is starkly different. These days, a lot of parents do not know what their children get up to online and the rise of internet grooming and the possibility of fake accounts has led to fears over the vulnerability of a lot of online users.

But it seems like the the golden age of computerised online gaming has passed. Even classics meant for older children such as RuneScape have seen a decline, with new features being scrapped after just a few months due to lack of interest. Most online games have a lifespan, but Club Penguin is one thing anyone born in the late nineties never thought they would see die. For some, it’s just the end of a game. For others, it’s the end of an era.