- Originally launched in 2005, Club Penguin shut down on March 29, 2017, after failing to hold onto its user-base.
- The last in-game event began exactly two years ago on February 1, 2017, and celebrated the site's history and community.
- This is how Club Penguin's legacy contributed to the history of the internet.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
A little over two years ago, on January 30, 2017, Club Penguin published a blog post announcing that the game and social networking site would be shut down. After accumulating hundreds of millions of users over its 11 years, the party was finally over. The shutdown wouldn't be immediate, allowing users to continue waddling, dancing, and throwing snowballs as sentient penguins. In the post, the owners gave users until the end of March to get their affairs and igloos in order.
For the younger generation, the shutdown was the end of an era. Like Neopets and Habbo Hotel, the site helped show digital-natives the impact that virtual worlds can have on our own. Club Penguin created its own ecosystem of inside jokes, traditions, and memes, at a time where the latter was mostly limited photos of an animal and two lines of Impact font. After Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016, protests broke out on the island, with penguins letting out text-based chants of "not my president" and "my body my choice" on the snow-covered streets.
A longstanding in-game conspiracy theory was that an iceberg in the corner of the map would flip over, only if enough penguins stood on one side. The rumor prompted users to constantly flood the chat with demands to work together and "tip the iceberg." Like all good folklore, it didn't matter if it was true or false. The history and mythology surrounding the site was proof that it was more than a game.
The internet doesn't always last forever.
The only thing that elementary school teachers in Computer Class loved to do more than correct your hand placement over the keyboard was to remind you that "the internet is forever." The phrase was meant to be a warning against making an inappropriate AIM status, out of fear that prospective jobs or colleges would one day see it. But this adage doesn't apply in every situation.
Many relics from an older internet, like Napster or Myspace, are no longer around. There has been an astounding loss of cultural information as the internet has grown, considering the data created and destroyed within a two-decade period. Vine, the short-form video app that was also shut down in 2017, can only be viewed through YouTube compilations and TikTok imitations. In recent years, media companies like Deadspin have been hollowed out and sometimes twisted into advertising farms. Club Penguin wasn't even the first avian-based game to be taken offline with little warning. That title belongs to Flappy Bird.
Following Club Penguin's shutdown, even the blog post itself has been lost to the pixelated sands of time. Navigating to clubpenguin.com now redirects the user to Disney's homepage, greeting the user with an advertisement for the live-action Lion King reboot. Only by using the Wayback Machine, a service that periodically crawls webpages for archival, are we able to see the original announcement, preserved in digital amber.
Unlike the rest of the internet, the comment section on this page is important. While the shutdown did garner many, understandably, angry reactions, others rocketed past the seven stages of grief and landed on acceptance. By 2017, the digital decay had become an established part of the internet tradition. Nothing on the internet is forever. There is no guarantee that your favorite corner of web will continue to exist a decade from now.
How money killed Club Penguin.
While the news media was undertaking a "pivot to video" based on artificially inflated data, the game industry was attempting a similar turn toward mobile gaming. Buried within the shutdown announcement, there was a reminder that Club Penguin would soon have a 3D, mobile-only sequel, Club Penguin Island. But all of the items, clothing, and pets earned over the decade of playing the original would not be carried over.
The basic idea behind the broader pivot was that kids today, always on those darn cellphones, would prefer a more casual, vertical gaming experience outside of the computer or console. The move was marketed as an opportunity to meet users where they were. In reality, the pivot offered a better way to cash in, as in-game purchases and more frequent advertising are a standard of the industry.
This clashed with Club Penguin's original mission; to serve as a space on the internet for kids to play and interact safely, free from ads. Today, there are virtually no online platforms designed for children that don't rely on sponsored content in some form. After being purchased by the Walt Disney Company for $700 million, that became true for Club Penguin as well.
At the time, one of the game's unique features was that it constantly updated. Almost every month, a new "party" would take over the island with a predetermined theme. Some would align with holidays in the real world, like New Year's Eve or Halloween. Others were based on fictional events in game, like the arrival of the infamous pirate penguin, Captain Rockhopper. Eventually, Club Penguin began using these parties to promote other brands under the Disney umbrella, including Marvel, Star Wars, and Frozen. There were a total of seventeen sponsored events by the time Club Penguin was shut down.
Club Penguin's final party.
Two years ago, on February 1, 2017, Club Penguin's last party began. Dubbed the "Waddle On Party," it was a send-off to the island and the penguins who inhabited it, lasting until the game's closure on March 29. To finally pay off the longstanding rumor and appease players, the game was updated to allow the iceberg to finally tip. If enough penguins used the jackhammer emote while wearing a hard hat, the iceberg would flip and reveal a dance floor and a golden plaque, with the inscription reading "Together, we can build an island, create a community, change the world...and even tip an iceberg. Waddle on." Less than a year later, Disney shut down the mobile game created to be the successor to the original Club Penguin, laying off all of the developers in the process.
As of now, Disney has abandoned the series, but there is still a way to play Club Penguin as it was once intended. Club Penguin Rewritten is a digital Theseus' ship, reassembled from the Adobe Flash Player files and components of the original and recreated to the best of the developers' ability. The result is an accurate depiction of the "classic" Club Penguin style that ended around 2012. The site doesn't try to make money, forgoing the premium membership option available in the original, instead allowing any user to access every in-game item. The site's legal page asserts that it is an "independent recreation of Disney's Club Penguin" and "not affiliated with Disney Interactive or Club Penguin Inc." Club Penguin Rewritten allows the spirit of the original game to live on, all without advertising.
Club Penguin is dead. Long live Club Penguin.