internet studies

The Day the Puffles Cried: Disney Shuts Down Club Penguin Rewritten

Photo: Club Penguin Rewritten/YouTube

As global warming surges on and the ice caps continue to melt, penguins are increasingly threatened, with over half of penguin species now classified as vulnerable or endangered. But no breed is under more threat of imminent extinction than the one being brutally slaughtered by the Walt Disney Company in the thousands: the penguins of Club Penguin Rewritten.

If you are reading this through pince-nez because you are an Old™️, Club Penguin was a massive multiplayer online game that ran from 2005 to 2017, in which young players could build customizable penguin avatars, party, play games, decorate their own igloos, and make friends in a virtual world. It was everything Mark Zuckerberg wishes the metaverse could be, but with cute penguins and without the Web3 tech-hell. Two years after its launch, the game’s Canadian developers sold it to Disney and the site experienced massive growth, attracting tens of millions of players. For many Gen-Z kids, this was their first-ever social-media platform. When the official site shut down, a number of private servers emulating and building upon the game cropped up to take its place, developed and maintained by independent programmers and moderators.

One such server was Club Penguin Rewritten, which launched in 2017 and enjoys a thriving fandom. The site and others like it experienced a boost in popularity in the early weeks of the pandemic, as teens and young adults who grew up with the game used it to convene from quarantine. A rep for the game told The Hollywood Reporter in a March 2020 story that the site was seeing “about 30,000 new players joining every day” in the first week of lockdown. Lance Priebe, one of Club Penguin’s three original founders, supported these reboot servers, telling THR, “It’s still their home. It’s still their tree fort and playground. It’s still their place […] The penguins just all grew up.”

Disney clearly disagreed. In May 2020, the Walt Disney Company issued a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice against Club Penguin Online, a server with over 8 million users, and the server shut down in compliance. In addition to copyright infringement, Club Penguin Online was notorious for “racist and anti-semitic content” due to a lack of moderation. And on April 13, 2022, players logging on to Club Penguin Rewritten were greeted with a black screen, the City of London Police logo, and a notice stating, “This site has been taken over by Operation Creative, Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU).” On the Club Penguin Rewritten Discord, moderator Thorn posted a statement saying, “CPRewritten is shutting down effective immediately due to a full request by Disney. We have voluntarily given control over the website to the police for them to continue their copyright investigation.” Disney did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The City of London Police confirmed the seizure to Vulture in a statement. “Three people were arrested on April 12 on suspicion of distributing materials infringing copyright and searches were carried out,” Detective Constable Daryl Fryatt stated. “They have been released under investigation, and to aid with the police investigation, they agreed to sign over the website to the control of PIPCU.”

But why now? Redditor British_Commie has some useful context: “It’s worth noting that Club Penguin Rewritten’s recent decision to add advertisements to gain revenue probably is the biggest factor that put them in Disney’s firing line,” writes the Redditor, “since they’re using an IP they don’t own in order to make money.” In the game’s final moments on Wednesday, surviving players danced on their digital ice floe while they still could.

The best-case scenario coming out of this is that Disney sees how much demand there is for Club Penguin and relaunches the official game, maybe even hiring some proven talent from the Club Penguin Rewritten team. Otherwise, at least we’ve still got Neopets … for now.

This post has been updated.

Disney Calls Cyber-Cops on ‘Club Penguin Rewritten’ Server