“Our world is collapsing around us…” a Reddit user posted to r/ClubPenguinRewritten this morning, documenting how the fan-run, presumably illegal Club Penguin remake was slowly shrinking before their eyes. Rumors swirled among players of a legal dispute with Disney and an investigation by City of London Police as elements of the virtual world disappeared in real time, while players sent their latest frantic messages through their avatars of colorful penguins.
Over 140,000 users were members of a Discord server for the game until today, when all messages on the Discord disappeared. The game’s website now displays a notice that it has been seized by City of London Police.
In 2007, Disney bought Club Penguin – the children’s RPG that served as the first introduction to online fandom – for a whopping $700 million. Even then, as a kid with little context about tech industry acquisitions, the purchase seemed ominous (at least my friends thought so on the Miniclip forums, where I fraudulently claimed to be 13). But eventually, those of us who were dedicated fans of virtual luge games and dance parties got out of it, and after counting 200 million users, the game was shut down due to lack of interest. in 2017. Disney tried to transport the remaining gamers to a new mobile game called Club Penguin Island, but it only lasted a year.
But ever since Club Penguin ended – when the iceberg finally tipped over in a strangely emotional moment – there have always been remakes so nostalgic adults can relive their days of collecting puffs, dancing in the pizzeria and bans on high-speed running.
While Meta is desperately trying to get people to play “Horizon Worlds” and embrace his take on the metaverse, the fan-made Club Penguin remake has remained popular. Even indie musician Soccer Mommy, who once opened for a Bernie Sanders rally, played a gig in Club Penguin Rewritten in April 2020.
There is only one message left on the Discord, posted early this morning by an admin:
“CPRewrite is closing immediately due to a full request from Disney,” the admin said. “We have voluntarily given control of the website to the police to continue their copyright investigation.”
TechCrunch contacted City of London Police and Disney to verify these claims, but did not hear back before publication.
This isn’t the first time Disney has been in dispute over the IP address it no longer uses. In 2020, Disney shut down “Club Penguin Online,” another copy of the game that gained over a million new players during the pandemic, the BBC reported. Apparently the site was littered with racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and sexual messages, and a man implicated in the site was arrested on suspicion of possessing child pornography.
According to Club Penguin Rewritten’s legal disclaimer on its website, updated in April 2020 and accessible through the Wayback Machine, the game prohibited harassment and obscene or bigoted language. It’s possible that Disney sought to shut down Club Penguin Rewrite because the site generated ad revenue. But according to an old tweet from 2017, Club Penguin Rewritten used ad money to pay for web servers, then donated the rest. It is unclear how long this policy remained in place. Some users on a Reddit thread noted that the game had rolled out a feature allowing players to watch an advertisement in exchange for an in-game gift, which could also have set off Mickey Mouse’s alarm bells.
Either way, IP theft is IP theft. But also fun penguin game is fun penguin game. Sigh.
We’ll update this story when we know more.