Disney applying lessons of Club Penguin, prepping more Pirates

DICE 2010: Interactive label president reveals Elite Penguin Force: Herbert's Revenge for DS, describes learning from subsidiary's pro-customer approach; Armada of the Damned detailed.


Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Force
Disney Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Force - Herbert's Revenge

LAS VEGAS--Last night at the DICE Summit's opening ceremonies, Disney Interactive Media Group president Stephen Wadsworth gave a keynote address titled "Redefining the Interactive Audience." Besides outlining his company's vision for expanding its market share, he laid out the top Disney games for the coming year. Four were known of--Tron Evolution, Split/Second, Epic Mickey, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned--and a fifth was revealed for the first time.

"Fancy some more loot?"

First off, Wadsworth held up the previously announced Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned as an example of the kinds of cross-media properties Disney's game arm wants to pursue. As its name implies, it will be the latest interactive spin-off of Disney's megasuccessful Pirates of the Caribbean films. In development at Propaganda Games (Turok) for the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, the action role-playing game is expected this fall.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned will not tie in to the fourth film in the series, subtitled On Stranger Tides. (Due in 2011, it is based on the book of the same name and will star Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz.) Instead, according to Wadsworth, it will "use the original mythology and background of the first Pirates of the Caribbean [film]," which concerned an undead pirate crew seeking to break a curse.

Of course, the Pirates of the Caribbean films were inspired by the eponymous Disneyland ride. Ironically, Wadsworth sees massively multiplayer online games like Pirates of the Caribbean Online as the game equivalent of theme parks. He also called out Disney's suite of kid-focused casual MMOGs, including Toon Town Online, Pixie Hollow, the upcoming Pixar-inspired World of Cars, and the popular Club Penguin.

Club Penguin is returning to the DS.
Club Penguin is returning to the DS.

Indeed, the popularity of Club Penguin--which Disney bought in 2007 for $350 million--has led to the development of a new DS spin-off of the series, which Wadsworth also announced. Titled Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Force: Herbert's Revenge, it is a sequel to the 2008 DS game Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Force, which has sold over 1.5 million units.

In development at DS specialty studio 1st Playable Productions, Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Force: Herbert's Revenge will introduce new minigames but will retain its predecessor's overall mission-driven single-player campaign. Like the older game, it will let players upload coins earned in the game directly to their online Club Penguin account, where they can be used to buy virtual goods. So far, more than 1 billion coins have been uploaded from the DS Club Penguin game to the Club Penguin site itself.

Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Force: Herbert's Revenge will also have interactivity with an upcoming Club Penguin iPhone game, promised Wadsworth. He explained, "You may start a story on your DS and then complete it on the iPhone. ... [These] multiple extended experiences will let players...engage in an integrated ecosystem."

However, Club Penguin has affected the Disney organization beyond filling its real-world coffers with coins. The site's emphasis on customer service and taking input from players has rubbed off on the larger organization.

"Customer service is a key aspect of Club Penguin," explained the executive. "All the customer service is done in-house, and people have spent 20 to 30 minutes on one customer service call."

As a big media company, Disney could not accept unsolicited ideas due to licensing rights. For Toon Town, the company outsourced all customer service support and would auto-reject any unsolicited ideas. Now, as a result of Club Penguin's success, Disney's interactive division does accept ideas from customers. The approach is also being applied to console games, which Wadsworth hopes will pay a dividend down the road by instilling brand loyalty into young consumers who will buy Disney products for years to come.

"Interactive entertainment has never been more robust, either for creators or consumers," said Wadsworth in conclusion. "A new model is emerging, but something won't change: a shared experience, a great story, and great entertainment."

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