By Chloe Barrett
As a child, I loved turning on my computer, opening google and frantically typing in the address of an online game. Club Penguin, Animal Jam, Moshi Monsters, all gave me great enjoyment. I begged my mother to buy me a monthly membership on them (sorry mom!) so I could unlock the ability to change the colour of my character or buy cool furniture that was locked behind a paywall. But, the current ten-year-olds who use the internet are not playing these games anymore. What happened?
Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters are just two of the many games that have closed down. Both shut recently enough, but there is a version of Club Penguin that still exists on the internet, it was rewritten. There is no membership to purchase, everything is unlocked for your gaming pleasure. Regardless, many were more than willing to pay for the membership on the original. These games were everywhere, toy shops stocked plushies from them, little pet Puffles that came with a code for free coins online. Moshi Monsters even had a brand of crisps that you could buy in your weekly shop! The marketing was endless. Memberships became gift cards that were hung inside game shops alongside iTunes vouchers, so inputting your credit card details online was not mandatory anymore. This also became a good incentive for younger players to save their money and buy the memberships themselves.
I do understand the logic that the games were still playable without the need for membership. You might not get to participate in members-only monthly events or purchase the newest virtual clothes for your animalistic styled avatar, but the games could still be played. Online server games also need money to run and function correctly, which is an important factor to not forget. When they restricted other features though, that is different territory. Animal Jam, for example, had a chat system. You could type and communicate with other worldwide players that were in the same virtual room as you, but if you were a non-member, your chat was limited. As a non-member, when you typed, the words would be highlighted in red while the automated chat function tried to guess the word once you began. If the word was not in the game’s dictionary, you could not type it. Members had the freedom to type any symbols and words, as long as no bad language or bullying was detected. This was a different type of restriction from the small choice of animal avatars you could choose from without membership. People even used to figure out glitches within the game so they could type freely, it was an absurd thing to hide behind a paywall.
Even if you had a membership on Animal Jam, additional purchases to enhance your gameplay were still offered. You had your main spending currency to buy most of the clothing, furniture and some animals, but there was another mode, diamonds. New, ‘rare’ animals would cost you diamonds. Fancy houses and animated items asked for them in return. While diamonds were achievable for members by spinning a wheel and gaining some weekly, a lot of players purchased extra. This added to the cost of playing the game if you wanted these features, and obviously, it worked, as the game is still active with regular players. Even the removal of flash did not deter them, it is hard to imagine much else will.
However, there are still positives to appreciate about these games. With Animal Jam, as it was created with National Geographic, there are important animal and environmental facts scattered throughout the playable worlds. Players can even donate their virtual currency towards the conservation of endangered species. Moshi Monsters brought out trading cards that were incredibly popular in schools, letting young children bond with others whilst they traded. Club Penguin was bought by Disney with cool events that featured characters from the actual movies. While there are things to rightly critique about all of the online community games, of which there are many, at least they let us have fun online in a relatively safe manner. Even if our parents had to shell out a tenner a month for us to buy cool virtual outfits that we could no longer wear once the membership ran out.