Saturday, August 13, 2011

Remembering The Virtual Magic Kingdom

In 2008, almost overnight, Disney shut down its free online multi-player game Virtual Magic Kingdom (VMK for short) which took game participants through various, lands, rooms, and quests that were based on Disney Parks. There were thousands of players who invested countless hours into playing the game in its three year existence and it was gone in the course of a weekend. Disney's official reason was the game was never intended to be permanent and was only a promotional feature celebrating Disneyland's 50th Anniversary in 2005. From the beginning, the game was only intended to have a limited lifespan.

Tell that to many fans of the game. It was met with cries of outrage that in the end meant little to the giant Walt Disney Company. The game required high powered servers and paid moderators who kept control of the game content. It took money to run VMK and the return on investment of a free game was well.....nothing. Corporations always want a return on investment and good will sometimes just doesn't cut it.

But here's where Disney missed the boat. Not every person lives in close proximity to a Disney Park. Not every person (and their families) can afford to go to a Disney Park. And not everybody who played Virtual Magic Kingdom had the physical abilities to enjoy a Disney Park. Yes, there were countless people, disenfranchised from the Disney masses because of wealth, location, or physical disabilities who were able to enjoy just a bit of the magic displayed in the Virtual Magic Kingdom. The people who could not walk, or run, or dance in real life magically had these abilities in VMK. And it brought fun and joy to downtrodden lives.

In my life as a casual park goer to somewhat of a Disney enthusiast, it was the single worst move I have seen Disney make because it truly showed its corporate colors. In the end, it all came down to money. Weeks, maybe months later, it was leaked out that the off-shore developers of VMK wanted a bigger share of games popularity. The developers and programmers wanted more money and it was money Disney was unwilling to pay. I don't know if this is true or not. Like most other things, Disney is very secrative about their corporate decisions but at the base of everything, the decision to shut down VMK was based on the bottom line and not about people at all.

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