Disney wipes out community and virtual merchandise 13:22 on Wednesday

On the 22nd of May Disney closed down Virtual Magic Kingdom, a “game site” with community features. Disney chose to close the site, as “it was only promotional” and “did not achieve scale”.

The marketing bozos at Disney might think they simply had a promotional property, with a lifespan drawn on their Excel charts. But people, the users of the site, had built a community.

If you’re in marketing, you might have forgot what a community really is, so here’s a a brief and not all-inclusive primer: In short, a community is a bunch of people conversing, bonding, loving, hating, and searching for each other. Maybe themselves too. If that’s too abstract, think of a tight knit village where everybody knows their neighbor, a sports team, a school class, or your extended family. All communities of different sorts.

When you start to think of it, it’s very different to tear down an advertisement billboard, than break down a community. While tearing down a billboard evokes images of two guys in blue overalls doing their job, pasting up the next billboard for the next advertiser, tearing down a community is more akin to images of the Chinese government forcing a city of a million people to relocate to make room for an artificial lake. In fact, the Disney community had over a million users.

Maybe my example is a bit over the top, but I hope you get the point, that is the difference between a marketing campaign, and a community that has formed around a marketing campaign.

Apparently the Disney folks did not get it:

“At Disney, we’d rather do anything in the world than disappoint a guest,” said John Spelich, a Disney Internet Group spokesman. “But we hope our VMK players will choose to sample some of the other ways to engage with Disney online through disney.com or through virtual worlds.”

How detached from reality, and attached to your marketing powerpoints do you have to be to think people have spent 18 months on a community site because they wanted to engage with your company? People engage with like-minded people, not drone-like companies.

In the Disney case there’s an interesting additional detail: Disney sold physical goods to (who I guess were) visitors to their real theme parks, and promised the same goods in virtual form if the customers signed up for the Virtual Magic Kingdom. Virtual goods are a viable business, so you would think the buying party of such transaction would have some rights to the goods they have acquired. In fact, to me what Disney proposed to customers was very much a two-for-one deal.

But now that Disney is closing Virtual Magic Kingdom, they’re effectively making the virtual goods disappear, and taking away one of the pair of goods sold with a flick of a switch.

If other users in Habbo can be sued for stealing virtual property, how about suing Disney for obliterating virtual property?

4 Responses to “Disney wipes out community and virtual merchandise”

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