A fan petition once saved a famous vampire slayer from TV cancellation. While other grassroots attempts may not have been so successful, this isn’t stopping a band of online Caribbean pirates.
The website http://revivepotco.org/ recently reached 2400 signatures as part of its message to Disney’s Interactive Media Group (DIMG), urging them to continue development and support for the long-running online role-playing game.
Pirates of the Caribbean is a long-standing Disney franchise. As part of the original Disneyland theme park, it was a thrilling water ride through the rowdy Port Royal under pirate siege. It was and still is a family favorite for decades in several Disney parks.
In 2003, as part of a series of films based on their attractions, Disney co-produced the film Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl with Bruckheimer Films. Three more films followed, grossing $3.7 billion at the box office and more than $1 billion in video sales worldwide. Two more films are slated for production.
During the parallel production of the second and third films, Disney’s Interactive Studios developed an MMORPG (Massive Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Game) based on the films – Pirates Online. In the game, players create their own pirate character and interact with characters from the film as well as new characters and a new story set in the Pirates universe.
However, the game was delayed numerous times. The original target date was in 2006 to coincide with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. It also missed a target of May 2007 for the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Despite setbacks, the game was officially released on October 31, 2007.
Pirates Online was not geared toward the older, hard-core gamer that other MMORPG’s like World of Warcraft were targeting. But, it did offer detailed character development, land and sea combat, an extensive world to explore and quests to complete that required longer playtime – which in the end, did attract an older audience. Though garnering an E-10 rating and marketed more directly to younger players, the game was and still is being played by older kids, teens and many adults. This, coupled with the very popular source material, initially gathered a sizable following.
“You’re dead if you aim only for kids. Adults are only kids grown up, anyway.” – Walt Disney
Once the third film had finished its run in theaters, players noticed a change in the game’s development. Despite having nearly half-a-million players worldwide at it’s peak, there were longer periods between updates and often only minimal improvements.
The single largest deficit was a continuation of the main story quest. After players had finished Chapter 1: The Black Pearl, there were no follow-up chapters. There are plenty of signs and indicators that such chapters were planned, but never implemented. Part of that initial problem appears to involve the Kraken, but was not completed. There is some archived video showing the Kraken boss level being play tested, but was never added.
However, the player community seemed to grow closer. The game spawned numerous fan sites, online organizations and even a fan-made Pirates Online Wikia. After celebrating its five-year anniversary, the Caribbean appeared to be at a crossroads.
Following several years of financial disappointment, Disney’s Interactive Media Group appeared to have changed focus. The lackluster response to World of Cars, another MMORPG which later closed, was one of the first casualties. Development for Toontown was also curtailed by this point, though Pixie Hollow and Pirates Online remained active.
As part of this re-direction, Disney then purchased Club Penguin; likely again to focus on younger players. Also, Disney began developing social networking games and cut development for home video game platforms (X-Box 360, Wii and Playstation). This cutback included canceling titles such as Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned.
This shift of resources and attention meant a radical reduction of development and tech support for their Online Worlds, including Pirates Online (this meant closing its Online Help and drastically reducing dedicated phone support to only 4 hours).
The last major update to the game was December 2011.
The number of paying players steadily decreased, but thousands of players remained; mostly due to the social aspects of the game. Some areas in-game serve as social hot spots for players to interact. The Pirates Online offsite community still continues as well; including numerous fan and forum sites. A number of Facebook pages are dedicated to the game or a particular pirate guild. Players have even taken it upon themselves to create in-game activities to keep themselves entertained.
On July 29, 2012 a group of players created the Revive POTCO movement as a way to convey their concerns, but also show their support for a game they truly love. And they are not alone. As of now, the petition has over 2,400 signatures. In the scheme of things, 2400 players is a fraction of the once half-million players (currently less than 100,000) but they represent the most dedicated and also importantly, the paying membership.
The estimated $250,000+ in revenue they represent is only a portion of the DIMG’s budget, but it should be taken into consideration that the game also serves as an active promotional tool for the Pirates films at the box office and on home video. The franchise is currently worth nearly $5 billion dollars and growing.
The petition was intended to show Disney’s DIMG division that there is still profitability supporting the community still playing Pirates Online. The games untapped potential for expansion is quite glaring. They only want the game to continue, but are asking for some issues to be addressed. These issues include:
•Performance improvements: Game server and/or software repairs to improve game performance, particularly long lags and freezes that often end in disconnection, removing bugs and glitches as well as improving communication/follow-up for reporting problems. Also, appropriate time for testing prior to public release. This may require an radical update similar to the shift away from Panda 3D game engine in 2009.
•Content improvements: One major concern and leading cause of dwindling membership as been the lack of new game content (items, locations, events, skills, item trading, new and more difficult enemies, etc. but most importantly – new quests or continuation of the original quest.) Once a pirate has rescued the Black Pearl, visited Raven’s Cove and mastered Privateering (Player Ship Combat), there are no new directions to go. The shift to mini-games occurred after a management change, but has not been the direction players were hoping for.
•Security improvements: Elimination or minimizing of in-game hacking and third-party programs, particularly Python Injector (which it’s own developer said should NOT affect game play if the game is properly secured).
•Customer Support: Reinstating Live chat and expanding telephone support, having increased availability to help, and the return of retail game membership cards.
•Activity improvements: At one time, developers hosted regular role-playing events that created a continuing plotline to involve players and keep them engaged. Such activities do not require additional programming or resources, just some organization and man hours but their affect on the game has been profound.
A Better Horizon?
Over the past few months, there are some hopeful signs for Pirates players. Recently, a handful of updates were quietly implemented that seems to have addressed some security issues. Customer support response time has improved. Also, a number of players have recently reported receiving access to play on the game’s test server. In the past, a surge in new play testers has preceded new game development.
Be a Part of the Movement
Even with these new indicators, the petitioners still encourage players of Pirates Online to visit http://revivepotco.org/ and add your pirate’s name to let your voice be heard. Player names are kept anonymous and email confirmation prevents misrepresentation.
For the developers and designers at Disney’s Interactive Media Group, the petitioners hope you take the time to review the complete petition, understand the message and continue to support a product the signers very much enjoyed and want to continue to enjoy.