VMKers Picketing at Disney

“You’d rather do anything in the world than disappoint a guest,” John Spelich, a vice president in the Walt Disney Internet Group, told the AP. “But in this particular instance, this promotional site is going to come to an end. We have invited those players who like features of VMK to sample the other ways we’re offering to engage with Disney online.”

We’ve heard Disney President Robert Iger talk about the similarities between virtual worlds and theme parks before when it come to extending a major franchise. VMK did just that for one of the biggest franchises of all, Disneyland.

It doesn’t sound like the picket line could have been particularly deep, but it does highlight the risk of using a virtual world to promote a product. I’ve seen it in the comment section from when Coke switched over to There.com from the independent Coke Studios, users erupted when VMK announced its closing, and EA is seeing a backlash from users after the recent announcement that EA-Land/The Sims Online would be closing down.

Virtual worlds are great for marketing and promotions because users form strong emotional attachments to their avatars and tight-knight communities. Taking that away will always be upsetting.

Virtual Worlds News: Virtual Magic Kingdom Users Picket Disneyland

Wowza. Ya know, this gets me thinking more… So, Disney informed the VMKers like 2 months in advance as a courtesy, right? They didn’t HAVE to inform anyone. They could have just closed their doors. They’re sticking to their guns and closing shop.

That 2 month warning was their way of allowing users to collectively move on to other avenues & worlds.

And it backfired.

…So the question stands: Do you give courtesy 2 months, semi-responsible 2 weeks, or shut without notice and leave a message on the door?

What VMK has done = sparked a conversation about power & the people. Who has the power? Who has the respect?

How this VMK situation will affect future youth-based Virtual Worlds and the business’s view. Why? Because insulting the audience is insulting your supporters. And yet, insulting your product (by no longer supporting the quality & agenda of that product’s goal) is both insulting to the audience and the company.

The ones who get it easy? The young, the less conglomerate companies/brand names/virtual environments. Why? Because they don’t have the eternal existence that Disney seems to have. You look at Disney and you KNOW there is money there. Sure, behind the red curtain all that money is allocated to various positions, events, causes, agendas, etc. It doesn’t really just sit in a vault like Uncle Scrooge – waiting for the frivolous spending (or swimming). Disney = strategical machine. And if you don’t have a big backer like that, it’s easier (it’s never easy) to shrug and say “We can’t do this anymore. Thanks for the memories.” And close shop.

And isn’t it better to close shop then carry on some half-baked, poorly supported environment that’s a shadow of what it used to be, and can hardly compete with the world at hand? Mmm. Maybe that’s a personal decision – but as someone that works HARD in the youth entertainment biz? You let decent programs turn to crap for youth – it’s dangerous and a liability.

So what will happen as these big, trusted brands open worlds of “promise” for tater tots and then move on to other projects. Remember – worlds are thriving environments. THRIVING. People show up because they’re part of the overall world, not because they have to for work or education or by law. It’s a matter of choice. That choice and the thriving nature of these world-round, live environments deserves RESPECT.

And yet, we’re back to that respect, that empowerment. No longer is “respect” a single word with a single definition direction, it becomes split: Respect for the user, respect for the entity, respect for the company.

So – to me, VMK did the right thing. They no longer plan on supporting a project that isn’t in line with the quality they hold themselves at. And instead of letting it fall to the wayside, they’re doing the right (and difficult) thing of closing it. What they did wrong? – some could say, they didn’t realize the gravity of impact their “closing shop” announcement might have. Some could say they should have presented a better strategy package for closing down the virtual domain of so many passionate users.

Me? I say nothing and watch shrewdly, and remember back to the times when we would leave my grandmother in St. Louis. She would stand on the front stoop of her apartment complex, and I would sob the sob of a thousand heartaches (my gma lived alone, and she was the most elegant lady I had ever met, and leaving her made me afraid for her, since as a child i never wanted to be alone, and for someone i loved so intensely to be alone? That was something I couldn’t understand or handle in my youth). Naturally, there’d be like a 45 minute period before mom & dad managed to get me into the car where I’d be holding on to her leg, the couch, the chair, random pillows – all trying to buy just a LITTLE bit longer with her. And when we’d get in the car (me sobbing more for the sake of losing that battle), she’d wave, stand strong, and dad would pull away– only to do a few loops in the parking lot. I would cry for the first half hour of the trip, then we’d stop at a gas station, I’d get some candy, and we’d move on.

When I think of this, I remember– children, kids, teens, etc have EVERY right to their emotions, and their connections to the things they care about. But what I remember now is that my parents never let me feed into that. They allowed my tears, but didn’t egg me on. I knew it hurt them to leave her just as much as me. And yet, they stayed strong, and remained role models, and focused on the future.

What about you? What would you do in Disney’s situation? How would you react as a parent of a child participating in a world that is closing down? What benefits, learning experiences can be created from such an event?

p.s. sorry if this is a bit of an incoherent mish-mosh ramble.  It’s monday morning, peeps.  😉

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  1. May 13, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    We have actually encountered this exact scenario a few times over the last few years, and I believe that Disney handled it very badly. Either they did not seek the advice of their moderators, or they did not listen.

    You cannot invite people into a world, asking them to make it their home, and then with whatever notice shutter it up with no alternative. Disney – a virtual world is not a marketing campaign. It is a second life. An online home. A place to make friends. If you plan to build one, step up and take the responsibilities that go along with that.

    Our recommendation is always always always offer a specific alternative. Not a general “we invite VMK members to explore other Disney offerings”. That is nonsense. And Disney owes their community better than that. Instead, they should have specifically set up something in another one of their communities and began a slow transition. The moderators would have been invaluable in assisting with that transition, perhaps by creating special tags, setting up forums to discuss, having a big party or event to celebrate and welcome the members of VMK. Of course, there would be screaming and crying in any event, but the most important thing would have been preserved… THE COMMUNITY.

  2. Annette Reed
    May 16, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    I would like to thank WDIG for providing Virtual Magic Kingdom and at the same time BEG of them to keep it open!
    PLEASE! PLEASE read this and listen!!!!!!!

    This really hit hard in my home with my own daughter. She has been so upset for weeks now and I honestly don’t see this just blowing over so easily as some may think. She has already cried real tears more than once even though right now she can still get on and play. I fear the day when indeed WDIG closes down this community on May 21st.

    (YOU could still visit and correspond with your grandmother- sorry,there is NO comparison here)

    Why? My daughter has a severe neuromuscular disease called spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) type 1. She was not expected to live past the age of 2. By the grace of God and a few miracles she is still here with us. But every day could be her last. One little cold could be deadly. She doesn’t live in a “bubble” but we are very careful with the amount of outside exposure she gets. She relies on a nurse or me to do everything for her. The one activity she can do all by herself is the computer. With a special mouse pad and onscreen keyboard she can travel the web. She has been searching for a virtual game now for a long time where she can play and do some of the things she can’t do on her own in real life. She just wants to be like other kids her age. This disease does not affect her mind so she thinks, feels and has the same wants as other kids.

    Think about it for a moment. Children want to play (hey-even adults want time to play). Children get the most satisfaction and sense of worth and accomplishment when they can do things on their own. When her friends have free time, they can run outside, play a game, pick up a book, or pick up the phone and call a friend to go shopping or to a movie without even thinking about it. My daughter can’t do any of these activities. Even the computer has to be placed in front of her just right and her hand adjusted several times for her to do the one thing she can do on her own.

    This past summer she found VMK. There was no mention of this being a “promotion” and that it would disappear when the “promotion” was over. Even when they shut down VMK Central in the parks and stopped all of the in park quests, the newsletter stated that the game would go on and that indeed it would not be going anywhere. This is DISNEY! DISNEY that I grew up loving and dreaming about and forced my family to love as well. Who wouldn’t BELIEVE in DISNEY to do the right thing and continue to provide the ONLY simple, safe, family oriented virtual game? At least tell us the real reason, NOT because it was a “promotion”. How do you explain this to a child who believes and hopes and has faith in the world every day? How do you explain this to a child who just returned from a trip to Walt Disney World and heard every day while there “just believe and your dreams will come true” or “ make a wish and your dreams will come true” ? She has been wishing, dreaming and believing and VMK is still closing May 21st.

    At first my daughter loved to be able to just shop, change her clothes, and decorate her room. In the real world it’s like playing with a Barbie doll and a Barbie playhouse only my daughter can’t physically “play” with those kinds of toys (and I have many of these toys sitting and collecting dust). There were lots of “firsts” to watch- “firsts” that most of us take for granted. I watched her walk, dance, swim, eat, drive a car and ride on rides (without having to be held or sitting in a wheelchair). She then discovered a whole new way to really “play”. There is a virtual school she would visit and be a part of or even teach at. There were restaurants she could get a job at and she would actually get on at a specific time/day to “go to work”. There were plays, concerts and musicals she could watch or become a part of. At Christmas she was able to build (for the very FIRST time ever) her very own gingerbread house. This is something we have had a tradition of doing every Christmas but that she has always had difficulty fully participating in. This past February I was able to have a birthday party for her, which included friends (for the very FIRST time) and a virtual cake and presents. This is HUGE for an 11 year old girl who has never been able to have a birthday party with friends because of the risk of getting sick being with many kids in an enclosed small space during the winter. She has made some really wonderful friends in VMK. When it gets right down to it, that is what she will miss the most- playing with her friends! Life itself is all about relationships we make with other people. Her real friends will be lost to her forever when VMK closes. VMK has been her playground, her classroom, and her canvas. This has also been a place where we as mom and child can really play and interact with each other for the first time by sharing a common interest without the worries of day-to-day life.

    I have fought for my daughter’s life ever since she was diagnosed with SMA and told she would not have any quality to her life. VMK has given her life and more quality than you can even imagine. Please join me for a day and watch her enjoy and discover a life many of us take for granted. She never complains about what she can’t do but becomes so excited when she discovers what she can do. You are taking a huge part of her away. It’s just not as simple for her to be able to “move on” to something else. It took so long to find VMK and time is so precious.

    She has and will play other virtual games but not in the same way. Other virtual worlds that I have even spent money paying monthly for or have bought a special toy/code to connect to have been a “virtual” disappointment. (including Club Penguin, Webkinz, Bratz, Barbie, TY and many more) They don’t hold her attention like VMK and she gets bored with them very easily because they are so task/game oriented. Or they promote acts of violence like fighting, killing and destroying. Oh lets not forget gambling and YES some of these are DISNEY sites I am talking about here. (POTC and Toontown-which I have also paid for) She plays VMK every day (when she has some free time) and checks first to see if her friends are on. She made me create a character in the very beginning just so she had someone to play with. Now she has made some amazing friends who actually watch out for her, for me, when I can’t be on with her. You cannot find people like this on any other virtual site. The magic you find in the Disney parks really brings out the BEST in people!

    There is no other virtual game like VMK where the spirit and magic of Walt lives on every day. There are so many random acts of kindness that go on in VMK. There was a family who had a fire in their home and was not able to get on the computer for months. A group of friends collected extra items they would miss out on and gifted them when they were able to come back to the game. Another SMA child who plays VMK was sick and in the hospital several times this past fall. He did not have access to the internet in the hospital. He was still in the hospital on Christmas day. Instead of sending more stuffed animals, balloons, cards, toys etc., VMK gave us the PERFECT opportunity to make him smile with virtual gifts. With the help of his mom we were able to create a Welcome Home Christmas room complete with all of the items he had missed getting while in the hospital. These were all gifted to him and it was a huge surprise and delight to him. Time is so precious to these kids. It is difficult for them to play the games by themselves and to even get on when there are special events. They can’t spend the entire day on the computer. This was a big opportunity to make a difference. To see and hear the excitement when something is gifted to another is really magical. That warm fuzzy feeling that you get in the park is recreated in VMK every day. THERE IS NO OTHER GAME LIKE IT! It’s a very simple (increased technology is NOT always needed to improve a game and actually shuts out kids with disabilities), safe and family oriented game where everyone can remember and relive the magic!

    So Disney, PLEASE do the right thing for the right reason. Whenever you have the opportunity and the means to make someone’s life better you need to seize that opportunity and make it happen. Continue to make a difference in the life of a child! Only Disney can do this.

    So find her a replacement if you can.

    Annette Reed

    Please visit:


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