The 2,000 Pound Penguin Online

A major acquisition took place recently with one of the largest and least covered online MMO’s in the world, Club Penguin:

Disney Acquires Club Penguin for $350M

That’s right, the little tuxedo wearing birds have gained enough popularity with the younger set to draw the attention of Disney. The above article was published in Forbes Magazine on August 1, 2007. Club Penguin has 12 million registered users, 700,000 paying $5.95/month, and had 4.7 unique visitors in the month of June. Neopets, owned by MTV, is larger with 40 million registered users, with 11 million unique monthly visitors, with 30,000 new accounts activated daily. Neopets is targeted at a larger age demographic than Club Penguin. These two “kids games” are larger than any of the US based MMO’s, including World of Warcraft and Second Life.

For those who are not familiar with Club Penguin, the game offers a safe online social environment for 6 – 14 year olds. The graphics are 2D, not anything like Second Life, World of Warcraft, or any other popular online virtual worlds. But that’s where the differences stop. Club Penguin has an economy, it has full chat support (more on that in a minute), and it has mini-games (the equivalent of quests).

The economy is driven by gold coins. Players participate in mini-games with other players, or solo, to earn gold coins. They then use these coins to buy things for their penguin and their own personal igloo. Of course there are catalogs and catalogs of things to buy. My 9-year old immediately went to work getting other colors for his penguin (he’s currently settled on a dark blue), then started filling his clothing inventory with scuba gear, pizza cook, and other outfits. Now that he has discovered where his igloo is, he has a pet and is setting to work decorating.

The chat is moderated in almost all locations. A shield with an “M” appears in the upper right corner when they are in areas that are moderated. The chat is also run through a series of filters for content filtering. There are many servers that only allow menu based chat, or canned responses like “Hello”, “How are you”, etc. There are also servers where the kids can have open text chat. Of course there is the obligatory friends list. You can open your personal igloo for friends to come and hang out and chat.

This paragraph from the Forbes article touches on the safety of Club Penguin:

“Although sites like Club Penguin and its rival, Webkinz, are forcing parents to grapple with how young kids should be roaming about and chatting with friends online, many Internet safety experts believe these social-networking precursors are far safer than News Corp. (nyse: NWSnews people )’s MySpace, Facebook and other hangouts for older users.”

My son has three brothers who are six years older than him. He’s been playing games like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars for several years already. I have lectured my kids more than a few times about online safety. Their computers are five feet and seven feet from my computer, so I can just glance over at anytime to see what they are doing. And I am not shy to ask “Who are you talking to?” at any given time. Parents need to be very active with any online service their children are involved in, at any age. And the obvious, but often ignored, rule of not putting computers in private bedrooms should be at the top of any parents list for online safety.

Disney is hinting that more online kid friendly virtual worlds are on their way:

“Disney already operates the virtual game “Toontown” and is developing a similar virtual world around its “Pirates of the Caribbean” characters. Iger hinted that Disney also was working on a virtual world based on “Cars,” an animated movie created by Disney-owned Pixar.”

It’s ironic that theses MMO’s with training wheels for the younger set have overtaken the big boys with their registered users and paid subscription numbers. This is definitely a market and demographic to watch as online social environments become more mainstream.


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