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October 18, 2007
Virtual Worlds 2007: Club Penguin - Waddle They Think of Next?
 

By Linda "Brasse" Carlson

There was once a small company called "Club Penguin", set in the idyllic city of Kelowna, British Columbia. They made a web environ for kids to play in, and they made it well. One day they were offered millions to become part of the Disney entertainment empire. I don't think you can get a better seal of approval than that!

Now, under the Disney banner, Club Penguin is one of the leading children's entertainment sites in North America. Let's find out why.

Brasse: Can you tell us who you are, and what position you hold with Club Penguin?

My name is Karen Mason and I’m the Communications Director for Club Penguin.

Brasse: How long ago was Club Penguin originally launched? Can you tell us a little about the early days of the company?

Karen: Club Penguin launched in October 2005 with about 25,000 users. In the early days there was only a handful of people working fulltime on the site. The site’s popularity quickly grew and the company began expanding and hiring more people to meet the rapidly increasing demand.

By the summer of 2007, when Club Penguin announced it had joined the Walt Disney Company, the site had grown to 700,000 current paid subscribers and more than 12 million activated users. Just two years after it launched, Club Penguin now employs about 140 people, eighty per cent of whom focus on the key areas of safety and community support.

Brasse: How has becoming part of Disney affected the focus and activity of Club Penguin?

Karen: We feel really privileged to be a part of the Disney family and to be working so closely with a company that shares our commitment to creating a fun and safe online entertainment experience for children and their families. The Walt Disney Company’s resources, infrastructure, global reputation and experience are helping Club Penguin provide an even better online entertainment experience to our existing users while giving us new opportunities to expand our reach to more children around the globe.

Brasse: Children want to play on the internet, and parents are increasingly concerned for their safety, and the type of people they will meet online. How has Club Penguin addressed these concerns?

Karen: Since day one, Club Penguin’s primary goal has been to create an online entertainment experience that offers fun for children and peace of mind for parents. Although we work hard to educate our users and their families about what they can do to protect themselves online, we also provide a range of technological and human tools designed with safety and security in mind.

Parents can choose from two levels of chat on Club Penguin. Ultimate Safe Chat lets users choose from a pre-screened menu of comments and emoticons while Standard Safe Chat allows users to type in their own messages. Before those messages appear to other users, however, they must successfully navigate our sophisticated filter system, which is continuously updated as part of our ongoing efforts to ensure inappropriate words and phrases, as well as personally identifiable information, can’t get through. In addition, live moderators monitor activity and chat on the site and respond to player reports of misconduct. Club Penguin’s unwavering commitment to safe fun has helped the site develop a well-earned reputation over the last two years, and the team is constantly working on improvements.

Brasse: What age range is the site aimed at? Do you have plans to expand it to appeal to different age groups?

Karen: Club Penguin was designed for six to 14-year-olds but there’s really no age limit on who can enjoy the games and activities the site has to offer. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I’m required to play Club Penguin as part of my job because I’ve been known to spend a lot of time playing Pizzatron 3000 at the Pizza Shop or tubing behind a motor boat in the Hydro Hopper game!

Brasse: How often do you release new content? What's next on your development list for Club Penguin features?

Karen: One of the things children love about Club Penguin is that we regularly add new content and features to the site, many of which are often the direct result of their suggestions. Our users look forward to the regular Developer’s Blog and the Club Penguin Times which comes out every Thursday. Whether it’s a game or a catalogue with new clothing or furniture items users can purchase for their penguin or igloo, there always seems to be something new happening on Club Penguin.

If you went on the site one day and then again, a week later, you would find something new! We try not to give things away in advance because we don’t want to spoil the surprise for the kids. With it being October, it’s all about Halloween right now and everyone’s getting excited about the Halloween party coming up at the end of the month.

Brasse: Tell us a little bit about your charitable program, "Kids Helping Kids".

Karen: We feel it’s important for the children who participate in Club Penguin to learn social responsibility and begin developing a sense of their role as global citizens. That’s one of the key reasons we created the “Kids Helping Kids” program. Through that program, a percentage of each Club Penguin subscription goes to help less-privileged children around the world in places such as Africa and Romania. So each child who is able to become a subscribing member of the Club Penguin community gets the chance to become a more active member of the global community as a direct result.

Offering games, a safe social environment and cute characters ensures that Club Penguin is appealing to both children and parents. With the power and reputation of Disney behind it, look for this innovative company to be a major player in the online entertainment industry for the pre-teen crowd for some time to come. For more information, visit http://www.clubpenguin.com

 
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