In a world filled with penguins, puffles, and igloos, Club Penguin empowers kids to be who they want to be through online game play in a fun digital playground that introduces them how to interact socially in a virtual space in a safe way. Last month I had the opportunity to visit Club Penguin headquarters in Kelowna, British Columbia as they opened their doors for to media for the very first time for a peek inside their igloo. What I discovered was a company filled with employees who genuinely love their jobs and care deeply about the kids who inhabit the Club Penguin world.
Disclosure: I was invited to Club Penguin headquarters as part of a press trip with Disney Interactive who covered my travel expenses to attend. I was not asked or required to publish content related to Club Penguin and all opinions are my own. Photos courtesy of Club Penguin and Disney Interactive.
If you’re not familiar with Club Penguin, the Canadian-based company was started in 2005 by two fathers who wanted a safe place for kids to play online. Today it’s the #1 virtual world for kids globally. Through the years, over 200,000,000 (yes, million!) penguins have been created by those living in 190 countries and playing in 5 different languages. These days the average time spent playing Club Penguin is 30-40 minutes three times a week. There’s always lots more traffic on the servers before or after school with an increase over the weekend too.
The Club Penguin world is incredibly diverse not only because of the worldwide appeal but also because it is a site that boys and girls inhabit equally. According to Chris Heatherly, the Vice President and General Manager of Disney Interactive Worlds (aka Spike Hike in the Club Penguin world), penguins aren’t gender specific and kids cross gender lines in their online game play.
In the land of Club Penguin, inhabitants have the opportunity to do four things: role play, socialization, customization, and game play. Game play involves kids having their penguin to visit multiple indoor and outdoor rooms that spark community, role play, and social interaction. Kids go to certain places in the online environment for a certain type of interaction and play.
The Club Penguin team has noticed that what is happening in a player’s life or in current events, such as the election, Super Bowl, pop culture, or natural disasters is also reflected online. For example, following Hurricane Sandy, Club Penguin moderators noticed that kids pulled together, rallying the community to stay safe.
Club Penguin also encourages their players to be who they are through self-expression. They’re able to customize their penguin avatar through clothing, hair styles, and accessories using coins earned by playing any one of the 26 available games. The coins are the Club Penguin currency that are used to shop for additional outfits for their penguin, items for their igloo, or nurture and care for their pet Puffles.
At any given time, there are 40 different areas that encompass Club Penguin world but this also ebbs and flow based on specially themed parties that are always eagerly anticipated by players. Parties provide the audience with an opportunity to purchase special outfits for their penguins during a limited period of time, visit an area that has been completely re-imagined, earn special badges or backgrounds for their penguin trading cards, and play games that are not usually available.
The Club Penguin world encourages open ended play that is recognized and celebrated by Club Penguin staffers who like to “encourage kids to be wacky, crazy, be themselves” by paying close attention to what the community wants. Heatherly says, ““Club Penguin is like a cardboard box. Kids have props to make their own creative stuff. We give them the tools and let them make the play.”
Heatherly also expressed the importance of listening to their audience and incorporating ideas into products they make by saying, “anytime an idea comes from a kid, it’s more powerful than when it comes from us.” Case in point- the rainbow puffle. It had been something Club Penguin players had been asking about for awhile. This spring penguins could earn the coveted rainbow puffle through a series of game play challenges that needed to occur over a series of days but cumulatively only took 15 minutes of game time.
Club Penguin members can join for free and or pay a monthly subscription where a flat monthly fee allows them full access to the various parts of the Penguin universe and the myriad of games. Unlike other online sites for kids, Club Penguin game play does not require any additional payments outside the monthly cost. This puts parents’ minds at ease. Hooray for no astronomical surprise credit card bills!
Coming next: How Club Penguin Teaches Kids About Safe Social Networking