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Club Penguin

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For the video game series, see Club Penguin (video game console series).
Club Penguin
Club Penguin logo.png
Developer(s) New Horizon Interactive
RocketSnail Games
Disney Interactive Studios
Publisher(s) Disney Interactive Studios
Engine Adobe Flash
Platform(s) Online
Release date(s) October 24, 2005
Genre(s) Massively multiplayer online game
Mode(s) Multiplayer

Club Penguin is a massively multiplayer online game (MMO) involving a virtual world containing a range of online games and activities, created by New Horizon Interactive (now known as Disney Canada Inc.). Players use cartoon penguin-avatars and play in a winter-set virtual world. After beta-testing, Club Penguin was made available to the general public on October 24, 2005[1] and has since expanded into a large online community —growing to the extent that by late 2007, it was claimed that Club Penguin had over 30 million user accounts.[2] As of July 2013, Club Penguin has over 200 million registered user accounts.[3]

While free memberships are available, revenue is predominantly raised through paid memberships which allow players to access a range of additional features, such as the ability to purchase virtual clothing, furniture, and in-game pets called "puffles" for their penguins through the use of in-game currency. The success of Club Penguin led to New Horizon being purchased by The Walt Disney Company in August 2007 for the sum of 350 million dollars, with an additional 350 million dollars in bonuses should specific targets be met by 2009.[4]

The game is specifically designed for children aged 6 to 14, however, users of any age are allowed to play Club Penguin.[5] Thus a major focus of the developers has been on child safety,[6] with a number of features introduced to the game to facilitate this — including offering an "Ultimate Safe Chat" mode, whereby users select their comments from a menu; filtering that prevents swearing and the revelation of personal information;[6] and moderators who patrol the game.[7] The game has been criticized for teaching consumerism[8] and allowing players to "cheat".[9]

History and development

Lane Merrifield, Lance Priebe and Dave Krysko started Club Penguin in Kelowna, BC, Canada. Merrifield and Priebe approached their boss, Dave Krysko wanting to build a safe social-networking site their kids could enjoy free of advertising. They financed the start-up entirely with their own credit cards and personal lines of credit and maintained 100 percent ownership. Despite lacking a marketing budget, in three years they attracted over 11 million users, with approximately 700,000 users being paid susbcribers.[10]

As Merrifield later described the situation, they decided to build Club Penguin when they were unsuccessful in finding "something that had some social components but was safe, and not just marketed as safe" for their own children.[11] Merrifield and Priebe approached their employer, David Krysko, with the idea of creating a spinoff company to develop the new product.[12]

Prior to starting work on Club Penguin, Lance Priebe had been developing Flash web-based games in his spare time.[13] As part of Rocketsnail Games, Priebe released Experimental Penguins in 2000, which featured gameplay similar to that which was incorporated into Club Penguin. Although Experimental Penguins went offline in 2001, it was used as the inspiration for Penguin Chat, which was released shortly after Experimental Penguins' removal. Thus, when Priebe, Merrifield and Krysko decided to go ahead with Club Penguin in 2003, they had Penguin Chat on which to base part of the design process. Penguin Chat's third version was released in April 2005, and was used to test the client and servers of Club Penguin.[14] Users from Penguin Chat were invited to beta test Club Penguin. The original plan was to release in 2010, but since the team had decided to fast-track the project, the first version of Club Penguin went live on October 24, 2005.[14]

Club Penguin started with 15,000 users, and by March that number had reached 1.4 million—a figure which almost doubled by September, when it hit 2.6 million.[12] By the time Club Penguin was two years old, it had reached 3.9 million users.[15] At the point when they were purchased by Disney, Club Penguin had 12 million accounts, of which 700,000 were paid subscribers, and were generating $40 million in annual revenue.[2]

Although the owners had turned down lucrative advertising offers and venture capital investments in the past,[12] in August 2007 they agreed to sell both Club Penguin and its parent company for the sum of $350.93 million.[2] In addition, the owners were promised bonuses of up to $350 million if they were able to meet growth targets by 2009.[16] In making the sale, Merrifield has stated that their main focus during negotiations was philosophical,[11] and that the intent was to provide themselves with the needed infrastructure in order to continue to grow.[citation needed]

On March 11, 2008, Club Penguin released the Club Penguin Improvement Project.[17] This project allowed players to be part of the testing of new servers put into use in Club Penguin on April 14, 2008.[18] Players had a "clone" of their penguin made, to test these new servers for bugs and glitches.[19] The testing was ended on April 4, 2008.[20]

In late 2012, Merrifield left Disney Interactive to focus on his family and a new educational product, Freshgrade. Chris Heatherly took Merrifield's former position.[21]

The company dropped the words "Online Studios" from its name[22][23] in 2013.

Business model

Prior to being purchased by Disney, Club Penguin was almost entirely dependent on membership fees to produce a revenue stream.[6] Nevertheless, the vast majority of users (90% according to The Washington Post) chose not to pay, instead taking advantage of the free play on offer.[24] Those who choose to pay do so because full (paid) membership is required to access all of the services, such as the ability to purchase virtual clothes for the penguins and buy decorations for igloos;[8] and because peer pressure has created a "caste system" separating paid from unpaid members.[25] Advertising, both in-game and on-site, has not been incorporated into the system, although some competitors have chosen to employ it: for example Whyville, which uses corporate sponsorship,[26] and Neopets, which incorporates product placements.[27]

An alternative revenue stream has come through the development of an online merchandise shop, which opened on the Club Penguin website in August 2006,[28] selling stuffed Puffles and T-shirts. Key chains, gift cards, and more shirts were added on November 7, 2006.[29] October 2008 saw the release of a line of plush toys based on characters from Club Penguin, which were made available online (both through the Club Penguin store and Disney's online store), and in retail outlets.[30]

As with one of its major rivals, Webkinz, Club Penguin has traditionally relied almost entirely on word-of-mouth advertising to increase the membership.[31]


Club Penguin is divided into various rooms and distinct areas. Illustrator Chris Hendricks designed many of the first environments.[citation needed] Each player is provided with an igloo for a home. Members have the option of opening their igloo so other penguins can access it via the map, under "Member Igloos".[32] Members may also purchase larger igloos and decorate their igloos with items bought with virtual coins earned by playing mini-games.[24] At least one party per month is held on Club Penguin. In most cases, a free clothing item is available, both for paid members and free users. Some parties also provide member only rooms in which only paid members can access. Some major Club Penguin parties are its annual Halloween and Holiday parties. Other large parties include the Music Jam, the Adventure Party, the Puffle Party, and the Medieval Party.[citation needed]

Video games

Nintendo DS

Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Force was released by Disney for the Nintendo DS on November 25, 2008. As members of the "Elite Penguin Force", players solve mysteries around Club Penguin. The game features mini-games from Club Penguin; coins earned by the mini-games can be transferred to the player's Club Penguin account.[33] A sequel, Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Force: Herbert's Revenge, was announced on February 13, 2010 with a release of May 2010. A "mysterious penguin" resembling previously established character Dot the Disguise Gal is a major character in the game.[34]

Nintendo Wii

In 2010, Disney Interactive Studios announced plans for Club Penguin: Game Day!, a game for the Wii. It was reported that the game was released on September 21, 2010 in the U.S.[35] It was reported that the game will involve players working as a team trying to earn sections of land on an island, with the objective being to conquer the island. The game is based around several interactive games, some of which are 3D versions of games currently played and games which appear only at the Fall Fair (such as Puffle Paddle) on the internet game. Players are able to customize their penguins, choose their team (blue, red, yellow, or green) and any points earned in the Wii game can be synchronized with the internet game.[36]

Coins for Change

Coins for Change is an in-game charity fund-raising event which first appeared in 2007. The fund-raising lasts for approximately two weeks each December during the game's annual "Holiday Party". Players can "donate" their virtual coins to vote for three charitable issues: Kids who are sick, the environment, and kids in developing countries.[37] Players are able to donate in increments of 100, 250, 500, 1,000, 5,000, or 10,000 virtual coins. At the end of the campaign, a set amount of real-world money is divided among each of the causes based on the amount of in-game currency each cause received. At the end of the first campaign, the New Horizon Foundation donated a total of $1 million to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and Free The Children.[37][38] In both the 2007 and 2008 campaigns, two-and-a-half million players participated.[37][39]

In 2009, Club Penguin donated $1,000,000 Canadian dollars to charitable projects around the world. In 2010, Club Penguin donated $300,000 towards building safe places, $360,000 towards protecting the Earth, and $340,000 towards providing medical help. Lane Merrifield said: "Our players are always looking for ways to make a difference and help others, and over the past five years they've embraced the opportunity to give through Coins For Change, it was exciting to see kids from 191 countries participate together.[40]

In 2011, the amount of money donated was doubled to $2 million, ostensibly in response to an unexpected increase in participation.[41]


Television special

A Christmas TV special based on the game, titled We Wish You a Merry Walrus, was produced by British company Factory, and aired on Disney Channel in the UK on December 17, 2014.[42] A summer special, titled Monster Beach Party, premiered on the same channel on August 10, 2015. A Halloween special, Halloween Panic!, premiered on Disney Channel UK on October 25, 2015.


In honor of Club Penguin's third anniversary in 2008, Club Penguin released books that are published under the Snowball Press name.[43] Outside of the virtual world, such books are published by Grosset & Dunlap and include guidebooks for the game as well as "choose-your-own-adventure" style books.[43] The series includes The Ultimate Official Guide to Club Penguin Volume 1 by Ladybird Books, Stowaway! Adventures at Sea by Tracey West, Stuck on Puffles by Ladybird Books, and Waddle Lot of Laughs by Rebecca McCarthy.[43]

Logo for the new gaming environment

Club Penguin Island

As of mid-November 2016, Disney Interactive advertised a related but separate mobile gaming environment named "Club Penguin Island", to become available in select languages and areas in 2017. Pre-registration is available for reserving player names.[44][45]

Child safety

Club Penguin was designed for the ages of 6–14.[5] Thus, one of the major concerns when designing Club Penguin was how to improve both the safety of participants and the suitability of the game to children. As Lane Merrifield stated, "the decision to build Club Penguin grew out of a desire to create a fun, virtual world that I and the site's other two founders would feel safe letting our own children visit."[46] As a result, Club Penguin has maintained a strong focus on child safety,[47] to the point whereby the security features have been described as almost "fastidious" and "reminiscent of an Orwellian dystopia",[48] although it has also been argued that this focus may "reassure more parents than it alienates."[48]

The system employs a number of different approaches in an attempt to improve child safety. The key approaches include preventing the use of inappropriate usernames,[49] providing an "Ultimate Safe Chat" mode, which limits players to selecting phrases from a list,[47] using an automatic filter during "Standard Safe Chat" (which allows users to generate their own messages)[50] and blocks profanity even when users employ "creative" methods to insert it into sentences,[49] filtering seemingly innocuous terms, such as "mom", and blocking both telephone numbers and email addresses.[47] It also includes employing paid moderators; out of 100 staff employed in the company in May 2007, Merrifield estimated that approximately 70 staff were dedicated to policing the game.[31] It also includes promoting users to "EPF (Elite Penguin Force) Agent" status, and encouraging them to report inappropriate behavior.[47]

Each game server offers a particular type of chat—the majority allowing either chat mode, but some servers allow only the "Ultimate Safe Chat" mode. When using "Standard Safe Chat", all comments made by users are filtered. When a comment is blocked, the user who made the comment sees it, but other users are unaware that it was made—suggesting to the "speaker" that they are being ignored, rather than encouraging them to try to find a way around the restriction.[47]

Beyond these primary measures, systems are in place to limit the amount of time spent online, and the site does not feature any advertisements because, as described by Merrifield, "within two or three clicks, a kid could be on a gambling site or an adult dating site".[31] Nevertheless, after Club Penguin was purchased by Disney, concerns were raised that this state of affairs may change, especially in regard to potential spin-off products[51]  — although Disney has continued to insist that it believes advertising to be "inappropriate" for a young audience.[27]

Players who use profanity are often punished by an automatic 24-hour ban, although not all vulgar language results in an immediate ban. Players found by moderators to have broken Club Penguin rules are punished by a ban lasting "from 24 hours to forever depending on the offence."[52]


In April 2015, it was revealed that Disney Interactive had laid off 28 members of Club Penguin's Kelowna headquarters due to the game's declining popularity.[53] The company's UK office in Brighton was shut down around April 17, 2015. Some employees in the Los Angeles office were also let go.[54] Disney Interactive stated to Castanet about the layoffs:

“Disney Interactive continually looks to find ways to create efficiencies and streamline our operations. As part of this ongoing process, we are consolidating a small number of teams and are undergoing a targeted reduction in workforce.”

On September 2, 2015, Club Penguin closed down the German and Russian versions of the site.[55] A spin-off mobile app, Puffle Wild, was removed from the App Store and Google Play the same day in order to allow Disney Interactive to focus on Club Penguin.[56] On January 11, 2016, the Sled Racer and SoundStudio apps (the former being an original game and the latter being a port of a game on the website) followed suit.[57]

Reception and criticism

Club Penguin has received mixed reviews throughout its journey. The site was awarded a "kids' privacy seal of approval" from the Better Business Bureau.[58] Similarly, Brian Ward, a Detective Inspector at the Child Abuse Investigation Command in the United Kingdom, stated that it is good for children to experience a restricted system such as Club Penguin before moving into social networking sites, which provide less protection.[59] In terms of simple popularity, the rapid growth of Club Penguin suggests considerable success, although there are signs that this is leveling out. Nielsen figures released in April 2008 indicated that in the previous 12 months, Club Penguin traffic had shrunk by 7%.[60]

A criticism expressed by commentators is that the game encourages consumerism[8] and allows players to cheat.[9] While Club Penguin does not require members to purchase in-game products with real-life money (instead relying on a set monthly fee), players are encouraged to earn coins within the game with which to buy virtual products. In addition, the "competitive culture" that this can create has led to concerns about cheating, as children look for "shortcuts" to improve their standing, and, it is suggested, this may influence their real-world behavior.[9] In the game's defense, Club Penguin has added guidelines to prevent cheating, and bans players who are caught cheating or who are encouraging cheating.[9] The use of in-game money has been commented on as possibly helping teach children how to save money, select what to spend it on, improve their abilities at math,[8][24] and encourage them to "practice safe money-management skills".[61]

In spite of the attempts to create a safe space for children in Club Penguin, concerns about safety and behavior still arise within the media. While the language in-game is filtered, discussions outside of Club Penguin are beyond the owner's control, and thus it has been stated that third-party Club Penguin forums can become "as bawdy as any other chat".[25] But even within the game, some people have noted that cyberbullying could still occur,[62] with flame wars potentially occurring within the game[7] and the "Caste system" between those who have membership and exclusive items and those who lack full membership, (and therefore are unable to own the "coolest" items), can lead to players having a difficult time attracting friends.[25]

One criticism came from Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic Monthly: in relation to the safety procedures, she noted that Club Penguin is "certainly the safest way for unsupervised children to talk to potentially malevolent strangers—but why would you want them to do that in the first place?"[7] While views of the strength of this criticism may vary, the concern was mirrored by Lynsey Kiely in the Sunday Independent, who quoted Karen Mason, Communications Director for Club Penguin, as saying "we cannot guarantee that every person who visits the site is a child."[6]

Experienced players have protested in-game about Disney apparently "ruining" Club Penguin. Although the staff and other players say that Disney has helped make Club Penguin better, some longer-term users disagree.[citation needed] On August 20, 2013, Disney announced that Toontown Online, Pixie Hollow, and Pirates of the Caribbean Online were closing directly because of Club Penguin and Disney's mobile app games. This has caused Club Penguin major controversy between fans of the three games, especially Toontown, where some users have played for more than 12 years, when alpha started in August 2001.[63]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Title Recipient Result Ref
2008 Web Marketing Association Entertainment Standard of Excellence Club Penguin Won [64]
2008 Web Marketing Association Game Site Standard of Excellence Club Penguin Won [64]
2008 2008 Webby Awards, Youth Category Club Penguin Nominated [65]
2009 2009 Webby Awards, Games Category Club Penguin Won [66]
2010 Children's BAFTA Award Kids Vote Club Penguin Won [67]
2011 Children's BAFTA Award Kids Vote Club Penguin Nominated [68]
2012 Children's BAFTA Award Kids Vote Club Penguin Nominated [69]
2013 Children's BAFTA Award Kids Vote Club Penguin Nominated [70]


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External links