MMO Family: A parent's look at Club Penguin

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Perhaps the leading name in virtual worlds aimed at the younger set, Club Penguin has taken its place as the starter game of choice for many a young online gamer. Ask around any elementary school, and you're bound to find kids who're playing this Flash-based browser game.

We'd heard of the game too, of course -- but we'd never played. So let's take a look at how this virtual world of waddling friendlies stacks up against the rest of the kids' games we've reviewed in our Parent's Guide to Kids & Family Gaming.

Club Penguin
Developer Club Penguin Entertainment (formerly New Horizon Interactive)
Publisher Disney Online Studios
Launched October 24th, 2005

What systems does it run on? Club Penguin is a Flash-based web browser game -- light, easy stuff for most computers today. You'll want to connect to the internet with at least a 56k dial-up modem. If you use a PC, your computer should have at least a Pentium III 500MHz processor running Windows 98, NT, 2000, ME, XP, or Vista; Adobe Flash Player 9; and Internet Explorer 6, Netscape 7.2, or Firefox 1. Mac users should have a PowerPC G3, G4, G5, or Intel core with at least 256MB RAM running Mac OS X 10.3; Adobe Flash Player 9; and Firefox 1.0.3 or Safari 2.0.4.

How much does it cost? Club Penguin is free to play, but most of the content is reserved for paying subscribers. Our young play testers were almost immediately stymied by features and games available only via membership. However, memberships are relatively inexpensive, starting at $5.95 per month. Because non-member content is fairly limited, members and non-members don't always freely intermingle, which can leave non-members feeling like outsiders. One nice touch: A portion of the proceeds from every membership purchase goes to help kids and families in need around the world through various philanthropic initiatives.

What's the game all about? Club Penguin prefers to call itself a "virtual world," according to Karen Mason, the company's corporate communications manager: "Club Penguin is designed and functions as a true community with an ongoing narrative and continuously updated content, rather than a static experience, so the term 'virtual world' really fits. [...] The members of our online community truly take ownership of this virtual world they inhabit, and we encourage them to function as actual citizens -- helping their neighbors and newcomers, giving back to the community and using their creativity and imaginations to help advance the narrative of Club Penguin. To our players, Club Penguin is an intimate community/world in which they play an active, valuable role rather than a 'massive' game."

What does the game look and feel like? The snow-covered island of Club Penguin is a self-contained world of its own -- the Town Square, Dojo, The Cove, Ski Village, Ski Hill, Plaza – featuring a variety of activities and games. There are shops and businesses, homes, a recycling depot, and even a community garden as well as key characters, constantly changing storylines, weather patterns and other events.

Who's the target audience? Club Penguin is designed for children from the ages of 6 to 14 and is particularly popular with the 7- to 9-year-old set.


Who plays? A dip into Club Penguin shows that most of its players seem to be bopping around at the younger end of the target audience. Quite a few parents and grandparents play, as well, either to enjoy time with the kids or to keep in touch if they travel frequently for work or live far away. It's a busy atmosphere -- the game was rumored to have amassed some 12 million account as of 2007, and Mason says that "millions" of children and families in more than 190 countries around the world currently play. Players can play in English, French, Portuguese or Spanish.

What playstyles does the game most suit? Club Penguin's emphasis on minigames and collections is a neat fit for its casual, young players.

How does the game address kids' internet safety? You'll find all the standard internet safety features at Club Penguin: menu-driven "ultimate safe chat," filtered "safe chat," and an extensive staff of online moderators. The game allows parents to set and limit the amount of time young players can spend logged in and playing, and the game prides itself on not accepting third-party advertising in game.

What kid-friendly features keep young players moving through the content? Club Penguin is designed to offer something for everyone in the 6-14 demographic. Your child will need basic reading skills in order to play independently, but many younger children play with a parent or sibling's help for rules and instructions. The mix of single-player and multiplayer games offer a wide enough variety of difficulties that most kids will discover favorites at a suitable pace.

What's the social atmosphere? The social atmosphere seems clean and kid-friendly, but non-members may feel shut out by closed cliques of paying members.

What can players do outside the game? Club Penguin is consumer heaven for players who want to collect and explore offline: plush penguins and puffles, play figures, Card Jitsu trading cards, books, two games for the Nintendo DS and a new Wii game, all of which include ways to connect to the online world. The fan base is very active, notes Mason, and there are hundreds of thousands of fan-created blogs and forums devoted to Club Penguin.

Still looking for more details? Read our article on all the different ways you can evaluate kids' games, or visit MMO Family's Parents Guide to Kids & Family Gaming.

When it's time to find just the right game for your family, turn to MMO Family's growing Parents Guide to Kids & Family Gaming. Drop us a line with your thoughts, suggestions, family game experiences, and questions about gaming and parenting at lisa@massively.com and rubi@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.