ClubPenguin.Com - MySpace For Little Kids.
There are no plush toys to buy or entrance fees to pay. New members are offered small virtual penguins that they can adopt, name, feed, and clothe. They can also chat, play games, and even help publish the Club Penguin newspaper.
Where creator New Horizon Interactive makes its money is in what it calls premium play. Any kid can have a penguin for free, but if he or she wants to decorate the penguin's igloo, Mom or Dad will have to subscribe--for $6 a month, or $58 a year. Traffic has mushroomed. Club Penguin saw 2.9 million unique visitors in January, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, up from just 705,000 in March 2006.
So what keeps Crandall and millions of other kids playing for more than an hour each day?
One thing that attracts them, experts say, is the sense of power that children get in a virtual world but rarely experience in real life. "This isn't rocket science," says Club Penguin founder and CEO Lane Merrifield. "A lot of virtual-reality companies look at these games like television--'We are going to entertain you, and you are going to enjoy it.' Ours is a two-way stream."
One way Club Penguin gives kids control over their environment is by letting them "bank" points they win in games and convert those points to "money" that can be used to customize their igloos. "Club Penguin Time," a standardized clock (actually based on Pacific time), lets kids from all over the world meet up online without having to worry about coordinating time zones.
Another trick used by Club Penguin to keep kids hanging around is throwing themed "parties." During the holidays, for example, Club Penguin's writers built a plot around a huge winter storm. News of the storm began leaking onto the site's weather reports in November to create a buzz of anticipation. When the storm finally hit in December, it dumped snow in every room on the site.
The penguins had to dig tunnels to get around. Captain Rock Hopper, the site's pirate, was delayed by the gale. When his ship finally landed, it was in shambles and the penguins had to repair it. The winter party was a big success: In December the number of unique visitors to Club Penguin jumped by more than 20 percent.
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