Club Penguin opens up a frozen world for kids where, as a penguin, they can explore different scenes – from the coffee shop through to their very own igloo. Along the way they can play games, earn virtual money, make friends and chat. It’s a bright and colourful foundation for kids to build their own make-believe world upon. But how are they making it safe?
MFM: What is Club Penguin?
Club Penguin: In 2003, three dads got together to create somewhere safe for kids to play online. It’s a snow-covered world where you get your own penguin avatar. Kids can play games, chat with friends and become part of a community-based virtual world.
MFM: Is Club Penguin mainly for play or social interaction?
CP: First and foremost it’s about a community. It’s the kids’ world – they’re the stars of the show. Their imagination is incredible. Club Penguin’s aim is to encourage exploration, build knowledge, develop a community and to ensure kids want to come back.
MFM: Online safety is a huge concern, what safety features are in place in order to keep kids safe?
CP: Disney’s Club Penguin is committed to ensuring the game is as safe as possible. Safety features include:
- Parents must verify any Club Penguin account by entering their email during set up. This is the only personal information required and parents will be given access to their kids’ account via their username and password.
- Parents and kids alike must agree to the four rules of Penguin Club, which deters players from bullying, cheating and using rude or disrespectful words and actions before sign up is complete.
- Live moderation: 200 full time moderators roam Club Penguin keeping an eye on chat, activity, signs of bullying as well as following up on alerts from players indicating inappropriate content and/or activity.
- Word filters are used within the Standard Safe Chat mode. Words considered to be safe are added to the “white list” while words deemed rude or offensive are black-listed and users could be banned for using them. In addition, kids will see black words posted on their own screen, as though they’ve sent it, when really only they can see it. Players will assume they’ve been ignored, encouraging kids to learn that such activity isn’t rewarded with attention.
- Black-listed words are constantly modified in order to keep up with modern culture and the changing language of kids.
- In Ultimate Safe Chat, kids can only say phrases from a predetermined list. In some areas this is the only type of conversation allowed.
- Kids are encouraged to monitor and protect the site as they go along and can volunteer to be a site guide, steward and even secret agents. They get access to extra items as well as earning extra responsibility.
- Personal information such as emails, real names and phone numbers will not make it through the filter.
- Penguin names are moderated and will remain hidden if not appropriate.
- Kids can choose to reject friend requests and private messages can’t be sent.
- Parents can add a timer to the game to stop kids playing for lengthy periods.
- No third party advertising is allowed on the site.
MFM: Is there a minimum age requirement to sign up?
CP: No. Because parents have to verify the account there’s no minimum age limit, it’s left up to parents’ discretion.
MFM: Are you concerned that older kids could verify their own accounts and cause disruption?
CP: We’re confident that there are enough safety features and moderators to mean there isn’t anything older kids could achieve by signing up themselves without a parent’s authorisation.
MFM: There’s been criticism about the amount of “cheat pages” in relation to Club Penguin, encouraging kids that this is a good thing to do. Do you moderate these at all?
CP: We don’t moderate the sites as they’re nothing to do with Club Penguin. The cheats are generally hints at how to uncover hidden areas and a way for die-hard Club Penguin fans to share what they know.
MFM: Have there been any problems to date?
CP: We’ve had no incident within the seven years we’ve been running. We’ve been most taken with how much kids want to play and create their own role-play situations.
MFM: There are a lot of prompts to sign up to become a full member – is the game as interesting if you’re a non-member?
CP: Most of the members aren’t signed up to the monthly £3.95 membership. As a non-member you’re still able to play a lot of the games, purchase items with your coins as well as uncover secret sections. The idea is that kids will spend the time coming back to uncover more – you don’t get everything out of it from your first visit, it’s not handed to you on a plate.
MFM: If you do become a member and then later decide to stop the subscription, do you lose all the items you’ve purchased?
CP: Anything purchased will go into inventory. You’ll get it all back if you sign up to be a member again.
MFM: If you’re a non-member, can you spend your coins?
CP: You can earn coins through games and other activities. You can choose to spend this on certain items. Your options are more extensive if you’re a full paid member.
MFM: Are there plans to develop the section that encourages outdoor play too?
CP: Definitely. New content is added every week. There are games and recipes included to encourage kids away from the virtual game. Adults can also limit the amount of time spent in the game too.
If you want to find out more, head over to the parents’ section of Club Penguin.