happy penquin Disney’s purchase of Club Penquin for $350 million (plus a follow-on $350 mil if certain performance targets are reached) may have contradicted my May 17 post naming SONY as the acquiring company (Global Warmng in Club Penguin) but it validated the kids MMOG space just the same. It also prompted me to log in and breath some life into my avatar Swiss Chard and I was just as impressed with Club Penquin’s overall user experience as when I analyzed the site for a client interested in the kids MMOG market earlier this year.

After waddling around for about an hour, however, I had the overwhelming feeling of consuming vast quantities of… empty calories.

Not that I’m one to deny anyone a little virtual waddling around — Club Penguin’s vast, colorful and decidedly social world delivers that all right — but after a while you start to ask yourself what’s the point? Am I able to have a real conversation with another penguin? Am I challenged do accomplish anything? Are the embedded games any more compelling because they’re inside of a virtual world? Um, no, not really. And I’m not the only one wondering.

Michael Arrington wrote on TechCrunch “I recently spoke to an exec of one of the companies that took a long look at Club Penguin before deciding to pass. They said the charitable donations were a big factor in passing. He also mentioned that much of the success of the company was driven by movies such as Happy Feet. How much longer are penguins really going to be the cool thing, I wondered.”

Arrington has it right. Being the next cool thing is great as far as it goes and in Club Penguin’s case it was worth a 5:1 premium on earnings. To go the distance, though, you’ve got to offer more. Whyville.net does that by offering a social milieu with games that are both fun to play and scientifically accurate simulations, and Whyvillian’s have been coming back for more since 1999. Will Club Penguin, Habbo and Nicktropolis get the message? To be continued…