More fundamentally, Merrifield encouraged the Pirates team to depart from the game's linear storytelling to adopt Club Penguin's open-ended approach, in which the players have more say in the narrative and provide direction on the types of weapons, battles or quests they experience online.
That represents a fundamental shift in Disney's philosophy. Previously, whenever players sent e-mails suggesting ways to improve online games like Pirates or Toontown, they got an automated response saying the entertainment company did not accept unsolicited ideas.
"We retooled it. The foundation is where it needs to be. . . . We're hearing a lot of stories now about kids playing," Merrifield said.
Allowing players to determine the action on screen, Merrifield said, provides "a limitless supply of new content" and allows kids to become the storytellers. He credits 8-year-olds with some of Club Penguin's most popular ideas -- like the addition of ninjas.