Co-founder Lane Merrifield during the opening of the new Club Penguin in Sydney in 2008.

Co-founder Lane Merrifield during the opening of the new Club Penguin in Sydney in 2008. (Rob Griffith via Los Angeles Times / October 18, 2012)

Club Penguin founder Lane Merrifield is leaving Walt Disney Interactive two years after a reorganization put him in charge of the entertainment giant's online virtual worlds strategy.

He is being replaced by a well-regarded Disney veteran of 10 years, Chris Heatherly, according to a person knowledgeable of the changes who is not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Heatherly originally designed toys for the company before moving to its digital games division.

Merrifield joined Disney in 2007 after its $350-million acquisition of Club Penguin, which pioneered the once popular business of virtual worlds for children -- many of whom spent their parents' money buying digital items.

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