Here on Dearly Beloved, I’d like to take a few installments to look at what I consider to be one of Disney’s oddest gaming accomplishments: the success of their creative and entertaining MMOs, or Massively Multiplayer Online. Today, we’re going to look at perhaps the most intriguing whirlwind success stories that Disney’s gaming endeavor has ever produced: the phenomenon that is ToonTown Online.
What exactly was ToonTown Online?
Launched in June 2003, ToonTown Online’s original run spanned the course of a decade and was discontinued in 2013, almost as if overnight and with little warning. In its prime, ToonTown Online was thriving during a time where many kids my age were beginning our introduction to online multiplayer gaming.
The age of the internet was just beginning and very suddenly the world began expanding from right inside our homes. While ToonTown wasn’t my very first experience in this new online world, it came into my life at a time where I was still intrigued by all the virtual things I could do. Of course, I still had to ask my parents for permission, and my siblings and I all shared one account on one computer, but we were still amazed by the amount of activities the world of ToonTown had to offer.
ToonTown stuck out because it was plot-centered, as opposed to a strictly social game. For those of you who didn’t experience this phenomenon first-hand, the story goes like this:
The city of ToonTown, where you play as a fun and colorful cartoon-inspired character from an animal species of your choice, is being overrun by gray, dull, businessmen-type characters that the game calls “cogs.” Your mission, along with the rest of the citizens of ToonTown, is to save the city and stop the cogs from turning your beloved, zany, charismatic hometown into a boring nightmare that no kid (or toon) could ever possibly stand to live in.
As you can imagine, children all over the internet flocked to the world of ToonTown to enjoy to mini-games, decorate their homes, and stop the cogs from destroying ToonTown once and for all.
Just how big WAS ToonTown anyway?
In the beginning, ToonTown attracted kids born in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, but soon gained a following from a wide audience of kids and parents alike. The interest was slow in the early stages of the website, but through the magic of television advertisements, the membership began to snowball and by the end of the year 2003, ToonTown had amassed over one million users with paid subscriptions that allowed full access to every area of the game and nearly unlimited chatting options.
In the year 2005, Sony entertainment came along and the world of ToonTown was now available to play online with a disc, and by 2006, was explored and played by now over more than 15 million players worldwide.
Eventually, the popularity of ToonTown caused the game to develop its own community, prompting Disney to create Toonfest, a convention-like gathering for ToonTown fans of all ages.
Photos are from ToonFest 2006 found from Flickr
The end of an era
On Aug. 20, 2013, ToonTown users were greeted with a message saying that the site, along with other MMO properties Disney owned, would officially be closing in a matter of weeks on Sept.19. At that time, every user was granted access to what would normally have been a paid membership. I wish I had a more exciting reason as to why ToonTown was shut down, but the truth of the matter was that ToonTown was no longer making the money Disney wanted,so they shifted their attention to more profitable endeavours, such as mobile gaming and Club Penguin. Millions of users saw the end of ToonTown when the servers refreshed and shut down around noon on that fateful day, permanently discontinuing ToonTown Online.
… Or did it?
But wait, there’s more!
Shortly after the announcement that ToonTown would be shutting down, a group of dedicated fans/developers launched what is known today as ToonTown Rewritten. ToonTown Rewritten (which I’ve linked here if you’re interested in signing up) is a fan-made recreation of the ToonTown Online format. Nearly identical to the original gameplay, ToonTown Rewritten offers the same mini-games and social experience but with the added bonus of being entirely free. That’s right! Even the communication options and character naming customization options that were once only available via paid membership are completely free. Thanks to these dedicated developers, the childhood love for ToonTown gets to stay alive for my generation, as well as for generations to come.
So there you have it! For those of you that played ToonTown Online, I have amazing news that you STILL CAN! And for those of you who didn’t, now would be an amazing time to sign up and start playing today! I want to thank this video for helping with my research as well as the Wikia page, since there isn’t much “official” information on the ToonTown Online timeline. Feel free to share any memories of ToonTown Online or any other thoughts with me on Twitter (@mariahcoolbeans) or Instagram (@mariahcoolbeans)!