"Forget It – It’s Toontown": Remembering The Cult Hit MMO
A much-loved family-friendly MMO about a vibrant, colorful cartoon town filled with lovable animal characters? No, for once we’re not talking about Animal Crossing. This time, it’s the surprisingly popular Toontown Online – developed by Schell Games and published by the Walt Disney Company in 2003 – which got canned around seven years ago.
So why exactly did this wholesome little game get the bat? Time for a deep dive, it seems.
A Strong Start
Not only did Toontown Online take off big-time amongst players upon its release in 2003, but the game also snapped up more than a few awards in its heyday between 2003 and 2009. Those included were Computer Gaming World’s MMORPG of the Year, WiredKids’ Safe Gaming Award, and the so-called Seal of Approval from Parent Tested Parent Approved.
Speaking of, if it wasn’t already somewhat obvious, Toontown Online was very much geared towards a younger audience (although players of all ages were welcomed and, indeed, did accept said invitation). The developers took extra safety precautions including the implementation of a restricted and secure chat system, which clearly scored points for its family-friendly factor.
The Friendliest Foes Ever
Toontown players would take on the persona of so-called “Toons,” whose colors, clothes, size, and other aspects could be customized to your childlike hearts’ content. You were quite spoilt for choices regarding what species of Toon to choose from too, with the selection ranging from dogs and cats, to pigs and mice, to ducks, bears and monkeys.
The game’s enemies took the form of “Cogs,” which were robots that descended upon the town in hopes of growing their somewhat ominous corporate presence therein. Turn-based combat was a feature in the game, but was given a rather charmingly wholesome twist, as one might have expected. To fight the Cogs, players would use “Gags” – jokes, pranks, and the like – in an attempt to reduce their foes to laughter, and thus claim victory.
In lieu of a health meter, players had their Laff meter. At its max, your Toon would be happy and full of laff-ter; the lower it got, the sadder your Toon would feel. Bless!
When players weren’t tickling their foes pink, they were kicking it back in Toontown’s playgrounds, completing minigames comprising of fishing, golfing, racing, and hanging out with some of the classic Disney characters we all know and love. You had your Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, and even lil Chip ‘n Dale as interactable NPCs.
That’s All, Folks!
In August 2013 – just over a decade following its release – an announcement was posted on Tootown’s website (now archived), officially announcing the game’s imminent closure. The cancellation process seemed to be rather slow and painful though, with the game’s servers getting shut down over a few years leading up to the terrible news. September 19, 2013 is when the final server was eventually closed down, thus rendering the Disney MMO obsolete.
But after its notable success, why now?
It would appear the reasoning involved a shift in focus on the part of Disney, specifically towards mobile gaming (as well as towards Disney’s other MMO Club Penguin, launched in 2005).
There were also rumblings that originated from the game’s developer Schell Games’ CEO Jesse Schell in June of 2015. He hinted that Toontown Online was shut down thanks to its unsustainable business model, namely, a paid subscription-based downloadable MMO.
According to Schell, he had been keen on reopening Toontown Online and was negotiating with Disney on the matter, but it didn’t seem to have amounted to much. In a Q&A video by Schell in 2015, he reassured viewers with a statement that now seems particularly poignant while some fans still hold out for him to fulfil his promise: “I’m certainly not gonna give up on this. Toontown means way too much to me, and I’m very patient, I can wait. We’ll find a way, one day,” he says.
It seems that some fans got too antsy waiting around for Disney to make up their minds on the matter, though. They took it upon themselves to bring Toontown back to life by themselves. Enter Toontown Rewritten – an entirely fan-made revival of Disney’s original Toontown Online, whose development kicked off pretty much immediately after the latter was taken down.
Toontown Rewritten was crafted entirely from publicly-available information and downloads by a group of volunteers. It is playable for free and runs without any form of revenue backing it. Incredibly, it’s still going strong to this day.
In fact, the Toontown community is just as active as ever, despite the original game’s cancellation. There’s still a steady stream of news updates getting posted on the Toontown Rewritten website – with the latest having been published only a few days ago – and weekly polls still rolling out too.
So, while fans were disappointed by Disney’s decision to rid themselves of one of the most wholesome MMOs ever created, they certainly didn’t have to wait long before a good-as-ever replacement popped up. A fitting end to – or rather, continuation of – the wacky tales of a town of Toons the world came to love.
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