Disney Online, part of the Walt Disney Internet Group, has announced it will launch Disneys Toontown Online (www.toontown.com), the first massively multiplayer (MMP) 3D online game designed for kids and families, on June 2, 2003. To handle billing, customers will buy a Disney specialty card powered by AT&T Prepaid Web Cents technology, a new secure payment alternative for consumer purchases of online digital content. The cards will be available in retail stores starting in September 2003. The players then go online and punch in a code that pays the subscription rate of $9.95 per month, with longer membership packages available at reduced rates. Consumers will also be provided with narrowband Internet connections to try a game without making an ongoing, upfront commitment to the subscription service. This will enable children to make online purchases without credit cards. Participating retailers will be announced shortly.
Disneys Toontown Online is designed for kids as well as adults looking for a non-violent multiplayer online game alternative. Available to the public as a "sneak peek" since October 2002, Toontown has been nominated for AIAS 2003 PC Massively Multiplayer/Persistent World Game of the Year Award, as well as for two Webby Awards for Best Game Website and Best Kids Website.
The June online launch will feature the first in a series of regular feature enhancements, and will include Toon estates, where Toons can own and decorate their own homes; Emotions, allowing Toons to express themselves by waving, shrugging and showing happiness and sadness; a new Trolley Game where Toons dodge opponents (Cogs) and each other while trying to catch fruit falling from trees; and an expanded version of Toontown Fishing, which introduces new skill-based and collecting challenges.
In the game, players become "Toons," personalized cartoon characters, who join together to save the world from the evil Cogs, a tightly wound group of business robots unleashed by an unsuspecting Scrooge McDuck. All Toons quickly discover that the Cogs are attempting to turn the colorful world of Toontown into a black and white metropolis of skyscrapers and businesses. Since Cogs cant take a joke, Toons confront them with gags, such as dousing them with seltzer or giving them a pie in the face.
Disneys Toontown Online features two industry innovations, SpeedChat and Secret Friends, to enable safe communication within the community for participating kids. SpeedChat is a form of menu-driven sentence construction which gives players several layers of pre-written phrases that they can link together to form sentences. Secret Friends allows chat between two players, but only with parental approval. Using time-sensitive secret passwords, person-to-person messaging is enabled but is filtered for inappropriate language, phone numbers and addresses and is incomprehensible to other players in the vicinity.
Ken Goldstein, evp/md of Disney Online, told DAILY VARIETY that Disney hopes to open up a new audience for MMP games, create a new monthly revenue stream and start sort of an online theme park. "In the tradition of the Disney theme parks, this online attraction will grow over time, continuously offering our guests an ever-changing adventure," he said.
Toontown was developed by Disneys Virtual Reality Studio, now part of Walt Disney Internet Group (WDIG), using the Disney PANDA3D proprietary network game engine. The VR Studio was established as part of Walt Disney Imagineering R&D, to drive the creativity and experience of the Disney theme parks into the online 3D world.