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Disney's 'Toontown Online' To Launch June 2003

by Thomas on May 5, 2003 @ 9:09 a.m. PDT

Disney Online, part of the Walt Disney Internet Group, today announced it will officially launch its online, downloadable version of Disney's Toontown Online, the first massively multiplayer (MMP) 3D online game for kids and families, on June 2, 2003.

As previously announced, a retail version of Disney's Toontown Online will be offered with a Disney specialty card powered by AT&T Prepaid Web Cents(sm) technology, a new secure payment alternative for consumer purchases of online digital content. Disney Online today announced this packaged product will be available in participating stores in September 2003. The subscription rate has been set at $9.95 per month, with longer membership packages available at reduced rates.

Disney's Toontown Online is designed for kids as well as adults looking for a non-violent game alternative and has been available to the public as a "sneak peek" since October 2002. During that time, it 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.

"With the success of Toontown's sneak peek, we are encouraged that people of all ages and gaming levels enjoy joining us for a unique, fun and imaginative experience," said Ken Goldstein, executive vice president and managing director of Disney Online. "We made Toontown a place for everyone, much like our theme parks, so it would appeal to a mass audience. In addition, and in the tradition of the Disney theme parks, this online attraction will grow over time, continuously offering our guests an ever-changing adventure."

"Our background at Imagineering developing theme park attractions has taught us a lot about creating mass market, interactive experiences," said Mike Goslin, director of Disney's Virtual Reality Studio, the team that developed Toontown. "We've learned so much from the many guests who have played Toontown in its various pre-release versions, and we're very excited about the new directions we already envision to build out this online world."

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.

Through the AT&T Web Cents(sm) distribution network, Disney's prepaid subscription cards with Toontown CD-ROMs will be available at traditional retail outlets beginning September 2003. Suggested pricing for Disney's Toontown Online's retail product also will be $9.95 per month, offering consumers the ability to sample premium game content at an affordable price. Additionally, this will give consumers with narrowband Internet connections a satisfying and convenient way to try the game without making an ongoing, upfront commitment to the subscription service.

The online and retail product launches will be supported by a cross-media marketing campaign which will include online, print, video and radio, and will also tap into other media opportunities throughout The Walt Disney Company.

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 can't take a joke, Toons confront them with gags, such as dousing them with seltzer or giving them a pie in the face. The game allows participants to play together, communicate in a safe environment, and undertake challenging quests.

Disney's Toontown Online features two major 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 (generated by the game and exchanged via an external form of communication), 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.

Disney's Virtual Reality Studio, now part of Walt Disney Internet Group (WDIG), developed Toontown using its own 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.

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