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  Toontown - european renovation
Toontown
european renovation
by Alycia de Mesa
February 12, 2007

The Walt Disney Company is famous for creating virtual worlds—from animated feature films to theme parks—so it makes sense that the company developed its own massively multiplayer online game (MMO) that allows users to not just watch cartoon characters, but become them.
 
The Walt Disney Internet Group's Toontown first moved into Britain and France in 2004 and North America in 2003, but the European versions recently received a redesign that includes more community content.

Toontown is a spin-off of Disney's 1988 half-animated/half-live-action film Who Framed Roger Rabbit. A trip to your nearest Disney theme park presents Toontown as a village with fun, cartoon-inspired, life-sized sculptures of houses, shops, streetlights, and signs that kids and adults alike can interact with. The technological version of Toontown takes this same idea but applies it to the web à la Second Life, offering a multiplayer, online 3D game designed for kids and families.

 
 
Toontown - european renovation Because it's a Disney product, the content (to the relief of most parents) is highly sanitized and promises kid-safe entertainment. Whereas much of online gaming these days include vast amounts of graphic violence (of varying degrees and dismemberment), Disney limits its "carnage" to cartoon gags designed to crack up (quite literally) the humor-free robots known as Cogs who are out to turn the colorful, vibrant Toontown into a "corporate metropolis."

Like Second Life and other virtual-world sites, players create and dress a Toon avatar to represent themselves. In this ersatz Disney world, your character explores neighborhoods, furnishes a place to live, designs a race cart, trains a pet "Doodle," and of course, teams up with other players to defeat the devious Cogs.

Playing the site's mini-games, such as Lucky Number, Underwater Ring, and Match Minnie, earns players "jellybeans" (the Toon version of money) to buy props from Goofy's Gag Shop that can be used in the ongoing battle with the Cogs.

Unlike most virtual-world sites, membership—with the exception of a free, three-day trial—is pay-only. (The UK version charges £6.99 per month, while the US version has several pricing plans.)

The game artwork is sophisticated 3D animation that gives a highly "computerized" appearance versus the vibrant two-dimensional artwork and animation Disney is famous for.

Whereas the game environment for the UK and French sites feature the same artwork as the North American dot-com site, the splash page for the UK/French sites are much more sophisticated and stylized than the American, including neat, symmetrical frames that eliminate the need to scroll down. The frame design also features a brown color palette ranging from a scaled-back light tan to beige for the frames, to chocolate brown for the main font color, and (in some cases) gold as a highlight. The result is a much more unified look to the splash page, especially when compared with the dot-com site.

Highly surprising for such a mainstream website and game, system requirements are limited to PC users with Internet Explorer only as a browser. (The American/worldwide version does allow Macs with OS 10.4.6 to navigate with certain browsers, however.) The site automatically detects the browser one is using and shows a message immediately at the top of the page to alert the user about platform and browser conflicts.

What is also surprising about the redesign is that no information about Toontown (its purpose, cost, etc.) can be viewed if a user is checking out the site with a system or browser that isn't supported—a vast contradiction to the dot-com site. Without the right system, the only information that is available is system requirements.

Despite these limitations, Toontown continues its expansion. The Walt Disney Internet Group announced its arrival in Southeast Asia at the beginning of this year. Since its North American launch in 2003, it's reported to have over 15 million unique Toon avatars as players. The site has also won several gaming and parents awards.

The Toontown revamp is part of a larger redesign of Disney.com, the biggest online brand in the Walt Disney Internet Group stable, which includes ESPN and ABC News properties. The redesign, which was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, features Disney Xtreme Digital (XD), a broadband component that includes the Toontown MMO. Those who find Toontown too tame might prefer the next Disney MMO, set for release later this year, based on the company's blockbuster franchise Pirates of the Caribbean.

 

Alycia de Mesa is a brand identity consultant and writer with over 10 years experience from Fortune 100 to start-up companies. She is author of Before The Brand, the definitive brand identity handbook, published by McGraw-Hill (under the name Alycia Perry).

     
*Due to the constantly changing environment of websites, some reviews may no longer reflect the current website for this brand.
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