Toontown Online

Disney’s reach extends out far beyond what most people think of – theme parks, movies, television, merchandising. For years, the company has hosted dozens of online games, which have expanded into apps for smart phones and tablets as mobile devices have grown in popularity. One game in particular has created a stir – not because of content or new technology, but because Disney is shutting it down.

Disney announced last week that it is closing down the decade-old Toontown Online video game on September 19.

Toontown, in which members form teams to fight evil robots, will close on Sept. 19, according to a website announcement. The $9.95-a-month game, which Disney called the first massively multiplayer online title for kids and families, made its debut in June 2003. Pirates of the Caribbean Online and Disney Fairies Pixie Hollow will also close.

“We are shifting our development focus toward other online and mobile play experiences, such as Club Penguin and a growing selection of Disney Mobile apps,” the Burbank, California-based company said in an e-mailed statement.

The changes leave the $7.95-a-month Club Penguin as the only so-called virtual world operated by Disney. The site, acquired in 2007, is the largest of its kind, according to the company, which is asking players to move there.

One Toontown Online user simply won’t stand for it. Sara Luchsinger of Wisconsin has written CNN and formed an online petition to save the game.

Luchsinger says she joined in 2005 when her 10-year-old goddaughter encouraged her to join. She’s been hooked ever since, and even joined a group for adult users. Although the game is family-oriented, she says there is lots to appeal for all ages and she appreciated the ‘sense of community’ the game provided. When she heard about the game’s closing, she decided to campaign for it to stay open. Luchsinger said she doesn’t plan on setting up new digs at Club Penguin.

‘There is nothing out there similar, so I am not sure what, if anything, I will do at this point,’ she said. ‘I have a feeling that the mobile world in which we live in is evolving so quickly that if a game will continue to live on, it has to be played in a mobile format. Toontown isn’t available for tablets or mobile phones, so I believe that the company is making the decision based on profits and platforms.’