Zen Of Design

The design and business of gaming from the perspective of an experienced developer

“The Loss of an Online Home”

Remember yesterday, when I suggested that the person who thought that WoW should be shut down anytime soon was smoking a big ol’ bag of crack?  It turns out that it could also result in front-page CNN news (well, it was front page before Miley Cyrus taught the world what ‘twerk’ means).

After 10 years and a significant drop in user numbers, Disney has decided to instead focus its resources on the more popular “Club Penguin” virtual world, which has about 200 million registered users. “Toontown” will be shuttered September 19….and many long-time player…are dealing with the loss of an online home.

MMOs, it turns out, are incredibly hard to shut down, largely because of the emotional resonance that the game has with players.  Even former players who no longer play can get upset at the disappearance of what was once a central part of their lives, and this can result in distrust for the publisher of said game on future endeavors.

“I think ‘Toontown’ is unique in that its long-time users literally grew up with the game,” said Yee. “It’s a little like me telling someone that they’re tearing down ‘Sesame Street.’ Or that they’re tearing down the neighborhood playground where you used to play.”

It’s hard to tell if this makes things easier or not.  The other point of view is that you are less likely to miss things you’ve outgrown.  Also, kids are much more likely to easily jump to a new shiny thing, and less likely to start outraged petitions that call attention to it.


  1. Sniffle Phooey will get dipped again.
    I had a blast about 8 years ago playing a few months of Toontown, it was a fun experience, but when I went to cancel my account, I had to call in. Not only that but they sent me an email with a picture of “my character” over a vat of DIP from who framed roger rabbit, and a note saying that I had only 24 hours to SAVE Sniffle Phooey before he would be dipped and permanently deleted.
    At that point the game died to me. 1. Had to talk on the phone to someone to cancel. 2. Attempt to guilt me into not canceling after I had finally canceled.

    But the game itself was fun, and I think its a shame that it will be going away.

  2. I wrote an article about this whole concept in 2009 when Tabula Rasa shut down. I’d link to the article, but the site I wrote it for stole a ton of content from writers I was managing, and I’d rather not give them the traffic.

    But one part of the article I’ll quote:

    “For the long term health of the industry, a better solution needs to be developed for this phenomenon. Creating something people grow to love, and then taking it away from them completely and forever has an element of cruelty to it that is not good for the MMO market. When television shows are canceled, at least fans can relive their enjoyment through reruns or DVDs. No such option exists for fans of a canceled MMO. As more MMOs fail or simply outlive the ability to remain profitable, more of them will close. The bitterness this creates amongst the customer base will only grow and fester. It would be in the best interests of the MMO industry to figure out a better way to handle MMO closings than to just pull the plug and expect people to sign up for whatever game pops up next.”

    I still believe this.

    I don’t think the long run best practice is shutting down an MMO completely and giving people no way to ever play again.

    One possibility: GPL release the server code so people can run hobby servers but not charge money for the server operation. Either give this away or sell it. If sold, the cost should vary depending on the extent of tools and documentation supplied, but definitely < $100.

    If a company is terrified by this, possible limits could be a max number of users on a server at one time, LAN only, all sorts of things.

    The belief that this will hurt potential future sales of other MMOs is just paranoia. A "dead" game like this can't compete with a live game actually being developed and managed (or at least it shouldn't be if the company is making ANY decent effort). It will mainly be a nostalgia server for people remembering a favorite game. And the fact that it minimizes the huge negative PR effect of shutting down an MMO will likely be a net gain in future sales.

    I am sure there are other solutions as well. That's just one possible solution.

  3. Back when I bought Meridian 59, Raph commented, “Of course, because MMOs never die!” Unfortunately, that is proving to not quite be the case anymore.

    On the flipside, I am known as the guy that buys closed-down MMOs by some people, so I always get emails when some game closes down. Not that I have the enthusiasm to do that again, exactly.

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