By Jay Peters, a news editor who writes about technology, video games, and virtual worlds. He’s submitted several accepted emoji proposals to the Unicode Consortium.
It might be time to log into your Neopets account again.
Neopets, a virtual pet website that first launched in 1999, certainly isn’t the phenomenon that it was in the early days of the internet. I have fond memories of the site — as a kid, I remember spending hours taking care of my dog-like Lupe character — but I haven’t paid any serious attention to Neopets for two decades because a lot of the site felt stuck in the past. Much of Neopets’ design is straight 2005, a lot of the old games built on Adobe Flash don’t work anymore, and some of the more recent attempts to revive interest, including an NFT project, feel out of touch in their own ways.
The many dedicated fans who still visit the site got some promising news this week. The team behind Neopets has spun themselves out into an independent company, is promising a “new era” for the game, and plans to make some changes fast: a new homepage launched on Thursday, and many fixed-up games are set to arrive on July 25th. “We’re definitely ready to go full steam ahead, and hopefully, we can bring Neopets back to its glory days,” Dominic Law, CEO of the new World of Neopia, Inc., says in an interview with The Verge.
Despite Neopets being nearly 24 years old and long past its heyday, the site still sees a fair bit of traffic: Law tells me Neopets has “close to a million” monthly active users, and that number “has been really consistent” over the past few years. “Our community is so strong,” he says. Even though the site has languished, there’s “a really loyal fanbase that has been sticking around.”
With the new homepage, the company wants to bring Neopets “back into a one Neopets, one team type of experience for our users,” Law says. He talked about how, recently, there have been multiple Neopets initiatives or projects going on at once, but the teams have been working in silos. “At the end of the day, we’re the same IP, we’re the same brand, and we want to make sure our users get to experience the best part of all the games under one umbrella.”
Over the next year, much of the team’s efforts will be behind fixing up the classic Neopets site to address basic things like broken links. “There’s a lot of tech debt,” Law says. That includes getting many of the older games built on Adobe Flash up and running with the Ruffle emulator; Neopets says more than 50 games will be playable starting on July 25th. The team also plans to relaunch its Island Builders city simulator mobile game in Q1 of next year, is working on World of Neopets, a new 3D open-world game, and will release updates for its match-three mobile puzzle game, Neopets: Faerie’s Hope.
The new homepage is live now, and in my opinion, it’s much better. There are clear tabs for classic Neopets, Faerie’s Hope, Island Builders, and World of Neopets. There are helpful “About” sections, including a revamped page with details about the actual Neopet creatures. There’s even a timeline of Neopets’ history. (I had forgotten there was a Neopets PS2 game, The Darkest Faerie.) However, if you dig into the classic Neopets browser game, you won’t see a fresh coat of paint; that part of the site still uses its old layout.
The new direction does mean that Neopets is moving on from the Neopets Metaverse game, and Law tells me that Web3 and blockchain technologies are “not a focus for Neopets right now.” I also asked if Neopets is looking at AI, another trendy buzzword topic, and although Law says that “as an IP, we always want to explore new technology,” the team doesn’t have “any plans on that front.”
Right now, Neopets needs to find a way to be self-sustainable
The long-term goal for the new team behind Neopets is to “extend the IP and revive it and let it live for another 25 years,” Law says. His personal vision is to make Neopets into a franchise that would be recognized by his own kids. But in the short term, the Neopets team needs to find a way to “be self-sustainable as a standalone entity.” Right now, Neopets brings in cash through a few different avenues, including sales of Neocash virtual currency, generating money from ads on its website, and earning licensing revenue from its merchandise. (Law sees a “medium”-term goal in reviving Neopets’ licensing strategy.)
I asked Law why players like me who may have lapsed should come back to Neopets. “To be honest, nostalgia is definitely one thing,” he says. He suggests coming back to say hi to your pets or playing the games you might have spent time with as a kid. He acknowledges that lapsed users probably won’t play the old games like they did as a kid, so he hopes the new Neopets games will be interesting for players who come back.
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