On July 17th, the Neopets team released a blog post stating that they were officially an independent company no longer managed by Jumpstart or owned by NetDragon, and that this team “want to bring Neopets back to its glory days.” Plans for this new era include a fully mobile-friendly site, a mobile game called World of Neopets where you can explore iconic Neopian lands in 3D, a relaunch of Island Builders, an exclusive virtual concert, and a brand-new plot called The Void Within coming early 2024.
It’s exciting stuff, especially for anyone who grew up playing the virtual pet site. Neopets recently experienced a resurgence during the pandemic, as many adults found themselves finding comfort in the site during such stressful times. “The internet feels like such a place where you can kind of get lost in negativity,” says Alex Piscatelli, one of these adults. “But Neopets is kind of the opposite of that for me.”
It’s a little strange when you consider how many other options there are when it comes to escapism gaming: 2023 alone has given us Hogwarts Legacy, Lego 2K Drive, and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, all open world games that remain massive and are far more technologically advanced than Neopets.
To understand why plenty of adults have so much fondness and nostalgia over the virtual pet site, and what a Neopets renaissance would mean for the site’s legacy, it’s important we look back at the highs and lows of Neopet’s history, and what the site still has to offer for the current decade.
The Highs and Lows of Neopets
Neopets was an absolutely beloved and popular site during its zenith. Launched in 1999, the site gained over 600,000 daily users one month after its release, and by the mid-2000s, Neopets had over 25 million registered users. However, by 2017, their count had crumbled to just 100,000 daily users, and the site has reportedly been running at a financial loss for the past decade.
Beyond that, this past decade really hasn’t been kind to Neopets in other ways: several occurrences of database hackings have happened, as well as a recent DDoS attack. And with smartphones becoming the norm of how people surf the web, something important to consider as Neopets has numerous “dailies”, the extremely dated layout was terrible to navigate on a tablet or a phone, pushing the Neopets team to release a new mobile-friendly layout in 2020.
Unfortunately, it’s been three years since then and the site still hasn’t been completely converted yet, and Neopets still finds itself constantly changing between the old and new layout depending on which page you go to. With Flash discontinued, so much of Neopets is now no longer functioning well especially with the new layout, and certain games were dead for years only to be brought back just last July.
Arguably their lowest point was when the site tried dipping its toes in NFTs only to be met with backlash from the fan base, so much so that the July 17th blog post specifically mentions that World of Neopets will not be crypto-focused and is not built on a crypto model.
However, it hasn’t been all bad. In April 2022, the site had 4.1 million monthly users, and just last July, a Neopets Official Cookbook was released and EGOT winner and musician John Legend announced himself as a brand ambassador for Neopets. Add to that all their recently announced plans and Neopets may well be on their way to a renaissance, which is well-deserved.
Even to this day, there’s no game quite like Neopets, and the site still has so much to offer that you can’t find anywhere else.
Does Neopets Still Have Something to Offer Us Now?
One of the coolest things about the site remains the Map of Neopia with 19 different places you could visit, each place its own unique adventure. Maraqua is an entirely different experience from Haunted Woods or Moltara, at least from an imagination point of view.
Sure, you could argue doing quests for Jhudora in Faerieland is essentially the same as doing quests for Illusen in Meridell: they tell you which item to bring them and you go and buy that item. The fun, however, is in the world-building and storytelling. Why do Illusen and Jhudora hate each other so much? Why doesn’t Illusen live in Faerieland; isn’t she a faerie too? Are there other faeries that live outside Faerieland, and if so, what are their stories?
Every Neopian land is rich in lore and character, and the site even has an extremely substantial Neopedia that goes in-depth with all the lands and important names that live in Neopia. Did you know Brightvale’s King Hagan is brothers with Meridell’s King Skarl, or that Count von Roo was the first inhabitant of Roo Island?
Even as an adult, I’m impressed with how strong and immersive the world-building is in this game, and the annual Altador Cup — a soccer-esque tournament that happens every June — allowed players to join the teams of their favorite lands, making Neopia feel even more alive.
That’s another thing that Neopets offers that’s so great: whenever an event happens, every active player is experiencing it at the same time, regardless of how long they’ve been playing the game. History is constantly being made in Neopets, with there even being a weekly paper called The Neopian Times where players themselves can submit articles, stories, and comics, and players are encouraged to be active participants whenever an event happens.
So many people remember being there when Altador finally won the Altador Cup, or when Hannah asked players to hunt for Time Capsules hidden all over Neopia, or when Faerieland went from floating high on the clouds to being down on the ground.
There is no story to strictly follow in Neopets. The world of Neopia is your oyster: you can go wherever you want without needing to complete certain missions, and there’s a plethora of things to do like going on quests, saving up for paintbrushes, collecting avatars and stamps, and setting up your own shop and gallery.
Neopets is like living inside a middle-grade fantasy book series. It’s the true NeverEnding Story, it’s Puff the Magic Dragon if Jackie Paper never left Puff at the end of the song. Both kids and adults of today still very much deserve that celebration of innocence and imagination.
A New Era for Neopets
I’ve loved Neopets since I was a kid, but I’ll be the first to admit: the website is in desperate need of a revamp. The new mobile-friendly layout released in 2020 was a good step forward, but so many pages are still stuck having the old layout, plenty of games and features are now difficult to access or just inaccessible, and the site is still far from ideal for mobile use.
An update this big is long overdue for Neopets, and this new era could benefit not just old players but new ones as well. Not everyone can afford a Switch, Xbox, or PS5, and with games usually being $60 or more nowadays, something like Neopets could be greatly enjoyable to people who can’t afford such a hefty price tag.
However, if Neopets wants to succeed this time around, it has to do several things differently. Mobile use has to be prioritized, as players will want to do dailies and check on their Neopets without the hassle of opening their laptops or desktops. Numerous games and features have to be made available and/or functioning well again, or at least given alternatives.
Most importantly, Neopets needs to continue feeling immersive and alive, even more so than they have in the past few years. That means constant events to participate in and look forward to, various ways for the community to make their presence felt, and maybe even a new plot or mini-plot every year or so. It also means really leaning into the life-simulation aspect of the game by adding new ways to play with your pet and interact with the world of Neopia. It’d even be a great idea to bring back Neohomes.
Only time will tell if Neopets will find success again. While it’s hard to imagine the site being as gigantic as it once was, it’s also easy to imagine many new Neopians developing a strong affinity towards the virtual pet site, and many old Neopians rediscovering their love for the game.
Everyone deserves escapism, and that’s exactly what Neopets is: a brightly-colored world filled with faeries, shop wizards, giant omelettes, and rainbow pools. The world of Neopia is too rich and too creative to not deserve a second chance.
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