Back in July, the world's Neopets nearly got sent to a farm upstate. The edutainment company that maintained the 24-year-old virtual pets webgame was shuttered by its owner, NetDragon, and all the Kortbats and Wockys and Blumaroos might've gone with it if a management buyout hadn't kept the site alive.
Now, for the first time in almost two decades, Neopets is independent again, and its new overseers hope it can climb back up the internet hierarchy—at its peak in 2005, Neopets had over 35 million monthly active users.
Step one in the Neopets revitalization project: ditch plans for a Neopets Metaverse NFT game.
Funnily, the CEO of the new, independent Neopets company, Dominic Law, was the very person in charge of that Neopets NFT project back at NetDragon. The moment Neopets went independent, however, he and the new company canned it.
Speaking to PC Gamer on a recent call, Law didn't rule anything out for the future, but told me that NFTs are "not what the community wants" right now, and that the new, independent Neopets isn't exploring anything blockchain related.
Assets originally made for the canceled Neopets Metaverse NFT project are now being recycled for use in an upcoming "social life-simulation game" called World of Neopets. It'll be a mobile game, but could become a multiplatform game sometime after it launches, Law told me.
That's "at least another year or two" away, though. In the near term, Law says that the company will use its resources "to help really fix the Neopets site first, and build things that our community cares most about."
The Neopets website was in a poor state before the buyout. "Beset by ageing site features, a waning user base, and a lack of resources, [the Neopets team] had to work tirelessly just to barely keep the site afloat," read a statement attributed to the site staff. The library of minigames was particularly rundown: They'd been made in Flash, which was deprecated back in 2020 and then blocked in browsers for security reasons.
Already, the new Neopets company has used Flash emulator Ruffle to bring back over 100 games, and its efforts are having an effect: The site just hit its highest monthly users figure in five years.
Many of those users are 30-to-40-year-olds driven by nostalgia for the old game, which is now in its 25th year of operation and still very much looks like it comes from the 2000s. But many are also kids being introduced to Neopets by their millennial parents, says Law, who describes the site as a "living relic" of the internet: a place where kids can find out what the web was like 20 years ago, and where adults can relive that era.
Law himself grew up playing Neopets, and in some respects, sees running the site as similar to maintaining a historical building. He plans to keep the classic Neopets look and "DNA" alive on the website, and says that the company is working on integrating fan projects that seek to preserve the Neopets experience of the early days, from 1999 through the early 2000s.
But the new Neopets owners don't just want to operate a historical exhibit: Law hopes to "turn Neopets into a much larger entertainment IP." I hadn't noticed it until he mentioned it, but classic toy brands are having a moment: Barbie just had its big movie, there's a new Furby line, and there's apparently been a Care Bears resurgence. Meanwhile, other old-school games like RuneScape seem to be thriving. Maybe this is the right moment for a Neopets comeback?
That in-development World of Neopets life sim is part of the Neopets global domination plan, but before that, the company will relaunch a redesigned version of another mobile game, Island Builders, early next year, and plans to introduce a single sign-on system for all Neopets games. 2024 will also see the start of a new Neopets storyline and new merchandise—the company is generally "trying to do a lot more licensing and merchandising deals," says Law—in the leadup to the 25th Anniversary celebration.
To maintain harmony between lovers of old Neopets and his ambitions for neo-Neopets, Law also plans to spend a lot of time listening to players. "It's very different from building a brand new game," he said. "When we're working with a historical relic, we have to make sure we're doing innovation while doing the preservation at the same time."
One more priority: Making sure people can get into their old accounts, which may literally have been made decades ago by people who were kids at the time. The account recovery policy was updated in September, and Law says they've been receiving lots of support tickets to help old players recover their Neopets.
"It's a great time to come back and say hi to your pets," he says.
Of course, you've been diligently taking care of your Neopets this whole time, right? I mean, what kind of person would abandon a Neopet for two decades? Not me, that's for sure.