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Map of Neopia showing the rainbow pool and money tree, among other destinations Image: World of Neopia

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Neopets is finally in its revival era

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Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Neopets may not look entirely different, but times are changing for the beloved and sometimes troubled create-a-pet website. For the first time in nearly two decades, Neopets is run by an independent company after new leadership negotiated a buyout from its former owner, NetDragon Websoft, which owned JumpStart Games, the company Neopets was a subsidiary under. To put it simply, Neopets is now free from the “corporate baggage” it’s held on to in the past, according to new CEO Dominic Law.

Law and the new Neopets team, now under a company called World of Neopia, Inc., announced the leadership handoff alongside a long list of promises to the franchise’s dedicated fans. Under a message of dramatically increased transparency, the Neopets team said it’s not only going to fix the website, but go beyond that, too — with a mobile app, a virtual concert à la Fortnite’s concert series, and lots of new content. World of Neopia appears to be making good on those promises so far. Days after the announcement, Neopets got back dozens of its Flash-based minigames that went offline when Flash died.

“We’ve had a lot of tech debt since the original game was built on a platform over 23 years old, close to 24,” Law said. “There are a lot of bugs, a lot of things we need to fix. To be honest, the to-do list is probably more than 100 items to fix. But we’re prioritizing and making sure that we’re delivering what matters most to our community.”

And what matters most to the community? A functioning site is at the top of that list, with working Flash minigames (now running on Flash emulator Ruffle), better security, transparency, and accessible support. Beyond a lack of games on the site in the past, Neopets has had a rough few years fighting back major security issues, including a major data breach last year, that led to increasing support troubles. On the extreme end of the spectrum, players struggled to access accounts they’d put years of work into, only to find out later that their beloved pets had been stolen.

With a barrage of problems, support lines were inundated with requests, leading to huge delays. Law said that Neopets’ downfall over the past five or six years under NetDragon was, in part, due to a lack of focus from corporate leadership; Neopets was, after all, a tiny part of a massive conglomerate, one that was operating at a loss for years. He said that Neopets is World of Neopia’s core focus.

“There’s an incredibly dedicated team of people who were just doing all they could and, frankly, wearing too many hats for not enough pay, but they love the site,” Dean Ravenola, Neopets creative director, said. “I’m so happy we’re finally getting the chance and resources to do what we’ve been wanting to do for so long now. It feels like a new era.”

Tricia Richards, content marketing coordinator for Neopets, told Polygon that customer support is making tweaks to make sure fans are heard — like decreasing response time and improving the account recovery system. “One of our biggest focuses with this new era of Neopets is listening really intently to the wants and needs of the community,” she said. “A lot of [players] have felt unheard for a long time.”

The Neopets team now has close to 50 people working on the site and other projects, Law said. That’s made possible by the funding behind the buyout, which is an unannounced number on top of the $4 million raised around its now discontinued metaverse project. Law said that he’s invested “a lot of [his] personal savings” into the management buyout, too. Some of that funding was originally tied to Neopets NFTs — which fans hated and pushed back against — and crypto. But Law, who was once involved in the Neopets metaverse project, is adamant that Neopets’ immersive world in development doesn’t have crypto or Web3 elements.

Characters from the Neopets online game franchise. Image: World of Neopia

World of Neopia developers are also cooking up additional content — namely, a new plot. In addition to Neopets’ popular minigames, the world also revolves around decades’ worth of lore poured into ongoing storylines. Ravenola said the team has been working on the new plot for two to three years, drawing from decades of Neopets lore and storylines for inspiration. But some of that history has sadly been lost in the Flash breakdown. A lot of that has been preserved on fan sites, and it requires digging — digging that Ravenola and the team are excited to do to ensure they do right by the history of Neopets.

“The biggest thing we want to do is honor the characters and the exciting stories that came before, do them justice, and bring in some new [characters], too,” Ravenola said.

It’s a daunting task. It feels like there are very few websites from the 1990s and early 2000s that are still active in the way Neopets is. Neopets had roughly 100,000 daily active users on average over the past few years, and Law said that number has remained consistent, if not grown, in the week since the announcement of the new leadership team and Neopets’ revival.

Nostalgia rules the way a lot of people interact with and think of Neopets, and that means many fans have an idea of what they want — and some are very loud about it. The Neopets team sees those voices, which can sometimes sound angry, as an expression of passion. People love the site and they want to see it thrive. “It’s a really special group of players, and I am constantly feeling this sense of awe but also duty to make sure [Neopets] remains that special place people love so much,” Richards said.

“The next year is really going to be crucial for Neopets in terms of how this rebirth will go,” Ravenola added.

Correction (Aug. 9): This story has been updated to adjust a word due to a transcription error.