Neopets’ Big Revival Will Include Tie-In ‘Phygital’ Products

Neopets is still kicking around 24 years after its first release, and now it’s planning its big comeback, of sorts. World of Neopia CEO Dominic Law, who now leads the company that bought Neopets for $4 million back in July, emphasized that the team is done with those obtuse efforts at monetization like NFTS. Instead, they’re going back to the old standby—put succinctly by fabled prophet Yogurt from Spaceballs—“merchandising, merchandising, merchandising.”

World of Neopia bought the Neopets property from Chinese company NetDragon Websoft earlier this year. Back in July, the new Neopets team, spearheaded by Law, declared it had a whole new vision to bring back the site to full glory. They acknowledged how many of those famed minigames were no longer working since Adobe pulled support for Flash. The team promised a new centralized website, a new plot, and much more transparency from the developers.

But the main thrust of the new CEO’s work is on how to make Neopets make money. Law told CNBC the Neopets team has merchandise they want to sell you. He described some of these as “phygital” products, which means plushies, toys, shirts, and other products that include a QR code to get in-game bonuses, seemingly akin to Amiibos.

Law promised a return to form, which also means going back to the old form of in-game and real-world monetization. Law has routinely claimed that Neopets still has 1 million active users, though that’s compared to the 35 million monthly active users the game had at its height in the twee days of 2005. In September, the company said all this talk of revival has led to its highest traffic in the last five years.

The game may see a bump in traffic from curious old Neopets players, but to get a lasting cash machine going, Law told the folks at Gamescom Asia they need to develop new games while licensing their IP to folks like Hasbro, the makers of Monopoly, and cardmakers Upper Deck.

Neopets was always something of a cash-generating enterprise aimed at kids, so it was natural it tried its hand at digital collectibles during the flash boom of crypto over the last two years. The now-defunct NetDragon started working on Neopet NFTs, but now the Neopets Meta site includes the message of redistributing resources “to the development of a game that we feel can better reflect our values and vision.” Though the gallery of non-fungible tokens is still available (the “Game Portal” still says “Coming Soon”), the team said they’re no longer working on that gross kind of digital monetization.

In many ways, Neopets predicted the black hole of video game monetization through its play-to-earn Flash games. Just 20 years ago, players needed to take care of their Neopets by buying food and care products using in-game currencies. The game had two kinds of digital coins, Neopoints and Neocash, the latter of which could be bought with real-world money or gained through casino-style games of chance—AKA gambling.

Nowadays, most major game releases, such as Mortal Kombat 1, as well as legacy multiplayer titles like Destiny 2, include multiple types of purchasable in-game currency used to access some of the best-looking cosmetics or gear. Yet Law said he considers the new Neopets a return to “early internet gaming culture in its purest form.” In his talk with CNBC, he said he doesn’t want to go the route of trying to “milk every dollar out of your pocket.”

Neopets is instead focused on capturing enough nostalgia from those who played Neopets in the early aughts. In a video released earlier this year, the Neopia team showed off that a new “3D open world simulator” called World of Neopets was in development and slated for next year. An all-new Neopets plot titled “The Void Within” is also supposed to be released early in 2024.

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