Interview: Dominic Law, CEO of Neopets, spoke to The Natural Aristocrat® about the future of the IP and the business side of reviving the 24-year old infrastructure.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT (NIR REGEV): There was a Nintendo Switch game in progress for Neopets that was canceled or at least rumored to be canned about two years ago. A lot of people on Reddit and Discord still talk about it.
With the Neopets company going in a new direction, is moving to video game consoles still a possibility?
DOMINIC LAW: Yeah, I would say if we were to enter the video console kind of segment, Switch will definitely be on the top of our minds.
But I would say it’s probably more like a medium term type of initiative that we’re looking at. I mean our current focus has always been fixing the classic site as much as possible in a relatively short timeframe. And also working on a few experiences that we’ve been building on a mobile gaming site, gaming side.
And I think on the Switch side, I think the previous project, it didn’t really go anywhere to be honest. But we are exploring going back to the Switch, but it will require a much bigger investment and also probably a much larger team if we were to take that on.
So we are exploring what options we have. For example, like whether this whole Neopets Switch initiative, should it be more like a new initiative in the company?
Can we find Neopets community members to help or can we license it out to other studios to help to work with us and do co-production?
So we are trying to explore what might be the most feasible way. But I would say it’s definitely something on the horizon, but it’s not like something that we have committed and found a solution to yet.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: What’s been the biggest undertaking in taking over this whole IP? It’s been in so many hands from the original creators to Viacom. How do you make it your own?
DOMINIC LAW: Yeah, I think that’s definitely a part of the challenge and what’s most exciting about the whole Neopets IP. Particularly, the turnaround and revival that we’re working on.
I think the problem actually stems from there being so many ownership changes in the past like 10, 15 years. Every time an acquisition happens, some files are lost.
We lost access to some of the original source codes. And we kind of also lost access to some of the side games and side quest and stuff like that.
I would say the IP and the company has probably not been of management focus for the past 10 years.
So it’s been in a slowly decaying mode. Our short-term focus is really to at least stop that, reverse it, and build it back to its glory days.
A big part of that is actually working a lot more closely with our community members. Collectively, they probably have all the knowledge we need to restart, reboot, or revive a lot of things that’s not currently working on the site.
So a big part of that is fixing the classic site, like the original NeoPets.com browser-based game. Fixing that and making sure that both lapsed users coming back & existing users can have a much more enjoyable experience. To have that nostalgic factor really hit at home.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: I’ve seen a lot of people that played Neopets back in the day are unable to get back intro their accounts. They can’t find their original passwords and maybe don’t use those email addresses anymore.
I understand there’s a black market where old Neopets accounts are sold for money.
Still, is there any way to accommodate those older legacy user accounts? Or are they impossibly lost in time?
DOMINIC LAW: The challenge we’re facing is that there’s a fine balance between helping the genuine users to come back who are locked out and get access back to their account, and also preventing the scammers. People who are trying to resell accounts or to try to steal accounts from other Neopets players.
So what has happened is there has been kind of security leaks for example. People probably have access to our other users’ username or like their email and stuff like that.
There has been multiple leaks in the past, which also kind of circulated among the community members. We are looking into this issue. We will be announcing a new method for account recovery or account access, like standard procedure.
We’ll also be doing an overhaul of our customer service standard operating procedure to turn through a lot more of these tickets, which are coming in.
We have been receiving a lot more tickets since the latest announcement of of Neopets reviving.
So we are seeing how our returning users are coming back and one of the main issues for them is to get their ex account back.
I think in the coming weeks we will be announcing a lot more about how things could be handled and hope that would change the situation.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Would IDs help? Of course, I’m not sure if people would literally send a driver’s license over for their Neopets account.
DOMINIC LAW: Well, I mean some of our users could be very desperate. They’re very much in love with the IP and they want to get their account back.
But with something like that we just have to make sure we’re not collecting too much private information and making sure the process is protecting our users as well.
I would say there are more sensitive accounts that we’re still very cautious about. But like for the less sensitive accounts we are trying to make it easier for users to come back.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: There were rumors of a Neopets cartoon show in the works, around a year ago. Is that still happening or been shelved?
DOMINIC LAW: There has been multiple conversations going on regarding different partners on where that could come to fruition.
I think a specific one that has been rumored about is probably shelved… But based on my understanding we are exploring how new partnerships to bring this idea to life.
But as I mentioned, these are some things that we probably can’t do ourselves. So we’ll be working with partners who have the right expertise and are willing to work very closely with us to produce something.
So yeah, I mean I don’t have anything concrete to to share. But I think if we can get Neopets on the big screen either as an animation series or even potentially a movie down the road, it is definitely something we would love to explore.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Is there interest in bringing back the original creators in some way? I know one of them, Donna Powell has said she doesn’t want to be a part of Neopets anymore after reading lewd fan comments on a Discord server.
But is there any interest in bringing back original team members or even ones from the Viacom era?
DOMINIC LAW: Yeah, so we do actually have some of the original artists or game designers involved in a different capacity.
Some have signed up as a brand ambassador or in more like an advisory role giving us more knowledge from the early days.
So we have been a lot more proactively reaching out to these original creative team members to help us to revive certain parts of Neopets.
But a lot of our existing team members working have also been around with the company for quite a long time. So I would say we still have a lot of guidance and advice from these kind of OG team members.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Are a lot of the Neopets infrastructure issues over the years due to Adobe Flash being discontinued and everything having to be remade on some level to HTML5?
DOMINIC LAW: Yeah, when Adobe Flash was gone around December, 2020, it’s kind of like overnight things were broken and not working.
So what we’ve been doing is converting a lot of those to HTML5. But it’s quite a lot of effort.
What we’ve done in parallel in the past few months is working, for example, with open source software providers like Ruffle as an emulator to bring back a lot of our mini gains.
So at least that gave us another option to let the site be a lot more enjoyable.
We now have over a hundred mini games that are playable compared to like three months ago where we only had like 15.
That’s a huge jump! All through these alternative solutions to bring back some of the content that’s mainly built on Flash.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Many fans were really excited when they got the initial email that changes were happening at the company. Where do you see Neopets in a year or two? What are you guys working on right now?
DOMINIC LAW: It’s a multi-tier strategy that we’re working on. Currently, we’re trying to fix the classic site as much as possible in a reasonable timeframe. So as fixing the classic site is mainly a few things. First of all, we’re still converting a lot of the pages to make it more mobile friendly and make it more consistent as it currently stands.
A lot of the pages are kind of split in two camps. Some of the pages have a classic view, and some of the pages have been converted to something more mobile friendly.
And then there’s also many pages that are just broken because it’s built on flash and not working.
So we’re trying to convert a lot of those into HTML5, at least for the more highly visited pages.
We’re definitely working on that. And in parallel we’re also trying to work a lot more closely with Ruffle to see whether there are other pages that we can bring back.
But of course there are challenges like sending scores and communicating with the rest of the site. It is true that we’re building on a 24 year old infrastructure and there a lot of these small things that might not seem very obvious at first.
When we actually implement changes it takes a while. So that’s our first main pillar, fixing the classic site. The second pillar is where we’re also trying to build new game experiences. That’s for us to extend Neopets into a multi-generation ip.
We do need new game experiences that are attractive to our returning users or lapsed users or even new users who’ve never played Neopets in the past.
So that’s kind of where we’re also trying to invest in to make sure that we stay relevant.
That it’s not just a nostalgic IP with the 24 year old game kind of sitting on a browser-based experience.
For the new game experiences, we are trying to modernize Neopets in a way that it’s relevant, so it will be like mobile experiences.
As part of that pillar we’re also exploring new technologies that we can bring in. Whether we build on what we’ve discussed previously, like, ‘Should we be building on the Switch?’ or working on bringing new ways of building fun games into these new experiences. So that’s mainly the second pillar.
The second pillar is probably something that’s a lot more like medium to longer term. I mean it takes years to build a great game.
Some of the new games are more casual and hyper casual than those we can bring up first. For example, we are planning to relaunch Island Builder as a side game town building game. And also we have a match three game called Faerie’s Hope.
These are things that have been built for the past two, three years. So there are things that we’re trying to tie in more and bring back… And hopefully use that to bring back our lapsed users who left the site but might be interested to still engage with different Neopets formats.
And the last pillar of what we’re trying to do is actually revive the IP. Rebuilding the licensing and merchandise business, which in the past has been very successful.
Like we’ve had really great merch in the past and some of the merch excels very well. Rebuilding that part would also be helping us to reach a lot of our lapsed users through the mass market retailers.
Essentially, getting our lapsed users to come back to reengage with the IP. I think that’s the last pillar as well. Going through these three main pillars, I need to focus on bringing Neopets back and revive the IP as a whole.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Are you still working on the Neopets Metaverse that was rumored?
DOMINIC LAW: The Neopets Metaverse, was part of our second pillar strategy. We’ve announced that we’ll be stopping the Neopets Metaverse project specifically…
But we are reusing a lot of the 3D assets and in-game design, which are less crypto related, to build a new modernized simulation game.
So we’re recycling a lot of what we’ve been building into a new game that we’re still continuing to work on.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Is it true that prior to the current takeover that Neopets was operating on a loss for many years and that’s why a lot of fixes weren’t applied?
DOMINIC LAW: I would say yes. I mean that’s basically very true. One of the main reasons why we wanna restructure the whole company structure is so the team could be a lot more agile and have more independence. Really driving at the most important things for both the community and the company and also for the whole IP as well.
I think in the past Neopets hasn’t been the main focus of the top senior management. But also as part of a larger corporate entity it just hasn’t been receiving the care it needs.
There was no cohesive planning to really unleash the value of Neopets.
So what our team has been doing is having everyone working really hard to keep the company afloat even when, when Neopets is in such a dire situation.
I mean all our team members are very passionate about the IP and they’re very excited just like the community is that we’re finally doing something that we can bring back and rebuild Neopets.
DOMINIC LAW: Yeah, we are trying to collect as much feedback as possible.
I mean we understand that there’s like numerous threads that are discussing and giving us feedback, so we try to collect as much as possible, but to be honest, there’s probably just more channels than we have enough staff to really go through those.
But we have been trying to establish more transparency between the company, the Neopets development team and also the community.
We’re doing more AMAs (‘Ask Me Anything’ threads on Reddit), so we have more transparency on that front. We’ve been sending out more surveys to collect feedback.
We understand that there’s still a lot of threads out there discussing probably all types of problems that the site still has. But there are a lot of great comments to be honest.
We’d love to have a more systematic way to collect feedback and advice to help us with the execution of our plans.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: I’ve heard Viacom wanted Neopets to essentially be Pokémon, which is a very lofty once in a lifetime goal. What do you foresee five years from now for the Neopets IP to grow to?
DOMINIC LAW: I think there’s two main differentiations about Neopets IP as compared to other IPs that are of similar caliber.
So one is our user base. Although, Neopets has been a very kid friendly inclusive site, most of our core users have grown up with the IP. And it’s a 24 year old IP.
Most of our core users are not kids anymore. So they’re all young adults or they’re kind of midlife already actually. So we need to understand that these are the core community.
So if we’re trying too hard to position Neopets as a childish kid’s IP, it wouldn’t work because it doesn’t resonate with our user base.
I mean a lot of our fans love of the cuteness of Neopets… But there’s actually a lot more deeper emotional attachment with Neopets because the creativity that that’s put behind it.
The amount of breath and depth of the original game. There’s just so much you can do in Neopets.
There’s so many ways for you to express yourself. Although many of us started playing Neopets as a kid, we need to remember we were kinda ahead of the whole gaming industry.
Neopets was basically the first of its kind, type of game. With social media predating MySpace and Facebook. It’s actually a very active online community where it inspired a generation of users to really explore the world of internet through a game.
I think we need to understand the nuances. Although Neopets are very cute and everything, it is actually an IP that has a lot more depth to it.
Bringing Neopets back is actually what we want to achieve. Reconnecting to our roots and what made Neopets so special.
I think that’s also explains the reason why as an IP we’re able to survive so many years… Even after so many hiccups!
I mean, to be honest, it was not the best run company in the world. But the community and the team is basically what kept Neopets afloat and we see a lot of value in that.
We believe that there’s a lot more that could be done. A lot more of that type of emotional attachment and brand awareness that we have.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Is there still a virtual concert planned like is rumored? I’ve seen those take place in Splatoon quite often.
DOMINIC LAW: No, I mean we are definitely always exploring ways to have the Neopets IP enjoyed in different ways.
So whether it’s a virtual concert or an animation series or other new experiences that we’re trying to bring, we’re definitely exploring on all fronts.
There has been rumors on all fronts to be honest, because while we’re trying to modernize this ip, we wanna make sure that we stay relevant…
But on the other hand, we wanna make sure that we’re investing in the right avenues.
Ones that give us the best bang of our buck and really making the most of our limited scarce resources.
We’re putting our focus on the most important things that can really help build Neopets. So maybe a long-winded way of saying that we are exploring experiences like a virtual concert, but we’re not rolling it out.
We are exploring whether it’s plausible and whether it’s something that our community actually wants compared to if we use the the same budget to do something else.
We’re very agile in a way, because we’re exploring so many different fronts. There ought to be a lot of rumors going out and in the community.
But at the end of the day, what we need to do is we need to prioritize, we need to stay laser focused on the most important task in hand and really deploy our scarce resources accordingly.
I would say we are trying to work a lot more closely with the community. So these are areas where we love to get more feedback and make sure that whatever we deliver & whatever we execute on… That it’s actually something that would be loved by our community.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: How did you first get into Neopets? You played when you were younger as I understand it?
DOMINIC LAW: When I first moved back to Hong Kong, I actually lost contact with a lot of my childhood friends in Canada because back then there’s no social media, there was only like land line phone number that we could call.
It used to be so expensive, so it was actually hard to stay connected back then. And then my friend from Canada one day invited me to play Neopets when it first came out, or shortly after it first came out.
I just got hooked to it for a couple of years and it’s a major avenue for me to reconnect with my Canadian friends. It actually gave me a very interesting kind of childhood because I was way ahead of the curve. Neopets only caught on popularity in Hong Kong, like two, three years after it become so big in the U.S.
So I was like one of the first kids to have played it and have accumulated a lot more knowledge in it.
It’s a very interesting childhood memory and that’s kind of how I first started. And to be honest, I haven’t played as much as a lot of our core users in the past 10 years.
When I first joined NetDragon a few years back, the original pairing company of Neopets who owns, Jumpstart Games, the company… I understood that Neopets is an IP that they own and that is definitely one of the reasons that kept me excited when I joined Net Dragon.
I slowly got more involved with the business unit that owns this Neopets IP and started digging around.
A little bit less than two years ago I started leading this Neopets Metaverse game project as a side project to get my hands dirty and work on the Neopets IP.
That’s when I probably embarked on this whole journey that eventually led me here.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Thanks Dominic!
DOMINIC LAW: Thank you!
– You can also watch this interview with CEO Dominic Law on Neopets on our YouTube Channel! Be sure to like, comment, and subscribe for more exclusive interviews like this one.
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