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Neopets developers spin off into independent company, ditch crypto

Beloved web browser game Neopets is operating under new management.

Bryant Francis

July 18, 2023

3 Min Read
Promotional art showing three Neopians in superhero outfits. The graphic says "A new era for Neopets. Exciting Announcements."

Neopets, the beloved pet-collecting game that first became a global phenomenon in 1999, has been spun off under a new independent company called World of Neopia, Inc. The Neopets team announced the move in a post on Medium, which details how the site became independently owned for the first time in over two decades.

For the last decade, Neopets has been owned by a company named JumpStart Games, itself a subsidiary of NetDragon. Current Neopets team lead Dominic Law joined NetDragon in 2020, and took a personal interest in a game he himself had spent hundreds of hours playing in the 2000s.

Over the last three years, Law apparently orchestrated an initiative to buy out Neopets from NetDragon, which shut down JumpStart Games in June 2023. "Free from the corporate baggage that existed in the past, the newly united TNT has now been entrusted with the decision-making and overall brand strategy of Neopets, enabling them to work solely on the betterment of the entire Neopets game and community," the company stated.

This effort to unchain Neopets from corporate ownership was backed by $4 million in outside investment.

The Neopets Team says it's currently prioritizing bringing old Neopets minigames back online by using Flash player emulator Ruffle. Many Neopets minigames began to degrade when Flash went offline in 2020.

Development will also end on Neopets Metaverse, NetDragon's prior attempt to cash in on the metaverse craze with a taste of NFTs thrown in for good measure. Instead, the Neopets Team says it's beginning development on a mobile app called World of Neopets, which will act as a central hub for Neopets activities. The classic Neopets website portal will remain online.

The Neopets team shot down the notion that World of Neopets would just be a rebrand of Neopets Metaverse. "World of Neopets is a brand new mobile game," the company stated. "Currently, there are no NFTs or crypto used in World of Neopets."

Neopets ownership has taken many strange turns over two decades

It's tempting to zero-in on the Neopets developers immediately pivoting away from cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. But today's news about the future of Neopets is a bigger reflection of how chaotic the ownership of the brand has been since it shot to popularity in late 1999.

The website was originally created by British developers Adam Powell and Donna Williams, who would go on to sell a majority share of what was then called Neopets Inc. to American investor Doug Dohring. For a brief period of time, Dohring placed Neopets under the management of Scientology's Org Board. Williams and Powell intervened when the organization attempted to use the website as a platform for spreading the religion.

In 2005 Viacom purchased Neopets Inc and took ownership of Neopets until 2014, when it sold the brand to JumpStart Games, which was bought by Chinese company NetDragon in 2017.

According to World of Neopia, Neopets has operated at a loss for the last decade—a time period that would roughly cover the end of Viacom's ownership of the brand through the end of NetDragon's tenure. During that same decade, the site would undergo a number of high-profile security breaches, which were especially damning considering the site's popularity with young players.

That means in its 24-year lifespan, Neopets has endured the cultish touch of Scientology, multiple changes in corporate ownership, data breach after data breach, the death of Flash, and a flirtation with widely-controversial NFTs.

And yet! It has stayed online, and hopefully with the guidance of an independent team, can flourish in the same way that other decades-old online games have.

About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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