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Dominic Law has a plan to make Neopets last for another 25 years

World of Neopia Inc. CEO Dominic Law lays out his grand ambitions to revitalize and grow beloved 2000s web game Neopets.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

April 8, 2024

6 Min Read
A headshot of Dominic Law against a red background.
Image via World of Neopia Inc.

At a Glance

  • Dominic Law acquired Neopets from NetDragon Websoft in 2023 to reignite development on web game Neopets.
  • Law says the game operated "at a loss" for a decade, but is already seeing spikes in revenue and monthly average users.
  • To make Neopets fully profitable and long-lasting, its team will need to act 'like a startup,' says Law.

World of Neopia Inc. CEO Dominic Law is living what some might say is a game development fantasy. Like many millennials, he grew up with beloved web game Neopets, the browser-based virtual pet simulator created by Adam Powell and Donna Williams. In a conversation with Game Developer at the 2024 Game Developers Conference, he explained that he used the game to stay in touch with his Canadian friends after his family moved back to Hong Kong when he was a child.

But like many other millennials, he drifted away from Neopets during its turbulent shifts and ownership (which briefly linked the game to the cultish religion of Scientology thanks to businessman Doug Dohring) over the last 25 years. The game was sold to entertainment conglomerate Viacom in 2005, then to Chinese company JumpStart 2014. JumpStart was acquired by NetDragon 2017.

A combination of developer brain drain, budget cuts, and trend-chasing dogged the game during this time, culminating in an unpopular pivot to blockchain in 2021 and the devastation of its Flash-based minigame library that same year.

Then something unusual happened. Law, who joined the Neopets team in 2020, convinced NetDragon to sell him the game with the backing of outside investors, with the intent to "work solely on the betterment of the entire Neopets game and community," the company said at the time.

Related:Neopets, Guitar Hero lead 2024 Video Game Hall of Fame nominees

Revival efforts for beloved old games do not often come with major financial backing, which makes Law's gambit like something out of a fairy tale. But while a pitch of resuscitating Neopets appeals to the game's core audience and nostalgic millennials, can it translate that appeal into a functional business model?

The answer is "yes," if Law has anything to say about it. His vision for Neopets is that the 25-year-old game won't just be on life support for the rest of its life, but that it will grow, thrive, and remain profitable for another quarter-century.

Neopets should be profitable again in the near future

Law explained that since he and his colleague jumpstarted active development on the game (he said that JumpStart and NetDragon had kept it on "life support" for the last decade), they've already watched "all their metrics" including engagement, revenue, and MA, jumping two-or-three times higher. "revenue-wise, viewership-wise, and engagement-wise, we're at our seven-year peak," he said.

A golden Neopet in a blue coat gives a gesture of welcome with Neopia in the background.

That's an impressive but not necessarily high bar to clear, as Law noted that Neopets has operated "at a loss" for the last decade.

He claimed that if World of Neopia doesn't "do anything" to Neopets at this moment, it would still be on track for profitability in the near future. "But we're also investing to future-proof this brand and this game. We're trying to develop new experiences and have more upgrades to really make Neopets thrive again."

There's a balance to strike when trying to grow classic online brands however. Law pointed out that the original version of Jagex's RuneScape is more profitable than its successors, as the core audience for these games will rarely want to migrate to other platforms.

That means Neopets.com will always be the hub of Neopets gameplay. But that experience can be augmented with better mobile browser support, app versions of the game that provide a better experience for new players used to those platforms, and other improvements.

So that's the immediate growth strategy...but it can't really begin in earnest until the development team has cleaned up the last decade of digital decay that's plagued the game. "Half of the site is still broken," he said, alluding to the various Flash-based sections of the page that weren't restored by NetDragon. When they started that cleanup process last July, only about a dozen minigames were playable. Now over 100 have come back online.

In the future, he sees improvements to the player-versus-player Battledome feature as being an opportunity for growth in game content. The demographic of PvP-interested Neopets players has been underserved by game in the last 10 years, and he thinks improving that section of the site could lure another chunk of the core audience back.

Lastly, Law said World of Neopia is gunning to rebuild the brand value for licensing as a source of revenue. Long ago, Neopets was popular enough that McDonald's licensed it for Happy Meal toys. He wants to supercharge that end of the business, beginning with a new trading card game released in partnership with Upper Deck later this year.

Who are the next generation of Neopets players?

The danger with any nostalgia-revived property is that initial enthusiasm for such a resurrection may not accurately indicate whether a series has long-term viability.

Law thinks Neopets has what it takes. He thinks the franchise can shoot for name recognition and vitality as strong as Pokémon, Barbie, or Super Mario Bros, just as long as it's shepherded with a community-first approach in mind.

Sharp-eyed developers will probably want to hear about moonshots, however. Law did give some context on where the playerbase is at right now. The generation that played Neopets in their youth is only starting to have kids, so they're not expecting the generational fandom to pass through any time soon.

The current focus is two-pronged: ramping up mobile-friendly versions of Neopets for players who prefer those platforms, and capitalizing on the fact that it still has all its user data from the last quarter-decade. If players can dig up their old logins, their Neopets are waiting for them (and are probably very hungry).

Interest in 2000s-era internet culture isn't just limited those who lived it, Law also explained. "I think that also makes it exciting for younger generations as well because it's like a living, historical relic. You can treat it as a museum. If you want to understand what early internet culture, early gaming culture was like."

Once parents of the Neopets generation have kids who are old enough, they might want to check it out in the same way kids enjoy digging through their parents' old records.

If the game does stick around for another 25 years, as Law hopes, there may be a day where Neopets are handed down from generation to generation. (Someone one day may say "This was my father's Kacheek, as it was his father's Kacheek before him.")

Will Law be there for that whole journey? Maybe—for now he's focused on making sure the revival goes smoothly. "My biggest nightmare would be if under my lead Neopets kind of just dies and is discontinued," he said.

The road ahead for World of Neopia is long, but if it all goes well, there will be a Giant Omelette waiting for everyone at the finish line.

Game Developer and Game Developers Conference are sibling organizations under Informa Tech.

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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