If you type most websites into the Wayback Machine — a site dedicated to indexing the past and present of the Internet’s webpages — and have a browse, you’ll find most websites have evolved and changed their webpages in order to stay refreshed and relevant. However, there is one site that, over the years, has failed to keep up. That site is a guilty pleasure of mine from time to time and that site is Neopets.
Neopets is a virtual pet website which was launched in 1999. Those with a Neopets account could create and care for a pet of their choice. There are also a multitude of Flash-based games to play to acquire ‘Neopoints’ the website’s virtual currency which allow players to purchase a range of different items for their pet and explore the virtual planet known as ‘Neopia’.
A few months ago I was on Reddit and I stumbled across an AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Donna and Adam Powell, the original founders of Neopets. It was there that I discovered the many changes that Donna and Adam planned to implement, but never materialised after they sold the company to Viacom in 2005. The changes included a complete revamp of the Battledome, updating the Neopian Pound, creating and implementing a ‘Zelda-like’ virtual world where you would play as your Neopet, and explore the world of Neopia. This open world would feature a multiplayer component, an in-built web-based chat, and an eventual move to the mobile platform.
“There have been so many technological advances since 1999, and the site hasn’t really embraced any of them,” Donna recalls when asked about the current direction of the site. Aside from a few minor changes — this includes as design tweaks, the ‘NC Mall’ where users purchase ‘Neocash’ with real money and use it to buy exclusive items for their pet, the introduction of a premium service where users subscribe on a month-by-month basis to access non-standard features, as well as a mobile game titled Ghoul Catchers — there has been no complete website overhaul since at least 2007.
With all of this in mind, it raises a few questions. Why is a site that is still so popular, and has such a loyal fan base, refusing to change in order to stay relevant with all the advances in website design available? As Donna said in the AMA, “Things are just different now. There aren’t as many people wanting to play web-based games.” This is reflected in the site’s Alexa Global Rank of 6172, which takes into account a websites page views and daily visitors on a three-month basis and ranks the website accordingly in order of popularity. Is JumpStart, the current owner of Neopets, relying solely on the fact that they have a loyal fan base who are willing keep the site afloat? Only time will tell…
Words by Dakota Richards