Q&A: Neopets Creators Found Virtual World Dev Meteor Games
Neopets was originally founded in 1999 and acquired first by private investors and later acquired by Viacom in 2005 for $160 million.
Meteor Games is headquartered in West Hollywood, California, and is headed up by the two original creators of the Neopets franchise, Adam Powell and Donna Williams. Powell serves as Meteor's chief executive officer and and creative director, while Williams takes the role of chief operating officer and president.
According to the statement released by the company, its games will "cross the appeal of social networks, web-based casual games and traditional massively multiplayer online games." To find out more, Gamasutra talked with Adam Powell about Meteor and where it will take its new world.
Why did you choose now to found a new company and work on a new product?
Adam Powell: A lot of factors came into play, really. Personally, we're in a situation where we are able to make this company happen while at the same time, the industry has been going through such amazing growth. A lot of the trends we’re seeing – merging social networks, web-based gaming and MMO popularity – play well into our experience creating worlds and games. We just felt it was the right time for us to use our experience to create something new.
Can you talk about the backing you have for this endeavor -- i.e. your financial backing and your staff?
AP: We're a small company, with just over 40 in-house staff right now. We're funded privately, and although we are in talks with additional investors right now, we are extremely lucky that we aren't under any pressure to get a game out into the market by any certain date. That means that we can build our game the right way and for the right reasons.
Will you be developing your online world internally? Do you have an internal studio?
AP: Everything is being developed in-house in our West Hollywood office. We're will be distributing the game via our web site, and aim to handle additional content development, support and localization ourselves.
What tools will you be using to create your world?
AP: We're using cutting edge-tools to make a fully 3D, seamless environment that will support tens of thousands of players per server. We'll be announcing details about our technology very soon, but for now it's under wraps.
Are you working with any large, established companies in the creation of this online world?
AP: Yes, the 3D middleware engine that our game is based on is developed by a big name with a great track record. Once again, we'll be making an announcement soon.
What do you think of the state of the current online worlds market, particularly those aimed at children (such as Neopets and your project)?
AP: I think the current children’s virtual world market has huge room for improvement. Most of the games out there seem to lack a lot of depth -- this is probably because there weren't many, and then, since Club Penguin, there are suddenly hundreds on the scene. I think the key is never underestimate your players because they aren't stupid. Aim high and they'll hopefully respect and appreciate your ideas and content.
Meteor Games’ project will aim at an audience that is older than your traditional children’s game might attract while at the same time, remaining fun enough and appropriate for younger kids to join in. Our content will be sophisticated but accessible – it’s a real challenge to achieve, but one that we think we are uniquely qualified to pursue.
What business models are you going to be using in your product?
AP: We're looking at a lot of different options that are also not limited to the “traditional” way MMOs have done their business. We’ll do a lot of focus testing and market research to help us determine the best avenue for Meteor Games, but certainly some kind of subscriptions and micropayment items are in the discussion -- the latter only for aesthetic items, so we will not unbalance the game.
One thing we can say for sure -- our experience with Neopets has taught us that advertisements and fantasy virtual worlds don't necessarily mix well, so we are avoiding that as a revenue stream. We'd much prefer to charge for great content than cover our site with advertising banners.
What did you learn over the course of working on Neopets from its beginnings till its explosion and multiple acquisitions?
AP: We learned that you shouldn't hold back with content. We used to have an idea in the morning, get it implemented during the day and then by 5pm it was live and the kids on the site were playing or downloading it. If you can really go out of your way to keep your community entertained, they're more likely to forgive you when things go wrong -- which they frequently did! Staying in touch with your users and listening to what they have to say is absolutely paramount.
What is the ingredient that you think is missing in existing virtual worlds like Neopets? What do you intend to bring to your product to differentiate it from those already available?
AP: Virtual worlds and communities can really learn a lot from some of the top-end MMOs. There are so many facets of gameplay that can be borrowed from MMOs such as World of Warcraft that would work in any virtual world, regardless of target demographic. Random items, character customization and user-generated content can all really add depth to gameplay.
At Meteor Games, we're really putting the community and the content first. Our hope is that once people see the amount and the quality of content that we’re releasing, they'll decide that our MMO is one they'll want to play.
When can we expect to see more concrete details on your product?
AP: We've been in development for some time now and we'll be announcing more details about our product at Penny Arcade Expo this year. Any information on the game will be posted on the Meteor Games web site.