I find lots of interesting stuff in my old Neopets archives—design documents, old code, presentations, concept art, the occasional shirtless Dr. Sloth drawing from Shoomlah—and when I posted some tidbits on Twitter a while ago, I got requests to write more about my experiences working at the home of the only thing on the Internet you don’t have. (+100 internet points if you remember this, true Neopets fans.) Sure, I said. I can write some stuff. No problem.
Except apparently it was a problem after all because it’s been, like, a couple years since then and I’ve written almost nothing. I’m a jerk. A lazy jerk. I’m gonna try to remedy that now. Well, at least a little bit. Because let’s face it, I’ll always be at least some percentage of a lazy jerk.
Where to start, though? Since working at Neopets was my job, I’m not especially good at figuring out what the more interesting bits about it were to people on the outside. So I asked the internet for help! I posted a survey and got a lot of responses (thank you!) with all kinds of topics and questions to answer, like how we picked content, what the office was like, lore inquiries, MMO info, how we gathered feedback, merchandising, other games I worked on at Nick… and, of course, Plots. I mean, let’s be honest, most of it was Plots. It was more than just concept art requests like I’d expected, though. There were great questions about story and development, plus a surprising amount of interest in a Plot’s creative process in general and the how of our story-telling back then. It was a fun, excruciating process that I’m happy to share.
In that case, I’ll be starting with a general rundown of the overall Plot creation process: how we defined Plots, how they were scheduled, and what it took to create them. Then over time I’ll go more in-depth on those topics for specific Plots (y’all are thirsty for The Faeries’ Ruin) and world building stuff, and finally on to other fun things people asked about. Sound good?
My overall goal with these posts—besides just being fun behind-the-scenes tidbits from a cool job I had for 12 years—will be to give some insight into the creative process and business decisions that get made when working on a persistent game made for millions of players. A lot of games nowadays lean way more heavily towards “games as a service” than they used to, but it’s something Neopets has already been doing for almost 20 years and that I now have quite a lot of experience with. I don’t think people realise what it actually takes to keep something like that going: how much work is involved, how the community can affect development, how mistakes are made and then handled, how much it costs to be free-to-play, and how a small group of people can be so dedicated to making sure you’re having a good time. Maybe I can help clear some of that up, not just for Neopets but for other persistent game services you play, too. Or maybe not. But I can try, dammit.
In the meantime, if you have anything to add to my list of things write about, head on over to my AMA form and leave a question there. It doesn’t have to be about Plots. Honest. I’ve been a programmer, content manager, game designer, and creative director officially, but I was also unofficially a writer, producer & project manager, graphic designer, community manager, item sales & MTX strategist, UX designer, marketing manager, COPPA expert, safety & security liaison, localization aficionado… and probably other things I’m forgetting. I wore a lot of hats. Ask me about my hats.
I also have old Neostaff buddies whom I talk to regularly and who always seem willing to help answer things I can’t remember. That’s probably because they’re pretty swell people. And since we like reminiscing about ye olden days, I’d say you’re actually doing us a favour.
Anyway… time to get started. My draft for that first Plot article is already way too long so I should probably warn you that I’m a rambler. If you couldn’t already tell. I really hope you like words. (And I’m so very sorry.)
P.S. I’m calling these articles “NeoTales” because, despite being a Creative Director, I can’t come up with anything better… and also do you remember when we used to put “Neo” in front of every word and call it a day? Good times. Anyway, feel free to suggest a name that isn’t horrible if you like!