What’s crypto’s hottest play-to-earn, NFT-based pet game?
If you guessed Axie Infinity, you’re right – but the Neopets Metaverse team wants to change that. At least, that’s the stated plan.
The project, which launched last September, aims to bring the once-popular pet collecting game – which peaked in the early 2000s and has been on a slow decline ever since – into the Web 3 era.
According to an October 2021 Medium post, the Neopets Metaverse team plans to create a “vast immersive environment where players can interact” and establish a “sophisticated economy integrated on the Solana blockchain” where players can earn real money, all based on the original Neopets game.
It may sound like a dream come true for many of Neopets’ remaining die-hard players, but the Neopets Metaverse project has been received more like a nightmare. Fans of the original game have banded together to push back against the project, taking to social media and fansites to voice their complaints.
At first glance, the critics of the Neopets Metaverse project could be dismissed as blinded by nostalgia, hostile to any changes to the 25-year-old game many of them played as children. Many of the project’s detractors, too, seem inclined towards the knee-jerk negative reaction towards NFTs seen in many online communities.
The blowback has led to a changing of the guard among the project’s staff, current project leads say. And despite the Neopets Metaverse’s efforts to reform, fans still remain suspicious of the project – for what appear to be legitimate reasons.
Underwhelming NFT drop
In November 2021, the Neopets Metaverse team announced its upcoming NFT collection: 20,500 randomly generated Neopets that would, in theory, be compatible with the future Neopets metaverse.
But after getting a less-than-enthusiastic reaction from fans, the team behind the project decided to slash the number of NFTs in its genesis drop from 20,500 to 10,500, with 500 NFTs reserved for the project team.
Despite the drop, however, the collection failed to sell out – only 4,225 NFTs were sold. The rest were burned, angering fans who requested NFT buyers be airdropped the remaining supply. Buyers took to Twitter to complain about the clunky minting process, a floor price around $240-960, and bots driving up prices within seconds.
The quality and style of the NFTs was also an issue. Herdy, a pseudonymous Neopets player who says he has been playing since 2001, told CoinDesk the NFTs were “very low quality and ugly looking compared to the majority of comparable customizations available on the classic site.”
While the NFT art may have been messy, the sale netted a clean $2 million for the Neopets Metaverse project, according to fansite Jellyneo.
A string of scandals
The shoddy quality of some of the NFT art was not the biggest issue for the Neopets Metaverse team, however.
Allegations swirled online that the Neopets Metaverse project had used art generated by a Neopets fan site called Dress to Impress (DTI) as an example NFT before the drop – and even that the DTI website was used to make all of the NFTs. Users pointed to the presence of a glitch unique to the fan site’s software in the image, and it was quickly taken down and replaced without an explanation.
In an interview with CoinDesk, project manager Danning Chen declined to comment on the incident, but sent a follow-up email from the project team saying the current Neopets Metaverse team was new, having made staffing changes in December 2021 after the sale of the NFTs.
“Some of the original team members that worked on the project have left already, we are looking into what happened,” the email read.
Fans of the project have demanded an acknowledgment and an apology from the Neopets Metaverse team, as well as from its owner JumpStart – the company behind a popular series of educational computer games for children.
JumpStart, which was acquired by Chinese gaming company NetDragon in 2017, did not respond to CoinDesk’s request for comment, but has verified the partnership with Neopets Metaverse as an official one in other interviews and on social media.
In addition to the allegations of art theft, the culture clash between crypto, which is often harsh and irreverent, and Neopets, which has cultivated a gentle, family-friendly atmosphere through the use of strict filters, has plagued the project.
Fans including Herdy have pointed out that a lack of moderation in the project’s Discord and occasionally antagonistic social media presence have failed to keep up the wholesome and welcoming culture of the original Neopets site.
“The project has fostered homophobia, racism, and transphobia in their Discord,” Herdy wrote to CoinDesk, referring to an incident in the project’s Discord chat where an anti-gay slur was allowed to remain up for hours, and a moderator accused complaining users of “fudding,” referring to FUD, the popular crypto acronym for “fear, uncertainty and doubt.”
“[This] is especially damaging given that Neopets has a high LGBT+ membership,” Herdy added. “[They] have never apologized.”
Last October, the Neopets Metaverse Twitter account had to delete a tweet containing a “soyjak” meme mocking “NFT Hateoooors” after Twitter users complained it was offensive.
A roadmap to nowhere?
Neopets players might be willing to let bygones be bygones if the project succeeded in resuscitating their childhood favorite, but that’s looking increasingly unlikely.
In an updated roadmap released on Monday, the project team released details of its plans to take Neopets into the Web 3 era.
The project’s plans for Q1 and Q2 of 2022 are vague: hiring game developers, releasing a teaser trailer and telling fans about the plans for the game’s structure.
According to the roadmap, by Q3 an alpha version of the game will be available for those with “priority access.”
These are lofty goals for a project that, according to Chen, currently has only five full-time team members.
The lack of resources appears evident with some cursory googling. A search for “cartoon fantasy village” pulls up the backdrop of the project’s website, a Shutterstock image that can be licensed for $12. It’s unclear if the team’s current roster includes a digital artist.
What does appear to be concrete in the team’s roadmap, however, are financial milestones: in Q2, a Medium post touts plans for a “private sale of native tokens to strategic investors and advisors.” There’s also a planned “initial metaverse offering (IMO).”
By next year, the project hopes to launch the beta version of the Neopets Metaverse game, as well as hold a “primary NFT sale of Neopets lands, where Neopians can expand their Neohome on their own plot of land, interact and traverse to other lands.”
When asked how the game would be funded, the Neopets Metaverse team told CoinDesk the initial seed investment would come from the NFT sale’s proceeds, “combined with additional investments from our mother company, NetDragon Websoft,” as well as funds raised from the IMO and “private sales to investors.”
I smell rugpull
— Samuel (@damitsamiam) November 12, 2021
Who is it for?
Many Neopets fans have voiced fears that this project looks a lot like a cash grab – if not an outright rug pull waiting to happen. If at best, it’s just a failed experiment, it wouldn’t be the first in the Neopets canon.
The brand has promoted and failed to deliver on a host of projects, including a mobile app (stalled indefinitely), an animated series (stalled) and even another crypto project – Neopets CryptoQuest, a short-lived, Ethereum-based trading card game from 2018 that died after a few months.
Fans like Herdy are outraged that NetDragon’s money is being used to spin up new projects while their original beloved game is on life support, held together with spaghetti code.
“Leeching money and resources away from the rest of the Neopets brand [could] potentially lead to things like the classic site being shuttered,” Herdy told CoinDesk. “It’s quite certainly the last thing fans of the Neopets brand want.”