Now there’s a question. Is Poptropica now fulfilling the prophecy about itself it set out in its own self-parody in the 36th island—and not in a good way?
I’m Slanted Fish, here to examine just how much Poptropica is falling into the traps it once warned about. Let’s take a look at the evidence.
For those who need a refresher, Mocktropica Island is a bit of a self-parody of Poptropica, imagining what things would be like when development of the game world goes haywire. It’s a fictional tale, but like many good stories, it does contain some truth.
And lately, it seems like Poptropica’s development is in crisis: we don’t hear as much from the Creators as we used to, and when we do, they’re tinkling with visual updates here and there, rather than the meat of the game: the story quests. In fact, it’s been a whole year since the latest island, Greek Sea Odyssey, was released on Poptropica Worlds, and Poptropica Original hasn’t had a new island since 2016’s Monkey Wrench. So, robot boss battles aside, has Mocktropica predicted the fate of the game?
Pets: the focus on aesthetics
One feature Mocktropica played with was the idea of pets for Poptropicans. Back when the island first came out in 2013, there weren’t exactly pets in Poptropica, though we did have “Followers” available from ads or in the store (such as the dragon in the picture above). But the Creators knew when they were making this island that pets were a popular requested feature for the game, so in the story, we have kids cheering for the introduction of pets.
And don’t get me wrong, Poptropica pets are great! This year the Pet Barn on Home Island finally opened, offering cute critters for players to adopt.
But that’s just the thing, too: while the Creators focused on aesthetic updates like pets (not to mention the redesign of Home Island and various features like the Arcade, Clubhouses, Friends profiles, the upheaval of the store into a rotational system, and more), they neglected the heart of Poptropica itself… the island quests.
Coins: the allure of membership
While Poptropica hasn’t gotten quite as extreme as Mocktropica when it comes to currency, the Pop Coin system does hint at something sinister: charging players to pay real-life money for basic features of the game. In Poptropica, we know it as membership.
Membership wasn’t always like it is now. These days, every update seems to come with a significant portion exclusive to members only: store updates, pets, the new friends profiles, and so on. But back when we saw new islands every once in a while, each update wasn’t so member-focused, in part because membership already had a big draw: early access to new islands. With no new islands, the Creators have to find more ways to make membership attractive for the sake of profits, but it’s only causing players—many without the means of purchasing power—to resent them for it.
Read more in this 2017 PHB article: Is Poptropica becoming pay-to-play?
Pop-ups: Achievements and Ad Units
Achievements? Well, Poptropica has had ways of marking a player’s achievements with features like island medallions and album photos, and fortunately, they’re not annoying pop-ups like on Mocktropica—in fact, they’re pretty creative.
But not so fast. Remember the ad sales lady on Mocktropica and the obnoxious pop-up ads she made float around on your screen? While Poptropica hasn’t quite reached that level of distaste, it has since introduced a pretty off-putting pop-up ad at the bottom of the screen that re-appears whenever you change scenes. Sadly, it’s been there for a while and looks like it intends to stay. As if the banner wrapper ads weren’t enough!
Developers: Where have they gone?
A year ago, Poptropica inexplicably let go of some valuable senior-level employees who had contributed to the game for about a whole decade. A former Creator, Jessica (aka Skinny Moon), even confirmed in March 2018 that “most of the company is gone,” referring to employees she’d worked with prior to that point. Since then, we haven’t had names—not even aliases!—to connect us with the Poptropica team.
On this front, Mocktropica definitely predicted a bleak turn for Poptropica. These days, Poptropica rarely updates their official blog, on time if it all—even for bigger releases—and as outlined above, game updates are not only fewer and farther between, but when they do occur, they’re not what anybody really asked for. Sure, releasing some new items and redecorating some interfaces is mildly interesting, but they’re not going to keep anybody’s attention for long. But you know what will, Poptropica Creators?
Former president of Poptropica, Jess Brallier, says it best in this video from 2013, recently discovered by Osmium and re-posted from “Future Think” by idk:
Right out of this publisher’s mouth: “We’re not doing a virtual world to create a social networking opportunity, not to house games, not to host a virtual economy, but to tell stories… the point of Poptropica is to tell kids stories in the literacy of their choosing.“
Does that sound like the Poptropica of the present to you? Well, I’ve been following Poptropica through the years, and let me tell you: the success is in the stories it tells. The most anticipated updates have always been the islands—those quirky quests were what made Poptropica “Poptropica.” Pets, member perks, fun items—those are best left as secondary.
I think it’s pretty clear that Poptropica has, in not all, but some ways, followed right into the footsteps of Mocktropica Island. An island created as a cautionary tale is unfolding right before us, and the Poptropica Creators of the present would do well to pay attention and revisit what the Creators of the past have tried to warn us all about when they created Mocktropica.
What does Poptropica need right now? Well…
I think I speak for many Poptropicans when I say that I truly hope to see Poptropica return to what made it successful: the stories, or in other words, the islands. Oh Poptropica, where will your yellow blimp take us next?
—Slanted Fish 🐠