Hey Poptropicans — you asked, and Poptropica has answered!
A while back, we asked you to bring your questions for Poptropica’s CEO, Abhi Arya. We selected some for him to answer, and he has responded!
We may have tweaked a few of the fan questions for clarity, but Mr. Arya’s words below are verbatim. For a few of the answers, the PHB asked for clarification, and Ms. Natalie Shahmiri, the general manager of Poptropica, stepped in to answer on his behalf, so you’ll see her responses too. Without further ado, let’s pop all of the questions!
Emma I: How does it feel to head up such a great game that has made so many childhoods?
Abhi: It feels great. Whenever I am in a room with Poptropica fans, I hear great kudos. Having association with a recognised game that continues to excite the gaming generation is a proud feeling. But I am not alone – I have a great team supporting me in this journey – in fact our game designers, developers and product team are much more passionate about Poptropica and they push me to do better for our players.
Theo (of Dimension Bros): How are Poptropicans so strong?
Abhi: Rumor has it that they descended from dinosaurs. Some people have said birds, which kind of are dinosaurs? Or maybe it’s just sheer willpower and determination. That’s probably it.
The Future of the Game
Magniventris: What does 2021 hold for Poptropica? Will there be brand new islands, or will the focus be entirely on porting old islands to Haxe? If it’s on porting, how many islands do you project will be converted by the end of next year?
Abhi: We’re working on a mix of both, plus some remasters of the old islands. We’re also looking at ways to allow players to access the old islands once Flash isn’t widely supported anymore.
Natalie: Our current audience plays a big part in how we approach converting islands too. For example, the remastered Mythology island is a departure from the island you grew up with. It’s linear and definitely simpler (but still not too easy for a younger kid!). We have a lot to weigh when creating new content, from special events to remastered islands, so we don’t really know yet how many islands will be converted by next year. That’s also why we’re looking at options to ensure our older fans can still play the original Poptropica islands. We know how much the Poptropica you grew up with means to you and want to make sure you can always play that version.
Emma I: Will non-members be able to access old islands anytime soon, and when can we expect that to happen?
Abhi: The original islands use some old technologies that make it harder for us to support in a live environment. Limiting it to members-only keeps our systems from being overwhelmed and allows us to focus on the long-term decisions of how to keep them available. We’ll share more by the start of 2021.
Short Glove: Will player names be customizable from a prescripted list in Haxe, like they were in Flash? (Right now, only a handful of names are possible in Haxe based on the default character you first choose when making an account, but many more options were available in Flash.) (Editor’s note: Since this question was asked and answered, the Friends Beta released in Haxe with the option to change one’s name.)
Abhi: It’s something we’ve definitely been considering. We’re working on optimizing a lot of the player features right now, like the ability to add friends by username. We’re also working on some new ideas for player dashboards, which may incorporate customizable names or use usernames instead.
Bee: Will there ever be a multiplayer option for playing through Poptropica islands with friends?
Abhi: Adding multiplayer to the older islands would be a little tricky since they were designed for a single-player experience, but we’re actively testing how to do this in new ways.
Purple Paw: Will the Photo Booth, Costumizer, and old Friends profiles be brought back? Why were these features taken out in the first place?
Abhi: The photo booth and old friends’ profiles weren’t very popular and were pretty dated. That’s the tough thing when you have a popular game for over 10 years, some things just start to feel out of place, especially for a new generation of players. Whenever we make these decisions we look at the data: what are users engaging with? If something no longer resonates with players we look at how we can update it or sometimes make the tough decision to remove it from the game.
Natalie: Engagement with things like the photo booth and old friend profile was less than 10% of the players. They were definitely fun features but as gaming has evolved, we need to evolve with it. We want to reintegrate features like that, but in a way that makes sense for today’s players.
Invisible Ring: What’s the plan for Poptropica Worlds? Will there be more islands there, or will it eventually fuse with Poptropica Original?
Abhi: We had to pause development on Poptropica Worlds so we could focus on the conversion of Poptropica from Flash to Haxe. We’re still working on a plan for Poptropica Worlds, but for now, our focus is still on Poptropica.
Maxx: Will the old islands be adapted for the Poptropica app (iOS and Google Play)? (I really enjoyed playing Cryptids and Big Nate for the nostalgia factor, and would really like to replay them on the iPad.)
Abhi: Some of the older islands won’t be available on mobile in their original form. They were built using a version of ActionScript from prior to mobile games even existing! Since they can’t be converted there aren’t a lot of options outside of working on a way for players to still access and play them after Flash is no longer actively supported.
Mess of a Being: When recreating old Flash islands for Haxe, will you consider making changes to the stories, like with the new-ish 24 Carrot Island on Poptropica Worlds?
Abhi: Yes, this is definitely in the plans. We’re also tweaking some of the islands since we know there are spots that were too hard or confusing for players. Mythology Island that comes out in November will be the first island we’ve converted that will have changes to it.
Editor’s note: The remastered Mythology Island came out on Haxe ahead of schedule last Friday, October 30. Read more about the release and initial community feedback here!
wow: What do you think about the Poptropica fandom community?
Abhi: We wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for our fans. We’re actually bringing back our VIP program to help elevate our super fans. Stay tuned to the Poptropica Blog for more details coming out soon.
Theo (of Dimension Bros): Do you keep up with certain Poptropica fans’ postings (blogs, Instagram artists, YouTube channels, etc)? If so, which ones?
Abhi: We definitely do and Dimension Bros is one of them! We see almost everything tagged with Poptropica and regularly share our favorites among the Pop Creators. We’re also working to share them more on our blog and social media.
Incredible Fire: Can we have another Create Your Dream Island contest? This monumental contest that gave us Arabian Nights Island happened 7 years ago, and many fans today would love the chance to participate.
Abhi: Definitely! How about after this interview gets posted we start the contest?
Abhi: That’s like asking a parent which kid is their favorite.
Emma I: What does the process of making an island look like?
Abhi: We actually just did a blog post about this for the Zomberry Special Event. To start off we talk about different story ideas and iterate on that until we have a story the whole team likes. From there we start storyboards so everyone knows the sequence of events and has an idea of what each scene will look like. The developers use the storyboards to start their initial coding while the artists start to make all the art and animations. There are a lot of meetings during those steps with feedback, changes, more feedback, and even more changes. It takes months for an island to be built because of how many scenes, mini-games, NPCs, and prizes need to be made. There’s also music that needs to be composed and of course, a lot of testing.
GEAR: How long does it take to make one character, from their initial design to putting them in the game?
Abhi: Anywhere from 1-2 weeks. Characters with a lot of animations take the longest.
GEAR: Are you hiring? How do people get involved in working with Poptropica, and what kind of skills/talents do you look for?
Abhi: If someone is new to game design and development it’s best if they keep a lookout for when we post internship opportunities. We look for all types of skillsets, from artists to animators to developers. Outside of game development, we have marketing, which includes making videos and social media posts, and analysts who help go through game data to see how things in the game are performing. There are a lot of ways to get involved with Poptropica, it just depends on what part of the game industry you want to get involved with.
PHB: What does the Poptropica team currently look like now? How many people are on the team and doing what kinds of work?
Abhi: The Poptropica team is made up of team members all around the world. We have artists, game developers, web developers, graphic designers, testers, and more. Maintaining and growing a game like Poptropica requires a lot of people!
PHB: Fans have noticed that Poptropica’s newer (and fewer) islands lack the depth of storytelling found in many of its older islands. Why has Poptropica strayed from this original vision, and will you return to this key element which made the game unique?
Abhi: Storytelling is still core to what Poptropica is and always will be. Creating a full island story and experience can take anywhere from 3-6 months and requires the full team. Since we’re still working on converting the old islands we’ve been creating some smaller and shorter experiences so you have something to do in-between the islands being converted.
Dangerous Icicle: Why are there so many ads in the Poptropica browser? (The whole screen is littered with ads, even ads for Poptropica, and the new video ads in between scenes were not well received.)
Abhi: We added more ad units to the game browser and in-between scenes due to demand. A lot of the new units, like in-between scenes, are being tested and may not stay permanently.
Natalie: The demand for more ads came from advertisers. COVID-19 has made most businesses change how they approach advertising and that impacted how our partners work with us. While we know players aren’t crazy about the ads, advertising is part of what funds the development of Poptropica. We’re always working to find the right balance.
Tyler N: What is Jeff Kinney’s involvement with Poptropica these days?
Abhi: He isn’t actively involved at the current moment since most of our efforts have been focused on converting the game from Flash to Haxe instead of new islands. Plus, he’s pretty busy with his book series!
Tyler N: What, if any, do plans for a Poptropica movie, TV show, or animated series look like right now? (It was hinted at in the Q&A with the previous Poptropica CEO.)
Abhi: This is something that we’re always considering. It takes time to make partnerships like this happen and isn’t something we’ve ruled out.
MaryannTheConqueror: Are there any plans for more Poptropica merch, and is there a way fans (especially the nostalgic ones) could be involved in creating/suggesting ideas for that? Many have some very cool ideas!
Abhi: We have a new shop launching in November and yes, we definitely want suggestions! We’ll let you all know more on the Poptropica Blog.
MaryannTheConqueror: Are the Poptropica Creators OK with small-scale sales of fan-made merch (such as through Etsy or at conventions, or print-on-demand sites like RedBubble)?
Abhi: I love fan art and creations that are inspired by Poptropica. Using our art and logo files for merch isn’t okay though.
The Big Questions
PHB: Will Poptropica consider adapting its content for a progressively older player base? Though many started playing Poptropica as kids, many fans are now teens and young adults. And as Poptropica Creators have shared before, Poptropica stories have the potential to carry more than just a superficial experience.
Abhi: It’s an interesting idea and we often talk about how we can extend the stories outside of the main game. The core of our audience is still on the younger side, similar to when you probably started playing. It’s who the game is made for, so we have to stay true to that as our core focus.
Natalie: The majority of the Poptropica players are still under 13. We have over a million kids playing every month and while the PHB fandom is big, it doesn’t encompass all of our players. Similar to when a lot of you started playing, a lot of our players today are introduced to and play Poptropica in school. They also discover us through advertisements on kid-specific websites.
Mess of a Being and Tiny Bean: What do you have to say to criticism about the ending of Monster Carnival Island, which some fans have found problematic? (This fan video highlights the issues, explaining that Ringmaster Raven’s portrayal plays into ugly stereotypes and that he is given disproportionately unfair treatment by the townsfolk.)
Abhi: I totally get it. This is definitely one of those instances where you know the intent doesn’t align with the issue and you have to ask, “How was this affected by implicit bias?” We’re actually auditing all the islands for this reason and have already revised Monster Carnival for its conversion to Haxe. I appreciate that players bring this to our attention. It’s the only way we can all collectively move forward in the right direction.
PHB: What is the current vision of Poptropica in terms of how it hopes to impact the next generation?
Abhi: I want Poptropica to continue to inspire young fans around the world. Gaming has changed a lot since Poptropica was first introduced and I’m proud of the fact that kids still love our characters and stories. Seeing videos of people coming to play Poptropica after 10 years and their enthusiasm for the game is amazing. All of the fan art (and fanfiction) is inspiring and shows that Poptropica holds a place in players’ hearts.
Mess of a Being: Are there characters in Poptropica that the Creators see as LGBT? Who might they be? (For fan discussion on this topic, see Dimension Bros’ video on analyzing queerness in Poptropica.)
Abhi: Poptropica always has been and always will be inclusive. It’s part of why we want players to be able to customize their characters however they want and why we removed the gender selector when setting up an account. I don’t think we have any characters where their gender identity or sexual orientation plays a role in the story, but it’s something I think we should consider for future islands. Representation matters and we’ll always work to create a place where everyone feels like they belong.
GEAR: Thoughts on Dr. Beev?
Abhi: Dr. Beev is an enigma. He does periodically show up for parties though.
You made it to the end! Thanks so much to Abhi and Natalie for joining us on this Q&A and taking the time to address some fan questions and concerns. It’s assuring to hear there are big plans for Poptropica even beyond the end of Flash gaming!
What did you all think of their responses? What further questions do you have for the Poptropica team? Share your thoughts in the comments below and on the PHC Discord!
— the Poptropica Help Blog —