Hey Poptropicans, we’re back with more reflections on what made Poptropica successful from longtime publisher Jess Brallier.
Previously, we shared the former Pop CEO’s insights on “storytelling, games, and Poptropica.” This week he released two more blog posts about the subject: “The Internet’s largest kids site!” and “Big Nate!“
So we’re having a blast with Poptropica. Telling unexpected stories via a gaming literacy, exceeding budget targets, employing good people, having fun. We started our storytelling with Early Poptropica and Shark Tooth Island in 2007.Jess Brallier
In that first post, Jess recounts how Time magazine listed Poptropica as one of the “50 Websites that Make the Web Great” (this was in 2011).
Jess goes on to share about Poptropica’s carefully planned and well executed business strategy, “conceived to serve both kids and advertisers” before a line of code was ever written for the game.
As I’ve said before—and I’m often the lone voice on this—having the right advertisers fund the delivery of great content to kids is a good thing. I had zilch interest in a publishing strategy that was purposely confined to kids with parents wealthy enough to afford a subscription.Jess Brallier
Next, Jess quotes generously from a 2020 article written by Arian Tomar titled “Why Poptropica Mattered,” posted on a site called Voices of Gen-Z. Here’s a snippet from that reflective piece:
Poptropica changed my life. If I’m being honest, I think it influenced many young people more than we acknowledge… To me, Poptropica represents an internet full of stories, exploration, connection, and advertising, a microcosm of the essential parts of the internet.Arian Tomar
Anyway, on with the main point of Jess’s post: for a time, Poptropica was the largest kids’ site on the internet!
The news was nervously given to him one morning in late 2008 by Poptropica’s marketing director, Kim Regan. They didn’t blast the news right away as they wanted to make sure it was true. But sure enough, Poptropica’s numbers had grown bigger than Disney’s Club Penguin and Nickelodeon’s Nicktropolis, two other hugely popular virtual worlds at the time. (And Poptropica outlived them, too!)
It was all so incredibly satisfying. This quiet, caring, hard-working, respectful, unknown group of talented and good people went up against Nickelodeon and Disney and kicked their butts.
And they did it by telling stories—great writing, great art, great design—when all the experts confidently screamed that kids wanted nothing to do with stories on their computer screens. By 2012, story-based Poptropica had 500+ million registered users from around the world.
A good story, once again, won the day.Jess Brallier
Now let’s turn to Big Nate, which began as a comic strip and now has a pretty popular narrative-and-art hybrid book series. But before the book series, there was the Poptropica island.
Poptropica Creator Jeff Kinney knew Lincoln Peirce, the creator of Big Nate, and figured it would be a good match, as he and Jess were looking for brilliant content outside of Poptropica to add to the game.
One of Jeff’s and my notions was to introduce content on Poptropica that did not first originate on Poptropica. Why limit all those kids to discovering only what our writers came up with? …Wow, doing that would make Poptropica all the more powerful, inclusive, and all-serving.Jess Brallier
Jess loved the idea (and the brilliance of comic strip creators), and they met with Lincoln and decided to give it a try.
Two months later, late morning on a Friday, we launched “Big Nate Island.” By midnight, two million different kids had played it. Seriously!Jess Brallier
Two million is impressive, but what else stands out is the fact that it took just two months to dream of and create an island! A far cry from the snail’s pace of island releases these days…
Anyway, the success of the island confirms Jess’s hunch that there’s a unique kind of book for all those comics. But that’s another story!