Hey Poptropicans, we’ve got more insights on our favorite game from former Poptropica head Jess Brallier! Previously, we shared the publisher’s reflections on Poptropica as the biggest kids’ site and how storytelling with games made it so.
Last Friday, Jess Brallier released another blog post, asking a big question: “What about today’s Poptropica?“
I’ve been asked that many times. But I truly don’t know today’s product. I don’t look at it. It’s history to me.
Yet there was a time when I cared about Poptropica with nearly all (I do have a family) my heart. It was my life.Jess Brallier
The post goes on to share more about what changed within and outside of Poptropica: all the challenges it faced in its later years, which Jess himself did not have the opportunity to face.
Poptropica was owned by Pearson, and in 2012, their CEO Marjorie Scardino stepped down and the education company was taken over by John Fallon. Jess does not name the new guy in his blog, but he quotes the new Pearson head as having told him in their only meeting:
Children do not like animation, the learning that happens on Poptropica is not worthy, and I’m going to sell it.Pearson CEO (possibly John Fallon)
To add to the troubles, Poptropica was built on Adobe Flash, a dying technology, and needed a million-dollar investment to rebuild the game. According to Jess, “that meant pausing Poptropica’s generous P&L (profit & loss) for 18 to 24 months.” He laments that of all the millions that are thrown around, none of it landed on Poptropica.
And there was another issue: “Poptropica’s audience was rapidly moving over to mobile apps.” So make it an app, right? Poptropica did eventually do that, but Jess wasn’t a fan. Turns out, it’s expensive: you make it per Apple’s or Google’s requirements, then pretty soon the requirements change, and you have to hire more hands to re-build your app. On and on it goes, draining your resources — to say nothing of the issues of discoverability in the app stores.
Next he pivots to Funbrain, “a vital traffic feeder to Poptropica.” Funbrain was aging like Poptropica and needed re-building too. But while Funbrain successfully got its upgrades, Poptropica didn’t quite get all the resources it needed to keep flourishing (as we can see from the trajectory of the game then and now).
With Poptropica’s global audience being much larger than Funbrain’s and bringing in more money, Jess writes that the investments should have gone more to the “fresh” Poptropica, “not its older and not so cool sister.” Alas.
The post wraps up with a quick summary of how the biggest kids’ site fell from its peak:
We had a product built upon Flash, a dying technology.
An ownership that thought ten million kids from around the world were idiots.
No viable mobile model to move to.
And a diminishing feeder.
In another post titled “Sales!,” Jess writes about his experiences in commercial publishing. Poptropica gets a small mention when he talks about the benefits of having non-sales staff collaborate together with sales staff:
I encouraged the same at Family Education Network (Funbrain and Poptropica), sending designers and editors out with the advertising sales staff. That made for a team of good people intent on publishing great stories AND figuring out how to pay for it (including that team’s own salaries and any additional staff they may hope to hire).Jess Brallier
There’s more! Jess continues the Poptropica saga in yet another post on “Poptropica comics, books, and an animated series.”
Picking up from the dismal summary of Poptropica’s woes, Jess moves on with an upbeat note about the fun of Poptropica comics and the success of the subsequent graphic novel series.
The comics caused us, for the first time, to create real characters (beyond the millions of random avatars created for our stories and by our users). Which was essential because brand extensions, including merchandise and other media, ride on the back of characters. Our two protagonists, Jorge and Oliver, were a classic and funny duo. And it was such a delight to see them hilariously hopping around the Poptropica Islands.Jess Brallier
But that didn’t erase their other troubles. So Jeff Kinney, Mitch Krpata (Poptropica’s lead writer, whom we’ve interviewed on the PHB), and Jess spent two days in a conference room to hash out Poptropica’s mythology… and out of that came their pitch for an animated TV series.
In other words, just what is Poptropica? Why does it exist? What’s the REAL story behind all these islands? Where is Poptropica? How do you get there? How do you get away from it? Is there an evil genius behind all of it? Good grief, are we talking time travel and wormholes?Jess Brallier
We’ve seen hints of these plans before. Back in 2015, Poptropica tweeted a pic from a script read session with the graphic novel characters (Jorge had orange hair here, too). But the cartoon never materialized, and we never found out much about it (though Jess did share the secret screenplay with Thinknoodles when they met in New York City).
Anyway, Jess shares that he, Jeff Kinney, and a film/TV agent spent a week pitching Poptropica: The Animated Series in Hollywood. They got good responses, but didn’t land a broadcast deal. Jess writes that if it had been today, they definitely could have gotten one, considering all the demand in streaming. So… maybe the current creators could follow up on that? 👉 👈 In our 2020 interview with the current CEO of Poptropica, they did say it was something they’re “always considering”!
So we now had a Poptropica mythology and cast of characters.
With Poptropica comics we had a proven and simple form of storytelling that could fly around social media without reliance on our own app. And we could do the same with short form animation.
We had a bestselling book series.
And we had a passionate global audience ready to welcome an animated TV series.
Ironically, at that moment, Poptropica was in its most perfect position ever.Jess Brallier
From here, things seem to be looking up from where that other post ended! But Jess ends his post with an ominous hint for the next one: “Tomorrow: The end of the Poptropica I knew.” Stay tuned with us!