Is Poptropica becoming pay-to-play?

Hey Poptropicans, it’s Slanted Fish, and I’m here to talk about a question that’s been asked more and more lately: Is Poptropica becoming a pay-to-play game?

Now, Poptropica has always been a free game, and hopefully, it always will be. However, that line is becoming more blurred than it used to be, and that’s concerning.

Earlier this week, a big update was released on Poptropica Worlds, offering tons of cool new features, both expected and unexpected. We got costumes, house expansions, the Colorizer, and new furniture. There was just one major issue… most of it was for members only.

popworlds summer update 1

You might not have seen that coming from the Creators’ Blog’s breakdown of the news, which didn’t once reference membership. But let’s take a look at the facts:

  • 2 Color Changing Outfits: When you go to select the individual parts you want to buy, you’ll find that half of each outfit is for members only.
  • 8 Summer Outfits: Of these eight outfits, four of them (that’s half!) are for members only in their entirety, while the other four are completely available to all. You only find out that they’re members only when you click the costume to see the individual parts.
  • House Expansions: For members only. We did see this one coming from the descriptions for membership, though.
  • Colorizer: Those alluring “endless color options”? Members only. Non-members are stuck with a six-color palette for skin tones and another for hair.
  • Beach Decor: 19 new items, literally all of them for members only. Interestingly, the key and wallpapers are free for members, but the other items still cost coins.

Not since the Members Only Islands (which, by the way, has won “Worst Poptropica Update” in the Poppies community awards two times) has there been a massive update that’s been so… member-centric. And for many Poptropicans, that’s a huge turn-off.

Since the update, many have voiced out their criticisms, including LillySparkle$ on the Pop Blog, Purple Claw on Clawtropica, and those in the PHB comments. Some players have compared it to Club Penguin, which was notorious for a gameplay experience that amounted to waddling around and making new enemies if you weren’t a member.

The Poptropica Creators have responded on social media, but gave a more detailed reply about the situation on Purple Claw’s post:

pophq comment

It’s good to know the Creators are still taking our thoughts into account and re-assuring us that Poptropica will continue to be “a free game that can be enjoyed by all.” I definitely agree that the Poptropica Creators deserve to be compensated for their hard work, as do creators of all kinds who make quality, enjoyable content.

If you’re looking at Poptropica gameplay as being able to play islands, then Poptropica isn’t becoming pay-to-play. In fact, they’ve even gotten rid of having to wait through a members-only Early Access period for a new island on Worlds, which is a plus.

Why are we worried about membership then?

Remember, though, that the Poptropica experience is more than islands: it’s also customizing your character and your house. In that sense, the focus on membership that is so evident in this update, as well as other aspects of Pop Worlds, remains disconcerting for many Poptropicans – and for good reason.

A big reason is that, on Worlds, more of the experience has been put behind a paywall – compared to Poptropica Original, where many more aspects were accessible to all, including aspects that are now for members only on Worlds. This includes the endless Colorizer and certain costumes like the Dark Knight and Midnight Ninja, as PHB commenter GreedyShadow points out. Shouldn’t they be free on Worlds too?

Another concern is simply that it’s hard for some players to get memberships. Many Poptropica players are kids without money, who were attracted to Poptropica because it provided quality entertainment for free. Many parents may be reluctant to spend their money on a membership for their kids, and it can be hard to ascertain the value of, say, having an extra beach-themed room in your virtual house. Or as another commenter, Icy Cloud put it, “I don’t exactly want to use my money to buy pixels on a screen!”

PHB staffer and Poptropica member Silver Wolf has a different complaint: the allure for membership is worse than before, not better. “Despite paying for membership with real money, I still have to collect enough credits to buy all the items I want, rather than them being free as before. To me, it seems as if they’re just making it worse for everyone,” she says. Members do get a 20% discount, but perhaps that amount could increase.

So, what’s a Poptropica Creator to do for cash?

Honestly, it’s hard to say, especially without knowing the numbers of how much they’re getting and wanting. Given the market of kids, however, I’d advise against them putting all their proverbial eggs into one basket, that being the basket of membership. They’ve experimented with other things before, and they should continue to find ways to get financial support outside of paid subscriptions, which not all players are able to get.

They should keep doing creative ad partnerships with other companies wanting to advertise on Poptropica. Players have always enjoyed getting fun ad prizes and playing games in new buildings.

They should work on more awesome merch, from toys to books, particularly with a range of aesthetics beyond just childish: they can be cute like Disney Tsum Tsum toys or inspired by trending designs, like what you’d find in a Hot Topic store.

They could even open a Patreon or other funding page and offer exclusive perks – like specially-made costumes, house decor, or signed copies of the graphic novels. This gives those who are donating a more visible sense that they are contributing to the success of a game they love, while offering them good incentives that don’t interfere with everyone else’s game experience.

Now back to the players…

If you are a Poptropica player who loves the game and who has the means, please consider supporting the game! The Poptropica Creators do work hard to create a great and generally free product, but they still need money to keep things running.

If you can, support their work by buying the graphic novels or other Pop books, bringing home a new Pop toy, or even (gasp) getting a membership. You don’t even need a credit card anymore thanks to the apps – if you have credit from an iTunes or Play Store gift card, you can make an in-app purchase for membership. For a list of other Poptropica merch you can buy, take a look at our Merchandise guide.

Regardless of the existence of some paid content, however, Poptropica will remain free to play for all. Hopefully, the Creators will take this feedback and continue to consider the full gaming experience – not just with islands, but also with customization of house and character – in relation to non-members and the higher amount of free access we could enjoy on Poptropica Original. From the Creators’ comments, we can be assured that the game will continue to put out fun content for both free and paying players.

Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on the colorful new Worlds updates? What might convince you to get a membership, if possible – or what’s stopping you from getting one? What suggestions do you have for the Creators to make membership an attractive option that does not detract from the non-members’ experiences?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and the Creators may check them out and consider them for future updates!

Keep popping,

~slantedfish 🐠

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