The virtual reality game, Neopets, which boomed in the 2000s, has had a resurgence. Danielle Kurtzleben explores why users some users have come back and why others never left.
DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Pets, pirates, fairies and a magic money tree. Those are the sorts of things that populate the virtual magical world of Neopets.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KURTZLEBEN: It’s a website where users create and care for their own digital pets, take them on adventures and engage on message boards with other users. Sound familiar? Well, back in the early 2000s, it was extremely popular. And, apparently, it’s having a resurgence during the pandemic. A story in The New York Times about the longevity of the website caught our eye. And we reached out to some users to ask what has kept them there or brought them back after so long.
ALEX PISCATELLI: I found myself with literally all the time in the world because I couldn’t hang out with friends. I couldn’t do anything. And so I decided to get on Neopets.
KURTZLEBEN: That’s Alex Piscatelli (ph), who used to play Neopets in elementary school. She’s now 25 and lives in Boston. When the pandemic first started, she got furloughed from her job. So like she said, she had a lot of time to kill, and she was also struggling with a lot more anxiety.
PISCATELLI: If I felt myself having a panic attack or starting to feel really anxious, I would kind of just open my computer, log on and have Neopets there for me. And I knew it would be a comforting thing that can kind of calm me down.
KURTZLEBEN: Alex says that other forms of social media can be fraught. It’s easy to feel judged on Instagram or to feel like you have to put on a persona. But on Neopets, there’s no pressure to be anything other than how you are.
PISCATELLI: The internet feels like such a place where you can kind of get lost in negativity. But Neopets is kind of the opposite of that for me.
KURTZLEBEN: Dana Hill (ph) is an artist from Seattle and, unlike Alex, never took a break from Neopets. She’s been a regular since she was 17 and is now in her 30s.
DANA HILL: Neopets, to me, is a creative outlet of sorts.
KURTZLEBEN: She says the site gave her a chance to develop and sharpen her artistic skills, in part by rendering the pets themselves.
HILL: They’re on two feet. They wear clothes. They have, you know, flat, almost humanlike faces with a short, little muzzle.
KURTZLEBEN: Dana thinks a large part of the site’s appeal is the sense of nostalgia and safety people get from it. It’s a refuge from the stressors of the real world.
HILL: I think Neopets as a whole is just a place where people can go, where things will always be familiar, and the world will always be sort of the same vibe that it always has been. And nostalgia is a pretty powerful thing.
KURTZLEBEN: She says it’s been nice to see more people drifting back to the site over the past few years.
HILL: People would show up, and I would see usernames that I hadn’t seen in, you know, a decade or more. And they’d be like, hey. I just got my account back, and I’m back. What’s new?
KURTZLEBEN: Neopets says that the number of daily users jumped around 30% at the start of the pandemic and has since tapered off, but remains about 5 to 10% percent higher than pre-pandemic times. Alex is one of those people who stuck around. She has a new job and doesn’t go on every day anymore. But when she’s having a rough time, she logs in.
PISCATELLI: Sometimes, I really crave when things were more simple, when I was younger, when I didn’t have to worry so much about the day-to-day. When I’m on Neopets, I’m just me. And I’m just playing this game that I love.
KURTZLEBEN: That was Dana Hill and Alex Piscatelli.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.
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The story on how John Madden came to be involved with wildly popular EA Sports NFL video game – USA TODAY
If the creators of the NFL video game so many millions of people have played had their way, the wildly popular franchise would not have been known simply as Madden.
According to a story ESPN published in 2016, legendary coach and analyst John Madden was the third choice of Trip Hawkins, the eventual founder of video game maker Electronic Arts (EA), to be the pitchman of the game that eventually became Madden NFL. An avid football fan, Hawkins’ first choice was legendary Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana and former Vikings and Patriots quarterback and Cal Bears coach Joe Kapp.
Madden, who died at the age of 85 Tuesday, continues to be one of the game’s most prominent icons. He was first a player, though a knee injury in his rookie season in 1958 with the Philadelphia Eagles cut his career short. He went on to be the head coach of the Raiders, where he won a Super Bowl. He became a television analyst during NFL games and made the game accessible for millions of viewers. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the Class of 2006.
But it’s his constant presence on the video game franchise, arguably, that serves as his strongest connection to new generations of football fans and gamers alike.
OPINION: John Madden will live forever because his influence was so great
MORE: ‘The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer’: John Madden quotes that will never be forgotten
According to ESPN, Montana could not be involved because he had a conflicting endorsement deal with video game console maker Atari, while Kapp wanted royalties. According to the article, Madden was so impressed with Hawkins’ credentials — he went to Harvard and worked at Apple — that he agreed to sign on.
It proved to be a shrewd decision. Despite slow production and years of releases before it became a household name, Madden NFL has generated more than $4 billion since its inception and has sold more than 130 million copies, according to EA. Barron’s estimates that Madden NFL generates around $600 million annually for EA.
Still, Madden lamented one major mistake that cost him millions more.
According to ESPN, after “John Madden Football” was released in 1988, Hawkins approached Madden and said EA was about to have an initial public offering and that Madden could “have as much stock” as he wanted, though he would have to pay the initial price of $7.50 per share.
“Hell, I’m just a football coach,” Madden told ESPN. “I pointed with my finger, all knowing, and said, ‘I gave you my time. I’m not giving you my money.’ I showed him!”
In only the 10 years from 1989 to 1999, the price soared to $70 per share, according to ESPN.
Said Madden: “That was the dumbest thing I ever did in my life.”
Originally, the game was planned as being a seven-on-seven competition, due to the limitations of computing back when it was being initially programmed. Madden, however, balked at that idea and wanted the game — if he was going to appear on its cover — to be as authentic as possible.
“If it wasn’t real football, I didn’t want my name on it,” Madden told Grantland in January 2012. “I wanted it to be real football — pro football — with the sideline, the numbers, the hash marks. Everything had to be pro football.”
One other unique aspect of the game is how the plays and formations users can call and execute are taken directly from NFL playbooks. Madden sent a 1980 Oakland Raiders playbook to Hawkins and former EA producer Joe Ybarra.
To elaborate on that, the game’s producers sought to mimic the playbooks of the teams featured in the game.
“For our playbooks, I would say to (former San Francisco Examiner beat writer and consultant) Frank (Cooney), ‘Go find out what a team’s five signature plays are,’ ” Hawkins told ESPN. “He would go up to the assistant coaches, hand them paper. And they would draw up plays! We collected a huge amount of plays that way.”
The video game franchise has evolved over the years to incorporate new game play modes and features, as well as tweaks to game play. Its reach across the NFL is comprehensive. Gamers within each locker room undoubtedly have their own copies and challenge each other during games.
Even one of the game’s most reserved and self-controlled figures — and one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport — has his own exposure to the video game.
“I haven’t played it in quite a while,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday after he opened his press conference with a tribute to Madden. “When my kids were growing up, they would play it and I would watch them. They would beat me.”
Belichick grinned as he told that anecdote, likely thinking back on those memories with his children —two of whom, sons Steve (outside linebackers) and Brian (safeties), are assistants on New England’s staff.
Perhaps that’s the enduring legacy of the Madden NFL franchise. Similar to the way he used charm and humor in the broadcast booth to make the sport appealing to all, the video game allows even those without expertise in the NFL or even in football to simulate the strategy behind it.
“It’s a way for people to learn the game and participate in the game at a pretty sophisticated level,” Madden told Grantland.
Blizzard's new IP: Modern meets fantasy online survival game – TweakTown
Blizzard’s next big IP might be an interesting take on a Kid in King Arthur’s Court and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Today Blizzard confirmed it is working on an ambitious new IP. The unnamed project is a survival game that merges modern and fantasy together, as per details gleaned from a brief concept art glimpse. Job listings also confirm the new IP will be an online-based adventure which is Blizzard’s usual fare.
“Blizzard is embarking on our next quest. We are going on a journey to a whole new universe, home to a brand-new survival game for PC and console. A place full of heroes we have yet to meet, stories yet to be told, and adventures yet to be lived. A vast realm of possibility, waiting to be explored,” reads a job posting.
We’ve known about Blizzard’s new IPs for a long time. The company has been incubating this new IP and another unannounced multiplayer shooter for a while, and Blizzard is also trying to create a shared games engine to power its future titles.
Alan Adham discussed the new incubation pipeline back in August 2021:
“We’re tight-lipped about it, but our new game pipeline has been in development for many years and it’s greater than it’s ever been across our core franchises and mobile, new IP and new genres. I’m looking forward to our teams launching their already announced new games in the not-too-distant future and in due course announcing a few new ones that you’ve yet to hear about,” Adham said.
So what is Blizzard working on? Here’s a selection:
Derek joined the TweakTown team in 2015 and has since reviewed and played 1000s of hours of new games. Derek is absorbed with the intersection of technology and gaming, and is always looking forward to new advancements. With over six years in games journalism under his belt, Derek aims to further engage the gaming sector while taking a peek under the tech that powers it. He hopes to one day explore the stars in No Man’s Sky with the magic of VR.
Ole Miss vs. Florida: How to watch online, live stream info, game time, TV channel – CBS Sports
Covering the impact of coronavirus on the sports world
Florida @ Ole Miss
Current Records: Florida 12-6; Ole Miss 9-9
The Ole Miss Rebels and the Florida Gators are set to square off in an SEC matchup at 7 p.m. ET Jan. 24 at The Pavilion at Ole Miss. Florida should still be feeling good after a win, while the Rebels will be looking to get back in the win column.
Ole Miss ended up a good deal behind the Mississippi State Bulldogs when they played this past Saturday, losing 78-60. Ole Miss’ defeat shouldn’t obscure the performances of center Nysier Brooks, who had 12 points, and forward Jaemyn Brakefield, who had 13 points. Brakefield’s performance made up for a slower contest against the Missouri Tigers last Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Florida didn’t have too much trouble with the Vanderbilt Commodores at home this past Saturday as they won 61-42.
Ole Miss is expected to lose this next one by 5.5. Those sticking with them against the spread have guts, to put it politely, as the team has let down bettors in their past four games.
The Rebels came up short against the Gators when the two teams previously met in January of last year, falling 72-63. Maybe Ole Miss will have more luck at home instead of on the road? Watch the game and check back on CBS Sports for all the details.
The Gators are a solid 5.5-point favorite against the Rebels, according to the latest college basketball odds.
The oddsmakers had a good feel for the line for this one, as the game opened with the Gators as a 6-point favorite.
See college basketball picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.
Florida have won six out of their last eight games against Ole Miss.
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