Up Close and Personal With Donna Williams by Alex

Kym Huynh —  April 8, 2010 — Leave a comment

Some of you may be aware of the fact that the two creators of Neopets, Adam and Donna, occasionally visit the Pink Poogle Toy forums. I, Alex, was lucky enough to score an interview with one of the co-creators, Donna. Read on to find about office pranks, the real origins of Neopets, and memorable encounters with fans and more!

What is it like to work for such a huge site?

Heh, well, it’s certainly a lot different than when we started. There is a lot more formality getting things done but on a whole it’s good.

What are your current responsibilities on Neopets?

Well, I am mostly creative and ideas now. Gone are the days of me drawing (thank goodness). I basically say what goes on New Features, write the stories (with Adam), and oversee the magazine. I also Help Adam with the TCG, but that is mostly his thing, and make sure the plots happen and aren’t (too) late, as well as the editorial that I enjoy doing but never seem to leave enough time for.

So, what is a typical day in the office for you like?

It really depends on the day. Making sure new features is good to go live is my main concern in the morning, then if we have a plot going its script tweaks, approving art that sort of thing. At different times we have different things that are ringing alarm bells. If the magazine is due it’s writing or approving articles, checking art etc. Then in the evening, working on new plots, the next week’s New Features, that sort of thing really.

Why did you originally start Neopets with Adam, and how did you go about it?

Well we weren’t bored college students starting it for a laugh like every article seems to say. Basically Adam had the idea a few years back but we had been working on other things (long story, can’t really go into that). Then we had some free time and decided we wanted to start something we would enjoy that would pay the bills basically. We basically just started thinking of ideas and it was a bit of a mad time of me drawing constantly and Adam programming. We just had ideas and went with them basically. There were times that we would have games living on the site and we would be using player feedback to finish them up.

What do you consider to be your finest achievement on Neopets?

Ooh, that’s a tough one. Certainly not the standard of my art, heh. What can I say? I thought gradient fill was cool. It was 1999. I guess keeping the site interesting and popular for this long, and keeping the British spellings.

How did you get the nickname ‘Poptart’?

I don’t really know. It wasn’t something I had before Neopets. We needed names for the cartoon versions of ourselves, and that sort of stuck. I don’t eat Poptarts a lot or anything.

Have you ever played a prank on anyone at the office?

Heh yes, lots. The office is a pretty fun place to work. Hopefully you can now see that as the Neocam has moved.

What’s been your favourite prank you or someone else has played?

I can’t remember too many offhand, the remote controlled farting machine was pretty fun. That went round the office a few times. Someone put Bertie Botts beans in the office jellybeans too.

How do communities like Pink Poogle Toy influence the site?

Adam and I always tried to listen to user feedback, even when it was negative. We do try to visit lots of different fan sites and boards to try and see what people are thinking. It’s also a good way to find out if there is something glaringly wrong that we may not notice ourselves. The editorial submissions and fan sites are where I hear about a lot of tweaks, typos, that sort of thing. Plus, I get to see everyone say how awful the plots are and how they could do better.

Do you and Adam post on many fan sites?

Yes, but we try not to as it tends to look like favouritism.

Have you met any of the goals that you wanted to complete with Neopets?

Yeah, back in the day when we first launched Adam and I used to aim for 1 million page views. Then it was 1 million players. We did those a while back. I also got to meet some of my real life heroes at Gen Con and Comicon which I went to with Neopets.

What would you most like to work on now?

An MMO probably. Whatever it is, it would definitely be game related in some way. (Massively Multiplayer Online Game.)

Is there anything that’s happened on Neopets that you wish you could go back in time to fix?

The Sloth plot or lack thereof. Some of the earlier plots were a bit on the weak side too.

The Sloth plot was all geared up and ready to go, why did you guys decide to can it right at the end?

Ran out of time basically. We had a lot of other things going on at the same time and just didn’t have enough time to make the plot as good as it deserved to be. We would rather cancel the whole thing than do an awful rushed job.

When getting everything for a plot, puzzle, war, etc, how is the office like? Does it get hectic, or stay unusually calm?

To be completely honest hectic. Translating everything has added more time into everything so it’s a lot more complicated to get things started. It’s not like the old days where we could just code something and sync straight away.

What’s the process involved in creating a puzzle or plot? How does it go from an idea to what the users see on the site?

Well with a plot, Adam and I have the idea, then we do a lot of walking and talking to flesh it out. We have a cool writer friend who is helping us with the story boarding. Then the boards go to the artists, they sketch, we send changes/approve, they colour, text gets added, text gets translated, and then it goes live on the site. With a puzzle, it depends on the puzzle itself but it’s normally done in same way as a game. Adam usually runs the puzzles, he plans everything, art is drawn in house, the clues are coded and we release a little each day.

How much influence do you have in deciding what is put on the site?

If it’s totally Neopets content, 100%. For sponsor stuff, it’s a lot less.

Would you ever consider having another “Make Your Own Neopet Contest” where people draw their own Neopet and send it in and the winner’s pet gets created, like you did with the Shoyru?

I would love to, but our legal department would have kittens. That’s all I’m saying there.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Everything! Seriously, whatever we see, wherever we go, things from school, friends’ habits, everything.

Have you ever thought about making an oriental themed world?

We have talked about that, but we have so much planned to coincide with the next TCG expansions that it would be a long way off, if ever. The TCG sets are great, they make Adam and I plan way ahead.

Have you had any memorable encounters with fans?

Always. Best I think was one guy who gave Adam a hand made Asparagus cook book! One lady also drove halfway across the country to meet us and get her account unfrozen. When we were in London for the Hamleys event a couple had stayed up all night travelling from Amsterdam.

Where do you see the site going in 5 years time?

Goodness, five years, that’s a long time. I honestly don’t know. The next two years I know, everything after that really depends. If the film does well and the computer games I couldn’t imagine where we would be.

What is your opinion of the upcoming Neopets movie?

It’s exciting. From what we have heard, there is a lot of promise. I have big hopes that it will be interesting and intelligent and true to the site.

Will speed ever have an affect on anything with our pets such as helping them with defense, attack, or something outside of the Battledome?

I think we will rewrite the Battledome eventually. There are a lot of things we would like to implement but it will require a total rewrite, and that is a really intensive task. As for speed outside, not sure really.

Have you ever considered having offices in Europe or Asia, in addition to the current HQ?

We have an office in Singapore, it really depends on how big we get. All translation is done in the USA at the mo, but there could be a time when that is different.

Will we ever get the chance to have more than 4 pets?

Maybe… If I say anymore there will be hysteria.

The question everyone wants to know: What’s happening to Neoschools?

Nothing. We have it in hold for now. I did explain this in an editorial but I’ll say it again. Basically Adam and I originally wanted something simple and fun but its sort of grown into a monster project with the desire to actually *gulp* make it educational. So for the meantime it is on permanent hold.

Can you give us a sneak preview of what is coming soon to the site?

Well, there is the much promised other side of the map, a lot of new things in the Lost Desert, a plotline that doesn’t feature Brucey B. Lots really, I just don’t know what I can say. Most I can, I said on the site already.

Right.. That’s all the questions. Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for asking and keep posting things so we know what you like and dislike. And thanks for standing by us even when the site hasn’t always been too stable. – Alex

Kym Huynh

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