With Licensing Week Virtual on its way, companies like JumpStart Games are stepping up to sponsor the event. As a gold sponsor, the company will be primarily representing its Neopets brand with help from Neopets licensing agency, the Carlin West Agency.
Neopets has been in the business for more than 20 years. Today, the brand is seeing an evolution with a new TV show, mobile app and website. Scott Nocas, executive vice president business development and marketing, JumpStart Games along with Carlin West, chief executive officer, Carlin West Agency had a chat with License Global about Neopets plans, their gold sponsorship at Licensing Week Virtual and more.
Read highlights from our discussion below and be sure to register to attend Licensing Week Virtual to hear more from him and the rest of the insightful panels planned for the event.
License Global: What do you think has allowed Neopets to be such a successful brand for such a long period of time? How has licensing played into that success?
Nocas: From the beginning, Neopets is a brand that allows players to express themselves, connect with others and play games in a safe environment – all while caring for and customizing pets. Our fans have told us Neopets is a happy retreat for them, where they can explore and discover worlds and engage with stories, all while playing with their friends. Throughout its history, Neopets has had fantastic partners in the licensing space. Studies show that fans and children of all ages develop emotional connections with collectibles. Neopets combines that collectability, with stories, gaming and epic adventure. Neopets experience offers the best of the best of all the play patterns, built within an immersive brand.
Neopets is evolving for 2020 and beyond, with a new mobile app and more. Why do you feel it's important for the brand to expand like this?
Nocas: While the original game is still incredibly popular and growing, gameplay, toy and fan experiences have evolved. We want to make sure fans can enjoy new ways to play Neopets and interact with the brand. We want to make sure kids (and kids at heart) of all ages can be a part of Neopets: no matter where they are.
How has the brand evolved to connect with a whole new demographic of kids in 2020?
Nocas: We are fortunate that Neopets as a brand already has proven it appeals to multiple generations of fans. The brand experience of expressing yourself, caring for your pets, connecting with friends and having fun in a safe space is evergreen. That said, we know it is important to continue to provide new ways to engage. We have updated the original game to be playable across any mobile web browser. In addition, we are launching a new mobile game in 2020 on iOS and Android that is original to those platforms. We are also developing several new games and content experiences for new and existing players, including a new animated TV series for streaming channels with Blue Ant Media and Beach House Pictures. The nostalgic elements of this timeless brand keep fans engaged while also providing a platform to bring in a constant stream of new players. Neopets is for everyone, and we’re working hard to bring the magic of Neopia into every household.
With the stay-at-home order because of the pandemic, what impact can brands such as Neopets play in helping kids stay connected?
Nocas: They have a place that is just theirs to come to and explore that is huge, safe and ever growing. A place where research has told us they feel safe, find their friends and escape the real world. The popularity of the brand, and diversity of play experiences, puts all the users on the same playing field, which is such an important part of play.
What makes the brand such a strong fit for the toy market?
Nocas: The robust amount of content crosses many different categories, genres and platforms. There’s something for everyone, and no Neopets experience is exactly the same. We have hundreds of characters and storylines and over 25 environments, along with hundreds of items and tools to customize pets, worlds, your homes and gameplay experiences. With a 20-year history, we also have every type of toy buyer from collectors to kids who want to take the toys out of the package! We want to provide a merchandise experience for everyone.
What would you say is the next biggest trend in brand licensing, and how can licensees and licensors prepare for that trend?
West: Digital, digital and more digital content. Games, AR, virtual worlds, the metaverse and integrated experiences will grow as younger audiences age up and current audiences dive into new technology. Whether that is watching concerts and buying digital merchandise in virtual worlds to creating content and sharing on other platforms from your favorite game. The best way for licensees and licensors to prepare is to stay on top of everything is to watch the gaming and augmented reality space and not be afraid to dive into new social platforms and trends. The innovation cycle is moving quicker than ever but emerging multi-player gaming and virtual social experience platforms and play patterns are there to discover.
What do you see as the most beneficial habit those in the licensing industry should implement while working from home?
West: From a business standpoint, using virtual platforms (e.g. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, etc.) to stay connected with each other allows a business to maintain a sense of normalcy. But possibly the most important thing is to get outside or take time for yourself. Working from home, it is too easy to work all the time. Watch a movie, play a board game or just take a walk.
What role have trade shows played in your strategy for licensees/licensors?
West: Trade shows are a phenomenal tool we’ve used to find and meet with licensees and licensors. Not just business to business shows but also consumer shows. It gives us a chance to interact with fans, who we have found to live at every existing and potential partner we have connected with about Neopets. Being able to show our passion for product partnerships, and see their team’s love of the brand, makes it easier to close deals. Not to mention, in one location, we can connect with people from all over the world and find exciting new products and opportunities.
How do you think Licensing Week Virtual will help those in the licensing industry during the COVID-19 pandemic?
West: Licensing Week Virtual allows us all to reconnect with each other in a unique environment that has a lower barrier to participation – no travel or time out of the office required. Allowing more potential licensees to join the show, even if their business is hurting due to the economic upheaval. It’s the first major trade show since NY Toy Fair 2020 and people will be excited to get back together and see what 2021 can look like for their business.
What is the overall goal with the expansion of the Neopets brand? How will the TV show, new website and mobile app help to reach that goal?
Nocas: Neopets as a brand is larger than one game or series. It is a world where fans, both new and existing, can be who they want to be and be a part of the stories, games, pets and worlds across platforms and content types. Anywhere someone loves, or even just knows Neopets, is an opportunity to engage with a fan. Our goal is to grow the awareness with new generations of users. The more eyes and content we can get them in-front of, the larger the brand will grow.