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An Interview With Donna Powell - 2008

Donna the magnificent!We recently had the opportunity to interview Donna Williams, co-creator of Neopets with Adam Powell, and currently the President of Meteor Games. We got to ask her about her and Adam's upcoming game, Twin Skies, and also a couple of questions about her time at Neopets. Thanks very much to Donna for taking the time to answer our questions! And now, onto the interview...

JN: Hey there Donna, how have you been?

Donna: Good thanks, busy but it's fun to be back :) We couldn't say anything for so long we had to pretty much fall off the face of the Earth.

It's definitely nice to be hearing from you after all that time. :) Before we begin, though, do you think you could unfreeze this old account I had... haha, just kidding. Why not start off by telling us about Meteor Games, your and Adam's latest endeavor.

Meteor Games is a game development studio based in Los Angeles. We are currently working on a fully 3D MMO, although to say it's just an MMO doesn't fully explain what we are creating. It is a game with a lot of MMO aspects (killing things, leveling up, getting cooler gear etc.) but it is also an active community, with a lot of cross over with Facebook, Habbo Hotel and Gaia Online. Character customisation is something we are going quite heavily into with this project. This may sound really confusing, but it's coming together and should be quite unlike anything that's already out there.

By having "Meteor Games" as your company name (aka, not as the actual game's name), do you plan on developing even more games after the first one makes its debut?

That's certainly something that we are open to, although this first game will be our main focus for several years at least.

Do you have a name for your first game yet?

Yes, but we can't announce it yet.

Update: Information about the game, Twin Skies, has been released!

Any ETAs on when we'll be able to play? (Or, when you'd like it to be ready for us to play?)

Our game website should go live early August. This is not the actual 3D game, but there will be forums, flash games, lots of behind the scenes info, podcasts, that sort of thing. We really want to be very open during our development process and try to involve our community along the way. Alpha testing of the game will begin in September, and we will be giving regular updates letting people know everything that is going right, and wrong along the way.

The actual 3D game will be released in 2009. I can't really be more specific with dates than that as I don't want to make another 'world applet' comment if you guys can remember that :)

Would you be interested in hiring a Stanford Computer Science grad in about four years? :P (And possibly another one in six years... I'm still persuading Terry to apply.)

Haha, probably. We have some really awesome developers right now, but we are always open to adding to our staff if the right people come along.

We heard that you'll be at the Penny Arcade Expo this August. Do you by chance have any free guest passes left? ;) Terry and I would totally love to come. (We could use some hotel and airfare while you're at it, too. :P)

I wish we did, as you can imagine we have a lot of staff that want to go and just a few tickets. We are making them fight for the last few tickets, winner goes to Seattle!

Now, onto some more Neopets related questions. Remind us what you did at Neopets in your day-to-day duties.

Erm pretty much anything that wasn't coding. Mainly updating new features and any other pages that were in need of some love, approving art work, making sure our merchandise looked like our characters, double checking articles for the Beckett mag, writing the NT editorial (note I haven't done it since late 2004, not sure who runs that now), freezing my daily quota of 300 accounts (jk), helping Adam with flavour text on the TCG cards and creating new plots/ideas. I also made the user look up badges, which is why there aren't any past year 6. That was as far into the future I went when I last created them.

Ah ha! So that's why we've all been stuck in time for the past couple of years. How do you think TNT has handled the site content since your and Adam's departure? What are some things you think they did well... and some things that didn't turn out so great?

I like the way that they have continued to add news to the site on a regular basis, I don't visit the site that often, but when I do there are always lots of new things. Viacom also seems to be doing a really good job with merchandise lately. The site redesign was a bold step and I believe the old site did need improvement. The new look is a bit wide and has too many adverts for my liking. I miss the old 404 errors, we put a lot of effort into making those fun and most of that is lost now. Overall I don't think they did a bad job, it is just different to how Adam and I would have taken things.

What do you think about Viacom's business moves such as opening up the NC Mall and promoting Neopets on the US kids TV network, Nickelodeon (which they conveniently own)?

The NC mall would work better if other people could actually see what you purchased all the time, it always puzzled me why they didn't do that. I can't comment on the TV stuff, I really don't watch TV, so I haven't seen any of them.

Have you heard about KeyQuest or World of Neopia? (KeyQuest is going to be a 3D board game type game where the plushies you buy in real life have codes that you can redeem for tokens to play the game with. World of Neopia, on the other hand, is apparently going to be a 3D environment where you can walk around and complete quests and such, something like the Darkest Faerie video game... but last we heard, it was in very early stages.)

I haven't heard much, just little snippets from friends that still work there. They sound interesting, but I haven't seen anything yet.

Where do you see Neopets in five years? Ten years?

Wow, that's a tough question. I honestly couldn't tell you. It really depends what the new TNT want to do with it. I heard some rumours about Neostudios, maybe Neopets will branch out into other games and be the next Disney. Maybe a super awesome new game will come out of nowhere and make an impact ... who knows...

What was something you learned from running Neopets that you will use running Meteor Games?

Without your players you are nothing, listen to them! Be honest and open with your community. [Editor's Note: This is something we like to hear!]

Are there any misconceptions out there about your leaving or Neopets in general that you'd like to correct?

Not really. I don't think many people knew we had left until recently. We didn't leave because we were given a big wad of cash, it just seemed to be a good time to move on as we could see the company going in a different direction to the one we had originally intended.

Do you ever miss not working at Neopets? What were your favorite parts of going to work everyday?

We had some really fun times creating Neopets, there are some great people still working there. The best parts of going to work had to be the driving back and forth. Adam and I used to come up with some of our best ideas on that drive to work. Now we walk though, much better for us and we have even longer to chat about ideas.

Do you have any say in what happens on Neopets nowadays? Do you still keep in contact with the old TNTers?

We do not have any say with what happens with Neopets, but we still keep in touch with some of the old school TNT. We worked with several of them for years, they are friends we invite round for BBQs and Rock Band sessions.

Do you still actively play Neopets?

No. I haven't been able to log into my account since I left Neopets. Poor Thyassa, Buckley, Shoyshoy and uni, they must be bored stupid!

What has your favorite plot or site event on Neopets been? How about your least favorite event?

My favourite site event has to be the Neopet Version 2 storyline we did. That treasure hunt/puzzle was so much fun to make and we were amazed how fast it got solved. We were really trying our hardest to make the clues fiendishly hard! The least favourite story has to be anything involving Maraqua. You can probably tell how much I liked the original Maraqua storyline as we destroyed the whole place shortly afterwards. The last Maraqua plot with Isca and Caylis we were really short on time so it was rushed and really wasnt as strong as it could have been.

On the merchandise side of things, were there any ever plans to release Neopian characters, such as Dr. Sloth, in plushie form?

There were lots of great ideas that we had (we being the Neopets staff, not just Adam and myself) to make all sorts of really cool merchandise. I am sure someone in the company still has that huge list of things to make. Hopefully they will get to it soon. A Dr. Sloth plushie would be awesome though, I'd buy it!

Were there any features or activities you would like to have completed for Neopets before you left?

I wish we could have had a chance to do the Sloth plot. Dr Sloth has to be my favourite bad guy to work into plots. The story was really interesting and would have really rewarded those die hard Sloth fans (I know you are out there!), but it wasn't to be.

Thanks very much for the interview. :) Any parting words?

Without you guys Neopets wouldn't have grown to where it is now, thanks for playing for so many years. Oh yeah, and check out our new site when its released :P

Once again, we're really glad that Donna was able to give us the interview!

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This article was written by: Dave & Donna