The Voice of the Players; A Force for Change
For 450 issues and almost 9 years, the Neopian Times has been the greatest stage for the Player’s voice in all of Neopets. It is these writers who have been the force behind real change on the site, including the creation of the White Weewoo itself. But today, support for the Times seems to be dwindling. Will writers be able to rally the support of their readers?
Special editorial by Niri Oshna, the Catacombs
For proof of the power of the Times writers, look at the rotating quotes above. Just underneath the Neopian Times header, to the left of Circulation.
“Up-to-date coverage of the Faerie Wars.” – A reference to the first widespread April Fool’s collaboration from 2007.
“Chet Flash wuz here.” – A colossal inside joke organized by writers, still carried on today, and started back in 2002.
“White Weewoos don't exist. *shifty eyes*” – The crown jewel in the accomplishments of NT writers.
In a time when players feel that they have only a small voice in what happens on the site, in this 450th Issue of the Neopian Times, it’s time to stand back and take a look at the people behind the most remarkable player-produced content on Neopets. The story of these amazing individuals and their influence over the site deserves to be told, for the future of the NT and its readers is uncertain.
In the early years of the Neopian Times, there were far fewer players and less to do on the site. As a result, a community of both readers and writers sprang up around the young NT. As writer fish_puddle recalls, “The NT used to be huge–the writers and artists were pseudo-celebrities, and its influence expanded across the site.” In fact, many writers and comic drawers were published weekly, and some managed to be regularly published twice in each issue. To this day, the record for most-published writer is held by stoneman3x, a celebrity of this period, with 192 publications in just 2 years. Many artists and writers’ usernames became easily recognizable, and the NT celebrity culture was born.
From this culture, the NT’s influence expanded across the site. Chet Flash was one of the earliest large-scale collaborations among contributors. It started when a community of writers decided to pull an inside joke in their collective works. Thus, graffiti in the words “Chet Flash wuz here” randomly popped up in the backgrounds of comics and on the sides of buildings in stories. Today, Chet Flash is probably the most famous Times characters, even though no one has ever seen him.
These celebrities piqued the interest of many writers. Hc_Huggle started off like most other writers, as a regular reader of the Times. “When I was much younger I saw it as a chance at becoming ‘famous,’” she says. “I thought that maybe if I could write one, other people would know who I was. That doesn't matter to me anymore. The truth is, I've had these characters in my head for years, and it only occurred to me recently to write their stories down and send them in for publication.”
With the surge in frequently published writers and comic artists, a dedicated community grew closer and closer. One of the most impressive examples of the dedication shown by NT writers is the Times mascot, the White Weewoo. It began when a writer named Linny wished to paint her Weewoo white, although no such combination yet existed. With the help of her friends in the writing community, a campaign was born. After months of mentions of White Weewoos in the Times, in October 2003, the White Weewoo was at last released. As is well known, it has since become the Times mascot, as a true symbol of the ruckus these writers can raise.
This sense of community drew many players to the Neopian Times, and inspired some to take up the quill for themselves. Nut862, first published back in Issue 185, acknowledges, “The Neopian Times has been a huge influence in my life, not just because of the writing and drawing practice it afforded me, but because it was my first experience with being part of a community of people with similar interests. Being part of this supportive community, giving and receiving feedback and communicating with other writers and artists, has honestly been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The dedication that Neopian Times contributors show to their craft and to their fellow writers and artists is truly amazing to see.”
But many of these celebrities and others involved in NT campaigns are no longer part of the NT community. The demographic of both readers and writers has changed dramatically over the last few years. With more to do on other parts of the site, readership has declined, while interest in writing for the NT to get either of its two avatars has caused many casual writers to take a stab at publication.
“I think it used to be a little more exclusive,” recalls Reggieman721, “and the people who wrote for it were really able to make careers out of it. . . . Now, the Times accepts pieces from a wider variety of authors . . . what you see instead is a more widespread and casual influence.” Nowadays, most contributors appear to be casual writers or comic artists. Over the past 450 issues, a massive 61% of the writers were published only once, and only 11% of authors ever reached more than 5 publications. While this trend has brought an end to the old era of celebrities, it has encouraged many new writers to start their own NT careers.
Many older writers are also quick to point out that the increased competition has steadily improved the quality of the writing in the Times. As Nut862 puts it, “There is a wider pool of talent nowadays, and older contributors have grown more skilled over time.”
As the number of contributors increases with each issue, and the overall Neopian community seems to fall into separate cliques, readers seem to have little participation in the Neopian Times anymore. “No one can prove whether or not readership has really decreased, but it's absolutely true that fewer people send Neomail to NT writers and artists,” says Reggieman721.
A recent poll conducted on the Neoboards shows that about 37% of that part of the population does look over the Times, even if only occasionally, or just to look at comics. And yet, many writers get no neomail at all on their published works. “I find
to be very sad, as it sort of upsets the notion that the users play an important role in shaping Neopian literature,” says Hc_Huggle.
Nut862 agrees. “I think it’s a shame, because receiving feedback is one of those things that keeps people involved with the Neopian Times community and encourages contributors to submit more.”
This lack of communication is also hard on the Times community as a whole. Writers find that getting little to no feedback for their hours of work can be very discouraging. Reggieman721 thinks that “if people would just send a note to a story they like, whether they recognize the author or not, then writers and artists will be encouraged to submit more often and rebuild that culture that we're missing.” Whether or not that will happen remains to be seen.
As many old writers retire, a new generation is cropping up. But with publication more difficult than ever, and readers providing little encouragement, the future of the Neopian Times community is in question. Although the road ahead may be difficult, many young writers look forward to the Times and community that they will help shape.
Jewelia52 has been writing for the Times for less than a year, and yet her aspirations are big. “I want to make a name for myself and be someone readers can look for and be happy to see, just like all my favourite writers did for me. . . . for me it’s about being part of something. I want to join in with all the other writers and artists who contribute to the Times and make it special not just in this issue but in every issue.”
Long-time writer Reggieman721 says, “I'm incredibly proud to have been a part of The Neopian Times. . . . The Neopian Times has had a huge impact on my life in many ways, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunities it has given me. . . . I only hope that it can do for other people what it has done for me.”
Many also share the sentiments of xox_cloud_xox, who says, “Being published in the NT is an honour and a privilege. To be a part of an accumulation of hours upon hours of hard work and talent makes me feel really proud of my own efforts!”
With such a bright future ahead, will readers come back to the Neopian Times, and once again talk to the writers and artists whose work they enjoy? Only time will tell. Perhaps the 500th Issue will be a true celebration for both the contributors and the readers alike.
This is Niri Oshna, reporting from the Catacombs, signing out.