In this article:
- The late 1990s saw a boom in the development of virtual pet games, such as Pokemon, Tamagotchi, and Neopets.
- While Tamagotchi cornered the handheld toy market and Pokemon made its way into the world of handheld video games, Neopets was the first popular virtual pet game to be supported by the internet.
- Unfortunately, the game has encountered rough times throughout its history with several changes of ownership and costly database breaches. Still, its loyal fanbase has kept it afloat.
- And, while many people have completely forgotten about Neopets, the company has recently been pushing to move into the modern era with the release of an NFT collection and a Metaverse game.
The late 1990s was a revolutionary time. Bill Clinton’s sexual escapades in the Oval Office were unveiled, the very first Apple computer hit the market, OJ Simpson sped away from police cruisers in a white Bronco, and the era of virtual pet games was ushered in.
In 1996, the very first Pokemon game was published by Nintendo for the original Game Boy. Then, in 1997, Tamagotchi hit the U.S. market and was soon dangling from every kid’s backpack. Not long after, in 1999, the web-hosted virtual pet game Neopets was created.
The game allowed its users to choose from a variety of different fictional species, choose their pet’s color, and then give their pet a name. It was similar to Tamagotchi in that the user had to log in and care for their pet regularly or else risk their pet falling into bad health.
It mirrored Pokemon in that you could enter an arena and battle other pets. Neopets was also similar to MySpace in that you could customize your profile by writing simple lines of CSS and HTML code.
Eventually, the game was sold to Viacom and placed under the Nickelodeon umbrella, which, in my opinion, was the beginning of the decay of Neopets’s character. The game’s two original creators both resigned over creative differences and the platform became overly commercial and flooded with ads.
However, Neopets never fully died out. And, over 20 years after the game’s creation, there are still people out there who religiously tend to their virtual pets.
Recently, the game made headlines for reasons good and bad. Its developer announced that its characters will be entering the Metaverse and have even released an invite-only alpha version of their Metaverse game. They also recently had a massive data breach that led to millions of users getting their information stolen.
Neopia Is Built
The idea for Neopets was birthed in 19967 by Adam Powell, a student at the University of Nottingham at the time. Later, in 1999, he would bring the idea to his friend Donna Williams and the two would start developing the site.
Powell managed the programming and database and Williams took charge of the art and design. They launched the site and, by Christmas of that very same year, they had over 600,000 daily users.
Soon after Christmas, Powell and Williams realized that they would need outside investment to manage the blooming platform, and American businessman Doug Dohring ended up buying a majority share of the site and forming Neopets, Inc. in 2000.
Oddly enough, Dohring decided to use the Church of Scientology’s Org Board business structure to manage the newly formed company. Soon after, members of the company began trying to inject the site with Scientologist teachings. However, Powell and Williams soon discovered that their platform was being used to purvey religious messages and put a stop to all connections between Scientology and Neopets.
In 2005, Viacom (the company that owns Nickelodeon) bought the site and began running banner ads on the site, promoting the game through mini-shows on Nickelodeon, and running an annual virtual sporting event known as the Altador Cup, which coincided with the FIFA World Cup. This was the height of the site’s popularity; however, things soon started to deteriorate.
The Fall of Neopets
A group of hackers attacked the Neopets platform in 2009 and started running ads on the site that, when clicked on, would install a malware program on the user’s computer and steal their personal information.
Apparently, the hackers intended to get into the users’ computers and steal the financial information of the parents of the kids who were playing the game. Neopets denied any fault in allowing the hack.
In 2014, Viacom sold the Neopets platform to JumpStart Games and things continued to get even worse. Immediately, the JumpStart version of the site was criticized for glitches and lagging.
Not long after, in 2015, the site’s chat filters stopped working and the chatrooms were flooded with inappropriate messages. In 2016, Motherboard (a branch of VICE) reported that the Neopets database had been hacked, resulting in the personal information of over 70 million users.
In 2017, Chinese web development company NetDragon acquired JumpStart Games, but that didn’t solve the hacking problem. There were still clearly problems with the cyber security infrastructure as the site’s database was once again hacked in 2021, leading to information theft from over 69 million members.
The Neopets team only learned of the breach after a hacker by the name of “TarTarX” put a seller’s ad on a hacking forum, offering to sell the stolen information for four Bitcoins. Neopets responded by claiming that they plan to beef up their cyber security and encouraging users to change their passwords.
But the damage has already been done. Due to the site’s irresponsible lack of cyber security, personal information has been stolen from over 100 million users. Yet, despite all this, many people remain loyal to the platform and continue to care for their Neopets.
Somehow Neopets Persists
Despite its many royal screw-ups, the game has still managed to somehow keep its head above water. The site recently enjoyed a resurgence as ‘90s kids were stricken with nostalgia in the solitude of the pandemic.
In April of 2022, the site had 4.1 million monthly users, which is still a far cry from the 25 million the site enjoyed at its peak, but a major uptick from its pre-pandemic numbers.
And some of these users have been there from the very inception of the site. In an interview with The New York Times, player Adriana Freitez said of her virtual buddies, “My pets, oh dear, my pets, I really love them even if they’re just little drawings on a screen.” Freitez has had her pet Kougra for over 14 years now. It’s players like Freitez that have constituted the base of followers that have kept the ship from sinking.
And, beyond simply staying afloat, Neopets now plans to explore new horizons. In 2021, Neopets released a collection of 10,000 algorithmically-generated NFTs, each of which has unique characteristics.
Unfortunately, of the 10,000 NFTs created, less than half of them were sold, leaving the other half to be destroyed after the sale. It’s safe to say that the Neopets NFT sale was an utter failure.
However, seemingly undeterred, Neopets is now taking another stab at moving into the modern economy. They recently launched the alpha version of their Metaverse game on August 26, 2022. The game utilizes the web3 format and combines aspects of the original game with more modern touches.
For those of you who have been longtime Neopets users, you’ll be happy to know that the Metaverse game will include beloved classic mini-games such as Turmac Roll and Meerca Chase.
The company has claimed that Neopets Metaverse will be true to the spirit of the original game and that it will be casual, fun, and free to play. Players will be able to care for their pets, battle with other players’ pets, participate in mini-games, and socialize with other players. The full version of the game is set to be released sometime in the first quarter of 2023.
Personally, I’m going to wait a while before playing Neopets Metaverse until it seems that the company has figured out a way to effectively prevent user information from being stolen. However, for a lot of people, having their data stolen and sold to nefarious entities is a small price to pay for spending time with their adorable virtual companion.