Screenshot of the Neopets homepage on 10 September 2008
|Publisher(s)||Neopets Inc., Viacom Inc|
|Platform(s)||Cross-platform, web game|
|Release date(s)||15 November 1999|
|Genre(s)||Fantasy, Digital pet|
|Mode(s)||Single-player with multiplayer interaction.|
|System requirements||Web browser with Adobe Flash Player plugin. Adobe Shockwave and 3D Life Player (both optional)|
|Input methods||Keyboard, mouse|
Neopets (originally NeoPets) is a virtual pet website launched by Adam Powell and Donna Williams on 15 November 1999. Two years after the web site was launched, Adam Powell and Donna Williams sold a majority share to a consortium of investors led by Doug Dohring. On 20 June 2005, Viacom bought Neopets, Inc. for US$160 million.
Neopets is based around the virtual pets that inhabit the virtual world of Neopia. Visitors can create an account and take care of up to four virtual pets, buying them food, toys, clothes, and other accessories using the virtual currency called Neopoints, and Neocash. Neopoints can be earned through playing games, investing in the game's stock market, trading, and winning contests. Neocash is bought through your credit card. Users can explore the world of Neopia with their Neopets and interact with each other through the Neoboards, NeoMail, guilds, and Key Quest.
Neopets also operates a pay-to-play version known as Neopets Premium, which offers additional features and benefits for a monthly fee of US$7.99. Neopets, Inc. produces and sells a wide variety of Neopets merchandise, such as plushies, stickers, notebooks, three video games and a trading card game.
Neopets was conceived in 1997 by Adam Powell while he was studying at the University of Nottingham. Powell had started UK-based advertising company Shout! Advertising in 1996, which grew to be the third largest click-through program on the Internet by 1999. He also co-founded Netmagic, an online banner advertising design and sales firm and Powlex Ltd., a web site design firm. Donna Williams was a marketing manager for Shout! Advertising from September 1997 to July 1999 responsible for internet advertising, sales and services, graphic and web design. Powell and Williams started creating the site in September 1999 and launched it two months later on 15 November 1999. Powell was responsible for the programming and database, and Williams the web design and art. The site grew by word of mouth and by Christmas of 1999, they received 600,000 page views daily and sought investment to cover the high cost of running the site. The same month, Doug Dohring was introduced to the creators of the site and, along with other investors, bought a majority share in January of the following year. Neopets, Inc. was created in February 2000 and began business in April. The website made profit from the first paying customers for an advertising method trademarked as "immersive advertising", touted as "an evolutionary step forward in the traditional marketing practice of product placement" in television and film.
Media conglomerate Viacom purchased Neopets, Inc. on 20 June 2005 for $160 million and announced plans to focus more on the use of banner ads over the site's existing immersive advertising. On the first day of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the Altador Cup started as an annual international online gaming event and had 10.4 million participants the first year. The entire Neopets site was redesigned on 27 April 2007. On 17 July 2007, a new section of the site, the NC Mall, was launched in a partnership with Korean gaming company Nexon Corporation. The next day, Viacom announced that by the end of 2008, Neopets, Inc would be renamed to NeoStudios, "which will focus on developing new virtual world gaming experiences online, while continuing to grow and evolve the existing ones."  On June 17, 2008, Viacom formed the Nickelodeon Kids & Family Virtual Worlds Group to "encompass all paid and subscription gaming initiatives across all relevant platforms", including Neopets.
To date, since August 2003, the site has been translated into ten other written languages: Japanese, Traditional and Simplified Chinese, Spanish, German, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Dutch and French. However, Neopets announced on 1 January 2009 that the Italian, Japanese, and Korean areas of the site would no longer be updated.
In July 2009, the Neopets site was the target of an identity theft hacking scheme that attempted to trick users into clicking a link that would allow them to gain items or neopoints. Upon doing so, malware is installed on the user's computer. According to reports, the hack is aiming not at child player's Neopets accounts, but at using the malware to steal the financial data and identities of their parents. Viacom stated that it was investigating the issue, and that the hack was a version of social engineering rather than an "indictment of Neopets security practices". In an on-site newsletter for players, Neopets denied the report and claimed that the site's security measures prevented the posting of such links.
Neopets is set in the themed lands of the fictional world of Neopia, which has its own calendar and timezone running concurrent with the real-world Pacific Time. It also has its own economy and stock market based around the Neopoint. Players earn Neopoints through various means including playing games and selling items. Once earned, they can be invested or used to buy various goods and services.
Upon visiting the site, visitors can create a free account. Users may create up to five accounts but can only use one to earn Neopoints; that account is referred to as a "main" and the rest as "sides". A user then creates a Neopet and chooses its unique name, physical characteristics, and personality and may own up to four per account. A newly created pet comes with randomly rolled stats used for battling in the Battledome. Users may re-roll the statistics if they are particularly weak. Players are expected to feed and care for their Neopets when they grow hungry or ill, although they will not die if they are neglected. New users start out with a newbie pack of various items that introduce basic features of the site, such as food for feeding a pet. More items can be bought from other users or from non-player character's shops.
Users are free to choose their own path in the world of Neopia, which could include collecting items, battling other Neopets, doing quests, playing games and more. Users can interact with their Neopets by reading books to them, caring for them, and playing with them. They can train their Neopets to be fighters in the Battledome against other player's Neopets or non-player character. Wearable items, such as certain clothing, can be used to customise a Neopet. Players can build a customisable Neohome for their Neopets and furnish it with furniture, wallpaper, and flooring.
Users found breaking the rules set in the Terms and Conditions may be sent a warning, have their account suspended, be temporarily blocked, or have their account permanently deactivated ("frozen"). If the owner of a "frozen" account finds the reason for deactivation invalid, they may email the Neopets support team and possibly regain access of their account, although such cases are rare.
The content of the site is updated almost on a daily basis with the addition of new games and items and weekly content. In addition to the site content updated by Neopets, players also contribute user-generated content to the site. Player contributions come in the form of prescreened submissions and readily editable content that is automatically filtered, such as the site's weekly electronic newspaper "The Neopian Times".
There are many active games from which users can earn Neopoints and awards. Before 22 November 2006 the games were divided into three categories: Puzzle, Action, and Luck/Chance. After that date the Games Room was reconfigured and now games are divided into many more categories. Various games and activities include Flash and Shockwave games, PHP games, 3D Life Player games, contests and spotlights, and quests to retrieve items.
Neopoints can be earned from playing games, most of which have a set maximum of earnings or playtime. Players may also earn trophies for their trophy cabinet from games if they score high enough for the Hi-Score Tables, which are reset on the first day of each month. Challenges may be made against other players or random players in a "World Challenge" for a prize piece for certain Flash games. A monthly competition also exists for multiplayer PHP games with four week-long elimination rounds.
Neopets offers several different contests and spotlights, where winners are chosen by judges on the Neopets staff or voted on by members of the Neopets community. Contests include several formats, such as writing a story, making a short animated film or drawing a picture of their Neopet. Spotlights showcase what users have done with customisable content. Winners also receive a trophy and a reward, which varies with the contest or spotlight.
In Australia, a cross-promotion with McDonald's where McDonald's promoted Neopets plushies in their Happy Meals and Neopets featured McDonald's-related content led to a controversy with Neopets' luck/chance games in October 2004. A story on the Australian tabloid television show Today Tonight featured a nine-year-old boy who claimed that the site requires one to gamble in order to receive enough Neopoints to feed one's Neopet or else it would be sent to the Pound. While this is factually incorrect (gambling is not required, nor are pets ever sent to an orphanage if they are not fed), it is true that the website has a number of games of chance that are directly based on real-life games such as blackjack and lottery scratchcards. In 2004, Neopets prohibited users under the age of 13 from playing most games that involve gambling because of the boy mentioned above.
Certain features on Neopets require a user to pay some amount of real money and include Neopets Premium, Neopets Mobile, and some features of the NC Mall. Neopets Premium and Mobile both allow access to areas of the site otherwise restricted. Purchase of NeoCash allows use of the NC Mall to purchase items to customise a user's Neopet or Neohome, but users can sample clothing and furniture before purchase and can win free NeoCash on some occasions, including a daily NeoCash giveaway based on random chance called the Qasalan Expellibox, a free 50 NC giveaway from the Advent Calendar on 19 December 2008, and a free 50 NC from finding all the Halloween goodie bags hidden around the site in Halloween of 2008.
Neopets Premium is an extended version of the site, for which members pay for monthly or yearly subscriptions. With Premium membership, external ads are removed and certain benefits are added, like extra Neopoints, Premium only forums, own Premium emails and access to beta versions of games. Neopets Mobile is a simpler version of the site using a web-to-wireless application developed by In-Fusio. Initially released to Cingular/AT&T, it allows access from a mobile phone where users get exclusive access to Lutari Island and other exclusive content.
The NC Mall allows players to buy items used mainly for customising their Neopets or Neohomes using Neocash. Players must purchase Neocash with real money through PayPal. Customers in the United States can also buy Neocash cards at Target stores, the Target website, and at selected Wal-mart stores. The Mall was created through a partnership with Nexon, which also handles the sale of NX Cash used in the analogous "Cash Shop" of MapleStory. It was initially released for beta on 28 June 2007 and then fully released to players in the United States on 17 July. Two months later, it expanded to English users in other countries. Most Neocash purchased items remain with the buyer permanently, but could not be transferred or sold to other players until recently, when the gift box was introduced. A few items have expiration times, after which they disappear from the buyer's accounts.
In February 2008, Neopets announced Key Quest, a feature that will engage users by having them buy Neopets merchandise at Target and other stores, using a virtual code to redeem tokens for their user accounts. However, people with no merchandise can play as well.
Neopets has a community in which users can chat with and contact each other. Users may request other users to be "Neofriends" or block other users from contacting them. Players are represented by small icons known as avatars that are provided by the website, as players cannot upload their own. To comply with COPPA, players under 13 years of age cannot access any of the site's communication features without sending in parental consent. The main features include:
Discussions through these features are restricted and may not involve topics such as dating and romance or controversial topics like politics and religion. Continuous moderation is performed by paid Neopets staff members, and users can help moderate the site by reporting messages they believe are inappropriate or offensive. Messages are also automatically filtered to prevent users from posting messages with profanity or lewd content.
Each user is given a customisable profile page. In addition, a profile or "pet lookup", which can be edited like the user's profile, is given to each Neopet, and each Neopet also has a "petpage", which the user can edit with HTML and CSS. Unlike the pet lookups, petpages don't have to be related to the pet at all.
Immersive advertising is a trademarked term for the way Neopets displayed advertisements to generate profit after Doug Dohring bought the site. Instead of running pop-up and banner ads, immersive ads integrate advertisements into the site's content in interactive forms, including games and items. Players can earn Neopoints from them by doing things such as playing advergames and taking part in online marketing surveys. Prior to the arrival of the NC Mall, it contributed to 60% of the revenue from the site with paying Fortune 1000 companies including Disney, General Mills, and McDonald's.
It was a contentious issue with the site with regard to the ethics of marketing to children. Half a million of the 25 million users were under the age of eight in 2005 and children under eight have difficulty recognizing ads. It draws criticism from parents, psychologists, and consumer advocates who argue that children may not know that they are trying to be sold something, as it blurs the line between site content and advertisement. A psychology professor at Georgetown University stated, "It's self marketing, selling to kids that don't know they are seeing anything". Dohring responded to such criticism:
"Over 60 percent of our audience is 13 and over, so it is not like we are dealing with four- to six-year-olds that may not quite understand the difference between content and advertising. And of the 40 percent of our users who are 12 or under, the ages start at around seven or eight years old and go up from there. The preschoolers are not really our audience, because you have to be a pretty fluid reader to navigate the site."
Others criticised the functionality of the site. Susan Linn, another psychologist and author of Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood said, "The whole purpose of this site at this point is to keep kids in front of products". Kalle Lasn, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Adbusters magazine, said the site was "encouraging kids to spend hours in front of the screen and at the same time recruiting them into consumer culture", which was "the most insidious mind-fuck ever". Neopets executives have stated in 2004 and 2006 that paid content comprised less than 1% of the site's total content. Children are not required to play or use sponsor games and items.
Consumer advocates also argue that immersive ads should be clearly labelled as advertisements. Dohring has said, "We're not trying to be subliminal or deceive the user. We label all the immersive ad campaigns as paid advertisements."
Neopets has been compared to the antecedent virtual pet fad Tamagotchi and the Pokémon franchise. It has been described as an online cross of Pokémon and Tamagotchi. The website maintains high "stickiness" rankings, which is a measure of the amount of time a user spends on the site. Neopets has been praised for having educational content, such as word games and an HTML guide. Its popularity spawned real world plushies, a magazine, book series, cereal, and merchandise in other media as well.
A press release from Neopets in 2001 stated that Neopets.com led in site "stickiness" in May and June, with the average user spending 117 minutes a week. Neopets also led in the average number of hours spent per user per month in December 2003 with an average of 4 hours and 47 minutes. A 2004 article stated that Nielsen//NetRatings reported that people were spending around three hours a month on Neopets, more than any other site in its Nielsen category. By May 2005, a Neopets-affiliated video game producer cited about 35 million unique users, 11 million unique IP addresses per month, and 4 billion web page views per month. This producer also described 20% of the users as 18 or older, with the median of the remaining 80% at about 14. Neopets was consistently ranked among the top ten "stickiest" sites by both Nielsen//NetRatings and comScore Media Metrix in 2005 and 2006. According to Nielsen//NetRatings, in 2007, Neopets lost about 15% of its audience over the previous year. In February 2008, comScore ranked it as the stickiest kids entertainment site with the average user spending 2 hours and 45 minutes per month.
Most of the users are female, higher than in other massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) but equivalent to social-networking-driven communities. Cuteness is one of the main factors. Open-endedness is another. Lucy Bradshaw, a vice president of Electronic Arts, said, "Games that have a tendency to satisfy on more than one dimension have a tendency to have a broader appeal and attract girls".
Viacom produces a range of merchandise, including plushies, stickers, books, cereals, Neocash cards for the Nc Mall and video games. The merchandise retails at mainstream outlets such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Limited Too. There are also exclusively online retailers involved, such as Zazzle. Each merchandise has a prize code which can be redeemed at the site for an in-game reward. Neopets had planned to "bring the online and offline worlds together in ways that have never been done before". An investment banker at Allen & Company in New York said Neopets was the only online media he had seen "that might have the ability to capture market share in the offline world". Neopets signed a licensing deal with Viacom Consumer Products in 2001 to get the right developers and publishers for their offline content. A deal with Thinkway Toys produced the first merchandise brought to an international market. Offline products expanded in 2005 with film and video game deals. In February 2008, offline products were further expanded when it was announced that Jakks Pacific and Enterplay would produce a new line of merchandise, including new plushies and trading cards, to tie into Key Quest.
Wizards of the Coast released the Neopets Trading Card Game in September 2003 based on the online characters and setting. In 2004, the cards were promoted in three of General Mills "Big G" cereals and ten Simon Property Group malls. The TCG received two different nominations for "Toy of the Year" and two other recognitions.
Neopets: The Official Magazine, published by Beckett Media, was a bi-monthly magazine released in September 2003. The magazine was sold through a subscription service and in stores, with back issues available for order on the magazine web site. The magazine's features included Neopet games, stories, guides to the Flash games on the Neopets site, news on upcoming site events and merchandise, and drawings for readers. It also regularly offered games tied to the site that allowed the reader to receive a prize on the Neopets site. After 26 issues, Beckett sent a notice to subscribers announcing that the January 2008 issue would be the final issue of the magazine and that Beckett would replace the issues remaining in the subscription with their new magazine Beckett Plushie Pals, which would still include some Neopets news, but also news related to various other companies, including Ganz Webkinz, Disney's Club Penguin, TY Beanie Babies, and Kookeys.
Neopets signed a deal with Warner Bros. Pictures in March 2005 to produce films. The unreleased first film was announced to be written by Rob Lieber and produced by Dylan Sellers and John A. Davis in February 2006 by Variety.
In November 2005, Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. released Neopets: The Darkest Faerie, for the PlayStation 2. A second game, Neopets: Petpet Adventures: The Wand of Wishing, was released March 14, 2006 for the PlayStation Portable.
A very popular form of merchandise for Neopets was their set of toys in 2005 at McDonald's, which brought many people in to Neopets. A second release of Neopet toys occurred at McDonald's because of the success of the last promotion. These toys have been released in countries such as Australia, USA, Singapore, and the U.K. In September 2008, Neopets toys came to Burger King in the United States and Canada. There were complaints in the U.S. when some Burger Kings were not supplied with the proper Kids Meal bags (with virtual prize codes).
Neopets Puzzle Adventure, a video game developed by Infinite Interactive and published by Capcom, was made available for Windows PC, the Nintendo DS and Wii on November 25, 2008. The game is similar to the video game Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords.
Neocash Cards are sold in many stores around the US, most prominently at chain stores such as Target or Wal* Mart, and come at different prices (e.g. $10 and $25). They are used at the NC Mall (released in July 2007) which is a large shop full of clothes, Neohome items and other assorted items for Neopets; many of these items are animated and very popular. The price of the card is directly related to the amount of Neocash received; a $10 card would provide 1000 Neocash. Accounts over 48 months old are granted access to the Elite Boutique, which sells exclusive items that younger accounts cannot view or purchase.