Neopets was once a blindingly popular, browser-based universe—filled with faeries, aliens and legendary, battle born puppers. Since its conception in the late '90s, it's seen millions of users pass through, playing games to earn Neopoints in order to feed, dress, and fight their Neopets, or otherwise adventure across the strange and eclectic world laid before them.
It was a dream to have such an expansive, free-to-play world at my fingertips as a tween, but there's a darker side to this lovable pet-keeping palaver that I should've probably spotted way back then, and it's only been getting more dodgy as the years pass.
Back in the early '00s the total number of Neopets users peaked at around 25 million and, while it can't match that number today, it's seen a good 4.1 million site visits just this month. A few years ago, it was estimated to have around 100,000 active daily users. The pandemic-induced nostalgia trips many of us found ourselves in translated to a fairly noticeable spike, too. At least, that's why I've found myself here again, back to relive my tween years, and reinvigorate my love for browser-based shenanigans.
The Neopets site was my first introduction to choose-your-own-adventures, collectables, interest rates… oh and gambling, come to think of it. At age 11, you'd find me there, learning the ins and outs of back alley poker, hashing out a round after round of roulette, or even trying my hand at auctioning. I think I even had a go at the Neopets stock market, but it turned out I wasn't cut out for the high-roller lifestyle.
The play-to-earn games on the site were built with the now-defunct Adobe Flash, but most have been saved from the fate that has befallen many other games of the era. They don't even appear to have been updated since I was about 11 (I'll be 30 next week), and by the looks of it you still seem to earn the same amount of Neopoints from them.
That is, as long as the now rather janky site doesn't take your ultra-high score as suspect, and refuse to hand over your hard-earned points (I'm still very upset about this, if you can't tell). It's understandable though, what with the amount of cheating that's evident from recent press coverage.
Neopets hackers range from pet-pilfering black marketeers, to those who feel morally obliged to steal rare items from inactive players in order to keep the economy going.
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Neopets is coming out of an NFT phase, too, and when I think back it seems the play-to-earn nature of the site really lent itself to a crypto handshake. The Neopets Metaverse NFT scheme was announced by the site's CEO in September 2021, seemingly unbeknownst to the core team, and was swiftly protested into oblivion thanks to loyal fans of the site.
Today you can purchase a well-used Neopets account along with all its rare items for around $200–400, which is very much against the site's terms of service.
Plenty of companies have jumped on the bandwagon for a collab since the recent influx of pandemic players, such as Cakeworthy apparel who make the most adorable Neopets themed clothing and accessories. And you can still purchase plushies from the store for $10.
So if you're feeling nostalgic I encourage you to give the site another go, and while you're at it, maybe double check your rare items haven't been plundered in your absence.