On the surface, Neopets looks like just another colorful gaming site for kids. But don't be fooled! Neopets history is a wild ride through the early ages of Web 2.0. For many of you in your 20s and 30s, Neopets was one of the first hot destinations on the World Wide Web. The site occupied an interesting time and space in Internet history, emerging at the end of the '90s and thriving during its golden years of the early 2000s. But, like all great empires, it lost the support of its adoring legions.
So what the hell is Neopets? A game platform in which users create (or adopt) pets to care for. These pets inhabit a world called Neopia, in which users have no set objective other than making sure they don't neglect their pets. You can get up to all types of shenanigans, and encounter all kinds of cute animals along the way. What's not to love? Despite the apparent simplicity of this set up, there some fascinating and truly bizarre Neopets trivia.
You can still visit the Neopets website, but it doesn't look a thing like it did in its heyday. While its future remains unknown, fans from the olden days will forever cherish nostalgic memories of raising digital animals. So what happened to Neopets? Why did it get so popular, and why did it nose-dive into a cacophony of chatroom profanity? Whether you're an old fan yourself or you've never heard of Neopets before, its past contains some Internet trivia gems.
Behind every website and online game is a dedicated staff. If you imagine the people behind Neopets to be tech bros in hoodies or strange anime nerds, you might be shocked to learn the company was run like a Scientology organization in the early days.
In a Reddit AMA, co-founder Donna Williams confirmed this rumor, admitting the first group of investors were Scientologists.
"The company was structured like a scientology org. It didn't really change anything that I noticed apart from some odd test that interviewees had to take consisting of questions like which straight line seemed friendlier and stuff like that. We also had a lot of obscure celebrities coming round the office for tours.
At one time there was some talk about putting scientology education on the site, but we killed that idea pretty sharpish."
While Neopets sounds like something designed for kids (and it certainly became a children's favorite), it was originally designed to be an amusing pastime for college students. According to co-founder Adam Powell, "keep university students entertained, and possibly make some cash from banner advertising." The oldest Neopet designs certainly look like gags, including one pet that was simply a picture of Bruce Forsyth. This design was later modified to a friendly penguin.
One day during the summer of 2015, Neopet users discovered the chat filter keeping the site PG stopped working. Not long thereafter, the site was flooded with with vulgar language, drug references, intense existential questions, infighting, and sex solicitation, among other things. This on a site so strict it banned words like "grape" and "analyze" because they contain "rape" and "anal" respectively.
There were rumors moderation stopped when JumpStart, which took over Neopets after Viacomon sold the property to Knowledge Adventures in 2014, laid off old staff, who took revenge by disarming filters. JumpStart released a statement on Facebook, claiming “[a]t some point over the weekend, as a result of a facility move, the Neopets moderation and filter system went off line” and that it was "not the result of any changes to our moderation teams."
The chaos that reined that day sort of served as the site's death knell and fan's loss of hope.
All the cute, fluffy Acaras and cheerful Gelerts (oh, and the millions of users) attracted the attention of media giant Viacom, which bought Neopets for $160 million dollars in 2005. In 2014, Viacom told the property to Knowledge Adventure, which owns educational media company JumpStart, for an undisclosed amount. JumpStart took over running the site. It's unclear whether Viacom took a substantial loss, though according to financial information available on Google, Neopets lost about $36 million in 2014, the year of the sale.