In between checking Hotmail and updating LiveJournal, exploring the world of Neopets was a popular pastime for kids of the early web era. The site introduced many young users to economics, HTML, and the challenges of keeping a digital pet from starving. Here are 10 fun facts that will transport you back to the early 2000s.
1. THE SITE WAS INTENDED FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS.
Adam Powell and Donna Williams were still young adults when they launched Neopets.com. The UK couple, who met in high school, both shared a passion for animals. (In fact, their mini menagerie at home once included birds, guinea pigs, and a cat.) A self-taught programmer, Powell was inspired to create a community of virtual pets for the burgeoning web. He enlisted art student Williams to design the graphics and after many late nights Neopets was ready to go live in 1999. The pair originally hoped to “keep university students entertained, and possibly make some cash from banner advertising,” according The Guardian, but the site quickly ballooned beyond their expectations.
2. GAME SHOW HOST BRUCE FORSYTH WAS AN ORIGINAL NEOPET.
The creators built Neopets as much for themselves as for anyone else. This was evident in the various in-jokes they hid throughout the site, like one pet named Bruce who was pictured as just a JPEG image of British game show host Bruce Forsyth. While the photo was ditched for legal reasons once the site went mainstream, Bruce remains online in the form of a bow tie-wearing penguin Neopet that shares his name.
3. NEOPETS STAYED TRUE TO ITS BRITISH ROOTS.
Bruce isn’t the only vestige left over from Neopets’ quirky beginnings. After the website was purchased by the Dohring Company in 2000, the new owners decided to keep some distinct Britishisms. Words like “grey,” “colour,” and “faerie” have been confusing young English speakers around the world ever since.
4. IT WAS THE “STICKIEST” SITE ON THE WEB.
It didn’t take long for Neopets to take off. In the early 2000s, the site was racking up 2.2 billion page views per month. What set Neopets apart from other sites was its ability to hold visitors’ attention long after drawing them in. The world's seemingly endless network of games, items, and locations kept users engaged for an average of 117 minutes per week, making it the “stickiest” site on the web in 2001.
5. THERE WAS ONCE A MOVIE IN THE WORKS.
At its peak, the Neopets brand rolled out plush toys, video games, and trading cards (above), so it was only a matter of time before someone tried to make it into a movie. In 2006, Variety reported that Warner Bros. would be producing the project with Rob Lieber (the writer of 2014 film Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) writing the script and John A. Davis (director of 2001's Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius) in the director’s chair. The film was to be computer-generated, but the project fizzled out before any plot details were released. Of course, that doesn’t mean fans can’t hold out hope for the Neopets movie to return as a nostalgia vehicle down the road.
6. IT SOLD FOR $160 MILLION IN 2005.
In the early 2000s, Neopets appeared to be unstoppable. The site’s large and loyal user base was enough of a draw for Viacom to purchase it for a whopping $160 million sum. The media giant already owned Nickelodeon, and at the time the colorful world of Neopets seemed like a smart addition to their kid-friendly properties. But the popularity of the site didn’t endure and Viacom sold the Neopets to JumpStart nine years later.
7. THE NEOPOINTS ECONOMY SUFFERED FROM INFLATION.
Neopoints were an essential part of the Neopets experience. It was the currency players used to purchase items like potions, omelettes, and paintbrushes, and just like real currency it was subject to inflation. This is a potential issue in every gaming economy, but Neopets suffered from a particularly bad case of it. As the site introduced more sponsored games, the market became saturated with prize money and the value of many items grew far beyond what casual players could afford. The site made a desperate attempt to fix the situation in 2010 by offering rewards for ridding the economy of as many Neopoints as possible. The inflation crisis prevented new users from enjoying the game, possibly contributing to the site’s downfall. But at least some good came out of it: Neopets used their economic woes as an educational opportunity for their young users.
8. THERE ARE OVER 283,000,000 NEOPETS.
Unlike other digital pets like Tamagotchis, Neopets never die (no matter how long you neglect them). That means every pet that’s been cared for by an active user is still live on the site. Neopets lists the current tally at over 283,000,000 pets. The most popular Neopet, Shoyru accounts for 6.16 percent of the pet population alone.
9. THERE ARE PETS FOR YOUR PETS—AND PETS FOR YOUR PETS’ PETS.
If owners don’t want their Neopets to feel lonely, they can purchase them pets of their own. Petpets are a small species of critter separate from the official Neopets lineup. To make things even more complicated the site also introduced petpetpets—tiny bug-like creatures that latch onto your petpets and keep them company.
10. DEVOTED FANS KEEP FORGOTTEN LOCATIONS ALIVE.
While Neopets is still up-and-running, it isn’t a carbon copy of the site you may remember from your youth. Lands have been scrapped and plotlines have been abandoned, but some are still available to explore if you know where to look. A small group of long-time Neopet players has been tending to a handful of forgotten links that are no longer accessible through the main map. Lost locations include a desert calculator tool, a volcano in the land of Tyrannia, and a land where everything is made of jelly.