Neopets: The fall from grace

In the beginning, there was Neopets, and it was good.

Borne in November of 1999 from the minds of Adam Powell and Donna Williams, Neopets was an overnight success. By the end of the year, Wikipedia reports that the site was receiving 600,000 page views and had outgrown the bank accounts of its creators. Enter the Dohring Company. Dough Dohring and a team of investors bought a majority share in the property and Neopets Inc. was born. Since then, various merchandise and advertising licenses have been sold, and finally, the property was purchased in full by Viacom in 2005. This is where things got messy. What began as a fun and radically new community-based game has spiraled into the depths of corporate cold-heartedness. Something happened during Neopets’ journey into fame and corporate sponsorship; it became a victim of its success. Let us examine the two problems that are slowly eating away at what was once one of the Web’s most friendly user communities: Pride and Site Security.

The prominent place to begin is pride. With its current status as the Web’s premier virtual pet site, Neopets has become so caught up in its success that it has forgotten how to deliver that most paramount of services: Customer Service. Users are continually finding themselves the owners of frozen accounts after having done nothing wrong. They receive the standard form letter when they attempt to log in, and when they try to contact the company, they are treated in a way that is frighteningly similar to how the IRS deals with the American taxpayer. It seems, these days that Neopets believes itself to be above explaining its actions to the users that it casts aside. How many innocent users does the company believe that it can treat in this manner before the flocks that have found their way to the site begin to migrate, en masse, to a friendlier locale?

Usernames play a big part in this. Hundreds of users per week find themselves frozen by TNT (The Neopets Team), many with accounts that are well more than two years old, for unacceptable usernames that were allowed to slip through the system filters, if there are genuinely filters in place at all. These users have been the most faithful, abiding by the rules of the site, providing the clicks that maintain the flow of advertising dollars, yet for their longevity, they are not even given a chance to rectify the problem by changing their username and being allowed to login once more. They are given a cold farewell to their account and told that they are welcome to start anew. At first look, this does not seem to be so bad, until you consider the collectible avatars and trophies that are given out in the plots and promotions, then retired and never offered again. Then some users had pets that were given drastic and unattractive makeovers after the layout change and allowed to choose which artwork they liked better. Should they try to recover the same species of pet and paint it as the former pet was, they are treated to the artwork that has been so highly criticized, with no option to get the old look back for their pet.

The customer service failings do not end here, however. There is a total lack of investigative willpower among the staff on Neopets that is just sickening. Accusations are thrown about on the site all the time, and if a person makes those accusations of a significantly young age, they are accepted without question, and no attempt to investigate the problem is created. The accused is frozen and told to start again. When stringent rules violators of the site are found, they are often left untouched unless they break one of the two cardinal rules of Neopets. Those cardinal rules are No item duping, and no hacking accounts. I believe that the only reason these offenses are taken seriously at all is that they reveal the actual severity of the second problem that plagues Neopets even today… Site Security.

Site security is a massive issue with Neopets. Cookie grabbers abound, and it is not uncommon for the unwary user to click on a link they are led to by a seemingly friendly user, only to wake up the next day and login to find their entire inventory, bank account, and gallery empty. What’s worse is that they are then told that Items and Neopoints cannot be returned. After having worked hard to earn millions of Neopoints and rare items, they are told that they must start over. Whatever happened to server logs? Would it indeed be that difficult for staff to look at what was moved and put it back? Or is the reluctance to return these items suggestive of a bigger problem that TNT does not want to be brought into the light? Could it be that this problem is so widespread on Neopets that if they were to start returning things to victims of hacked accounts that they would need to hire a team of administrators just for that purpose? You be the judge.

I cannot, however, criticize Neopets for disallowing item duplication, as this obviously would destabilize the site’s economy and deflate the value of the precious and rare items that are subject to this cheat. What I do fault them for; however, is their handling of the matter. Often, in the early onset of a duplication wave, unsuspecting users are snookered into accepting what they believe to be a legitimate item, only to have their account frozen for cheating, and then given the cold silence that users have become so accustomed to when they try to dispute the claim against them.

I have to give credit where it is due. Neopets is a brilliant idea and has spurred a plethora of smaller pet sites that aspire to the greatness that Neopets has achieved. As the old saying goes, “Pride goeth before the fall,” so too will Neopets be toppled one day by the ideas they helped to inspire in petite fans everywhere.

Thank you all for listening to my rant.

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