Neopets: a dystopian capitalist society
In 2016, 10-year-old kids go on Facebook and Twitter on their smartphones to find dank memes. But in 2005, the dankest shit on the World Wide Web was Neopets.
Most of us in university can remember tender elementary school memories of logging onto the computer after school to feed our furry little friends free omelettes and jelly. Or maybe what you remember most is your first exposure to HTML so that you could make the coolest NeoPage, complete with a pixel sprite and a MIDI of Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life.” Or spending until suppertime playing those fun little Neopets games and not sending your scores in until you reached 1,000 NeoPoints since you could only send in three scores a day.
Regardless of how you liked to play Neopets, it occupies an important part in many of our minds and hearts as our first online community in the pre-social media generation, and our first understanding of the virtual grind before the Bitcoin.
Back then, users spent a few hours a day earning around 10K to 20K NP before stopping, hoping that one day they’d finally be able to afford that R-99 (rare) item. But even common items are shooting up in price. Halloween Paintbrushes were 450K in 2005—something accomplishable, although strenuous, for an average user earning money through Neopets games every day. They now sell in the markets for 1.5M.
Neopets, along with all other insular virtual communities such as Gaia Online, suffer from hyperinflation in their economies. Hundreds of articles have been written on the very topic of Neopets inflation on the Neopets newsletter, The Neopian Times.
The economy on Neopets is broken to the point that most casual users of Neopets can’t afford many of the rarer items, and operating within it meaningfully is impossible when the poor on the site still earn over tens of thousands of NP a day. Neopets’ capitalist economy has the rich earning billions of NP daily from hoarding, restocking, and reselling, singlehandedly hiking the prices up for thousands of items that were once worth maybe 10 NP a decade ago.
Neopets is no longer a place for kids—it’s a capitalist wasteland reaching up to the heavens with hyperinflation. In order to buy anything of value on Neopets, playing games for a few hours can’t possibly cut it unless you keep at it for over 30 years. What used to deal with currency on the scale of a lemonade stand is now more like Wall Street, and there is no way in hell a 10-year-old is going to learn how to invest in stocks when all we had to do 10 years ago was play “Ice Cream Machine” three times a day.
The largest issue in the Neopian economy stems from the fact that NeoPoints can be generated infinitely. Millions of NP are earned through games by the Neopian proletariat on a daily basis, and none of it needs to be spent on necessities, because in Neopia, food and health is completely free. This means that only two things power the Neopian currency system: desire and greed.
While hyperinflation in a virtual economy can kill any online community, it will probably kill Neopets the fastest. The Neopets Team (TNT) has been trying to combat its inflation problem by introducing Neopian Sinks, encouraging people to dump huge amounts of their NP for rare items and to “improve” Neopets’ luck-based spinning wheels. None of them have been particularly successful in addressing the state of the economy, because none of their rewards are relatively enticing enough. And nobody wants to give away their NP.
Neopets is now at the point where new users cannot possibly break into the market no matter what they do because it simply is not possible with the top 10 per cent absorbing all of the NeoPoints. It’s ridiculous that Neopets is a site aimed at children aged 8 years to 13 years, yet requires an in-depth knowledge of economics and the stock exchange to even get anything worth a damn.
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In reality, Neopets is going to go kaput if TNT doesn’t manage to cap the inflation somehow to create a playable space once more. Like MySpace and like LimeWire, another chunk of 2000’s internet will dissolve, this time taking our childhood with it.