February 26, 2002 4:00 AM PST

Who let the NeoPets out?

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They're irresistibly cute and, perhaps most importantly, housebroken. But the harbingers of the latest pet craze are anything but low-maintenance.

Meet the NeoPet, an addictive Web phenomenon spreading among children from Atlanta to Argentina. A cross between "The Sims," "Dungeons and Dragons" and that junior high exercise where students try to cart around eggs for a week without breaking them, NeoPets require frequent attention from their owners, who must feed the critters, educate them, and keep them out of harm's way.

Raising a NeoPet is a popular project. The 2-year-old, free site, originally created by British college students, has climbed to near the top of game site rankings in recent months--with people spending more time on the site than at major services such as America Online.

Because the company hasn't thrown a lot of money into advertising, visitors have learned about NeoPets mostly through word of mouth. What's more, executives at the Glendale, Calif.-based, privately held company say revenue is rising, a rare occurrence in an era when content is considered a dirty word.

"It's one of the most usage-intensive sites on the Web," Jupiter Media Metrix analyst Stacey Herron said. "People spend amazing, insane amounts of time on this site."

Virtual worlds have long been a hit with consumers, tracing their lineage back to such 1980s products as Activision's "Little Computer People" program for the Commodore 64. Since then, advances in computing power, artificial intelligence and the emergence of the Internet have turned a cottage industry into one of the hottest segments of the New Economy, led by online role-playing games such as Sony's "Everquest."

The appeal of such games has long spilled beyond the stereotypical gamer audience of pimple-faced, power-tripping computer geeks.

Virtual pets hit the big league in 1996, when Japanese toy maker Bandai released its Tamagotchi key chain. The toy was a huge hit with the 8-year-old crowd, which signed up by the millions to play parent to the demanding, beeping bots.

Since then, virtual pets have evolved into a bewildering menagerie of species that live out unremarkable digital lives on complex gadgets, such as Sony's Aibo robot dog, and in free PC downloads aimed at adults, such as Happy Hamster. In one of the more ambitious projects, a virtual fish network known as Daliworld aims to re-create the world's oceans on thousands of interconnected PCs.

Spreading the word
Neopets In this crowded field, NeoPets stands out as a commercial venture that has grown primarily by the recommendations of its users.

The site's prime target is Generation Y, or those under 20, a notoriously fickle bunch. Forty percent of the site's visitors are under 12, and 40 percent are between the ages of 13 and 17. The site is divided by age group and is constantly monitored by strict filtering software and real people.

Although those under 20 shell out only a small fraction of the money spent online, they make up a highly desirable demographic for advertisers because they're still developing loyalty to certain brands.

Plus, teens are likely to use the Web to gather information before they shop. According to a study by market research firm Datamonitor, 58 percent of online youths browsed for product information online before deciding to buy.

NeoPets said it has attracted more than 26 million pet owners so far and registers more than 50,000 new users each day.

Jupiter Media Metrix ranked NeoPets 15th among game sites in December, with 2.6 million unique visitors. The site placed substantially higher when judged by the amount of time those visitors spent there, clocking a total of 650 million user minutes for the month. That puts it third behind EA Online, publisher of the popular "Ultima Online" role-playing game, and MSN Gaming Zone. Yahoo Games ranked fourth, while America Online's game sites came in seventh.

For revenue, NeoPets relies on immersed advertising--or, as CEO Doug Dohring describes it, "sort of an advanced form of product placement." For example, owners can feed their pets brand-name food or watch a movie in the Spy Kids Theater. The object of one game was to prevent a beast's teeth from falling out by brushing with a new Crest toothbrush.

Dohring wouldn't reveal revenue but said estimates of $6 million for 2000 and between $12 million and $15 million for 2001 aren't too far off.

Still, NeoPets has drawn fire from none other than Ralph Nader, whose consumer group worries that children may be unable to discern between ads and noncommercial content. Dohring brushes aside such fears, saying NeoPets visitors would otherwise be watching television.

"We're pulling people more from television than from outdoor play," said Dohring, an automotive marketing executive who bought the site from its creators. "Interacting with computers and learning something about e-commerce or HTML...we think is a better utilization of time than sitting in front of TV."

A whole new world
To embark on a journey of NeoPet ownership, site visitors customize a critter by choosing among more than 40 creatures--ranging from the Kiko, a doe-eyed, M&M-shaped creature that needs to live near water, to the Buzz, a fast-moving insect with keen eyesight and aerobatic skills. People choose the creature's color, strength and even what it likes to do, which can vary from hunting for treasure to bullying others.

More than an annoying virtual animal that merely yaps at its owner, a NeoPet grows smarter when its keeper buys it a book or shrinks to a weak and withered state if it doesn't get enough food.

Indeed, the complexity of the NeoPets site is hard to fathom without a visit.

NeoPets requires owners to immerse themselves in the constantly changing land of the Neopia, a fantasy land where they can run a shop, enter contests, or play games and battle others to win points to feed their pet. Owners can choose to be greedy, friendly or boorish. The most altruistic of the bunch can donate points to a soup kitchen for needy NeoPets or adopt NeoPets that have been "carelessly abandoned." Those with a bone to pick can spar at the BattleDome. Those with a creative flair can enter poetry contests or send items to the site's newspaper, which garners 3,000 submissions per week.

Fifty-seven percent of the site's members are female.

Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project and a tracker of Web trends, said NeoPets is a natural fit for girls, who seek community and communication on the Web and are by far the most avid users of instant messaging.

"It makes sense for young girls because of the care-giving and tending," he said.

The site has added bloodless sparring in an attempt to attract more boys.

Amy, a proud owner of Pu_Yi the Fire Pteri, said she visits the site every day to train her pet, play games and chat with other pet owners.

"It's the best virtual pet site I've seen so far," she said.

An Atlanta junior high school student who goes by the name Colliedragon on the site said she spends about three hours a day looking after her three NeoPets. Colliedragon visits the site before and after school and even tends to her pets during breaks between classes by logging on from her school's computer lab.

"I think everyone should have a NeoPet," said Colliedragon, who signed her e-mail to CNET News.com "a happy Neopian."

Just the beginning
NeoPets' Dohring sees more in his future than a virtual pet shop. He said he's hoping to build a children's media empire--including an eventual foray into film and television--starting with the Web. If he succeeds, it would reverse current trends among traditional media companies, which usually develop Internet properties based on existing movie and TV characters.

Next month, the company will move offline via a deal with children's clothing store Limited Too, which will sell toys, jewelry and stickers based on NeoPets. NeoPets also has a deal with Viacom to license interactive games and publications based on the creatures. Dohring said he plans to constantly update interactive features, including introducing translation software so children around the globe can correspond with each other.

"I saw a media company emerging out of this, not just a Web site," Dohring said. "That's where we're heading."

Still, castles built on the fickle attention of children can quickly collapse in fairy dust.

Colliedragon, who's been a NeoPet owner for six months, said she's drawn to the site because it constantly changes and provides her with an escape. However, she'll pick her own live collie over her Aisha, Chia and Faerie Gelert any day of the week.

"NeoPets can talk and are more humanlike than real pets, but NeoPets can't love you," she said.

48 comments

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Hi all
Yeesh , I Love neopets , so what ??? You meet new people , play games , learn that things have too be taken care of and it has none of the hinderances of real life , GREAT !!!!
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Something for nothing
The problem is this, everyone is interested in getting everything for nothing and when they don't, they get angry. Neopets is what it is, a free internet pass-time. That is all. I am a Neopets pet owner, and so is my daughter, my mother, my niece, my neighbor's kids and most of my Girl Scout troop. Accounts don't get frozen for no reason, and saying so is like saying "my parents grounded me for no reason at all." Accounts that have been frozen were frozen for a reason, as logic would suggest. Some one mentioned that our children won't be able to now the diffrence with advertisments mixed in with page content ~ it is not the businesses job to create a better understanding of how things should work and how they actually work in the world. We as parents took on that responsibility and to place responsibility for that elsewhere, in itself, is irresponsible and confusing. Free is free, and you get what you pay for. The real lesson is that maybe you should teach your children to follow the rules and be happy with the here and now, learn to adapt and be happy, take things at face value, and be honest.
Posted by lovemygeckos (1 comment )
Link Flag
neopets
I love neopets also. I mean its a place to hang out with ur friends. more then 75% of my friends play the game. even though some dont like to admit it. I can get away from the physical world and go into cyberspace with my favorite pet and such. I am 15 and have been playing for about a year and a half. I spend 2 hours on it a day, and somtimes at my highschool i wont go to lunch and log-in there. It's addicting..lol but hey its a good addicting thing. ;)
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Neopets problems
My daughter is on neopets all the time and now her logon to our computer is virtually shut down. I have scanned for spyware and viruses but we are still having problems. When I logon separately (same computer) I don't have the problem. Anyone have any ideas or suggestions as to what's going on and how to fix it?
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
sry man
sry man but it looks like ur comp is just screwed my comp did the same but doin a defrag and disk cleanup fixed it.
Posted by dipndots15_boy (2 comments )
Link Flag
fix it
try adware scan
Posted by mrkoolnerd (2 comments )
Link Flag
Neopets problems
My daughter is on neopets all the time and now her logon to our computer is virtually shut down. I have scanned for spyware and viruses but we are still having problems. When I logon separately (same computer) I don't have the problem. Anyone have any ideas or suggestions as to what's going on and how to fix it?
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Viruses/Spyware
You need to run multiple spyware detectors. There's a site called panda that will do one online for free. Also try lavasoft's AdAware and Spybot S&D. Run them under your daughter's account. It's likely she's downloaded some "free" program that's causing problems.
Posted by (3 comments )
Link Flag
Beware of Neopets!
Neopets randomly freezes childrens accounts and dismisses you. Don't have your children put time and work into this page as they will devistate your child. They have gotten too big and can not handle the demand, move on to other pages and boycott them and their merchandise!
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Devistate your children?
I sort of get where you're coming from, but maybe encourage your kids to put their efforts into a free blog or something like that (if they must be online) instead of investing their time in this vacuous pursuit. You might want to read my other post for perspective.
Posted by (3 comments )
Link Flag
i don't think so
I'd just like to clear up some facts here. Neopets does not 'randomly' freeze accounts, only the ones of users that have broken rules, such as by posting unsuitable material.
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Neopets Rocks
I don't know what y'all are talkin' 'bout, neopets is an
awesome site. Y'all complain 'bout all your kids gettin'
addicted to gamblin' and gettin' lazy an' all that. I been
playin' Neopets for 2 1/2 years, an' ain't addicted or
nothin'. Ain't our fault if your kids CHOOSE to watch
them ads and play the gamblin' games an' all that. Y'all
got no right talkin' 'bout neopets if you ain't been on the
site.
Posted by (6 comments )
Link Flag
frozen accounts
talk about wrong my account was frozen after I got scammed and reported it..someone somehow made a fake log in page which i went and entered my pass word into when i though i had gotten booted (which had happend before) Someone tried to steal all my stuff but i caught it in time...but after i reported it MY account was frozen without an explanation...i have even written numerous time to request and explanation and have received none. Since then i have spoken to 3 different people that had the same problem they where not the ones cheating but they lost there account over it and have yet heard a word from the powers that be...SO BEWARE!! Don't let your kids be disappointed like i was.
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Beware? It's the child's fault, m'dear
If a child's account is frozen, it is because they broke one of the Neopets.com rules. I wouldn't go posting false information, hun, because the only way to have accounts frozen are by breaking rules ;) If your child had their account frozen, don't go assuming they did nothing wrong.
Posted by somethingoranother (1 comment )
Link Flag
Virginia Gaylord,you have been lied to.
you child (or who ever told you neopets randomly freezes accounts)has lied to you to avoid getting in trouble because neopets only freezes acounts for bracking the rules ,for example,
swearing ,typeing sexual content,useing neopets as a dateing service ,harassing other members ,useing transfer-a-pet(an illegal program),scaming ,hacking into other accounts,and typeing religous content. So please , don't boycott neopets its a great site . you're child probably got frozen for one of the reasons above and told you it was random to escape getting punished and to get revenge on neopets.
Posted by catlover745 (1 comment )
Link Flag
Beware of Neopets!
I had an account on there for two years I did enjoy my time on there,I had a great account with 3 great pets plenty of neopoints in the bank.

I played by the rules on there helped users where I could.I am an adult not a child I went on there to escape the stresses of real life.In November last year my account was frozen for trying to (scam users)Neopets words not mine now why on earth would an adult try to steal Pixels on a Virtual Site.Neopets is not as SAFE as they make it out to be as users can put COOKIE GRABBING PROGRAMS on their lookups/shops/galleries a lot of users either lost or got their accounts FROZEN because of these Programs.

I have sent emails to their so called Support Team about my account telling them that somewhere on the site my info was grabbed have they replied NO they are a very IGNORANT LOT.Users have even been able to put up Programs on there that can duplicate neopet items that they either sell/trade or Donate to what is call the money tree,If another user buys/trades for these items in good faith they get their account frozen.
Posted by starrzz (2 comments )
Link Flag
Neopets isn't free...
The article pointed out some things, like building brand loyalty, creating a media empire, etc, but I think they failed to drive home the real thrust of the Neopets site- to sell to your children. Your pet gets sick (huh, how would that happen?) and you need to get points to get medicine for it. You can get points by watching commercials, playing games that reinforce brands, and FILLING OUT SURVEYS. Do we want our kids (or ourselves) to be "addicted" to feeding information to corporations for a virtual biscuit to feed to our virtual pet? Come on- a few hours before school, during school breaks, and a few hours after school? Shouldn't that time be spent learning something? Perhaps actually interacting with real people rather than chatting in the Oreo Cookie chat client? I'm sure it's fun, but we're handing our free time and minds over for the financial gains of others- it seems a little sick to me. I know, we all watch TV and suffer through the commercials (I personally fast-forward through them) and my kids can't imagine a time when we didn't name our stadiums after companies, but do we now have to hand over several hours a day to this pointless, commercial waste of time? I long for the past where advertisements were advertisements and content was content. This mix is damaging to our children who don't know the difference and will never learn it.

Sorry for the rant. I'm personally considering blocking the site from my kids' computers and instituting manditory "non electronic" time.
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Plenty of other options
Y'all don't know what you're talkin' 'bout. I'm logged on
right now, before I found this site y'know what I was
doin'. I was writin' an article for the Neopets
Newspaper. Your kids and yourselves don't get lazy
from bein' on Neopets, they were lazy before. Not our
fault if they take the easy way out, heck, I always do
them surveys, don't mean I rush out and buy all that
junk they're advertisin'. Naw, I just do them quizzes to
get extra money. Fact o' the matter, there're plenty o'
places where you can get free food and such. There's
also plenty o' places where y'can get your pets healed
for free. Like I said y'all our choosin' t'fill out these
quizzes and buy all that junk.
Posted by (6 comments )
Link Flag
re
theres many other options on the health issue, like the healing springs. Neopets is helping my learn about responsability, like learning about how to get,save, and spend money wizely. I see that some parents do not like it becouse of the games, but i think that i am learning more from it.
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Matter of opinion
It's a matter of opinion really, isn't it? Everything has its advantages and disadvantages. But if they enjoy it, maybe letting your kids go on Neopets is better than letting them waste their time on other, less safe, more harmful sites. (And there are a lot of them around.)
Posted by (3 comments )
Link Flag
i agree
yes i agree... there is nothing wrong with neopets. I love it. I spend most of my time there. And it helps me in the real world also. from bargenning...to helping you take care of pets. I think its a great site. :) and it has lots of learning abilities that go along with it.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Your choice
Y'all don't know nothin' 'bout what your sayin', y'all
choose t' fill out them ads and play the gamblin' games.
You don't like 'em, don't go on the site then. B'sides, I
know 'bout 90,000 people that would disagree with all
y'all that don't like neopets.
Posted by (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
i like playing neopets.com but i do not understand what you just said
Posted by puppy525525 (4 comments )
Link Flag
Neopet Not so Nice Anymore.
Geeze when I sit here and look at the reveanue that they made no more then 4 years ago and I wonder why the hell they have all those ads on the site now. They are bringing in tons of money, but they have now cluttered the site with horribles ads. Of course to make even more money. Those ad lead to links that can download spyware and adware into your Computer. Weather Bug has been doing it for years, and neopets is filled with there ads. If you even have a hint of adware on your computer you will swamped with pop-ups now.

I've been a neopets member for nearly 2 and half years and have become digusted with how they are progressing. It's turned into places like bolt, geocities, and tripod. Where if you want to get rid of the ads then you going to have to "upgrade" and "pay". It's not all that cheap either. The site used to be a place where children can go, and have good clean fun. Instead they are fighting off lag from all the ads, dodging the numberous pop-up ads, and having to worry that if they click on one of the ads they are going to be downloading something on to there computer.

I know that neopets is a business and is making money. However, it really hurts me to see such a once nice place go to the "lupes" so to say. I refuse to let my sister or any of my friends go there now if they use my computer. I don't want what neopets is throwing at their members now.
Posted by Miyamai_Vou (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fact of life
Welcome to the business world, neopets. It's a fact of life. It's the exact same reason why we have commercials on television. Ever noticed how the best shows are on at around 8 PM? That's why.
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Join now!
My niece introduced me to Neopets two years ago. She played for six months (an eternity for a child), but I have continued to play almost every day.

They have a WIDE range of things to keep you and your child entertained: virtual pets, online games, contests, clubs/guilds, even web development. Best of all, it's free! Go to <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.neopets.com/refer.phtml?username=uncledaveneo" target="_newWindow">http://www.neopets.com/refer.phtml?username=uncledaveneo</a> to sign up today.
Posted by mndtempleton (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Harmless or harmful?
I've never played Neopets in my life , so correct me if I'm wrong, but it can't be that bad. True, if you go over the top (what's this about spending three hours a day on it?) it will be bad for you, but it's the same with everything else in life, isn't it?
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
i like neopets but thats my oppinon
Posted by puppy525525 (4 comments )
Link Flag
neopets is wrong
i think that it is wrong as children as young as 12 get on there when it has gambaling games like slots ,poker, blackjack and more and i don,t think that kids should be exposed to these kinds of things in there life until they are much older.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Huh?
If your child is 5, you can worry. But twelve? Twelve year olds are almost teenagers. They are mature enough to handle things like gambling. I really think you need to see a twelve year old. They arent little kids!
Posted by MitchellG (1 comment )
Link Flag
i agree with that
Posted by puppy525525 (4 comments )
Link Flag
bringing back neopets
haunter11

I've always wanted a hissi ever since my friend Tyson Buttegieg that a new neopet came out, so if you creator of neopet makers can let us have just one more chance to get what neopets we want that are limited edition or restricted so reply soon
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
My old account used to be Bellringer, but someone hacked it now I cant get on, which sucks, cause I had 500k.

So, now Im making a new account, i have Windows XP, IE 7, i have enabled cookies and everything, but i can make one, somethings wrong with the cookies, what should i do?
Posted by airteck (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
if you know how to fix this, send an email to airteck@live.ca
Posted by airteck (2 comments )
Link Flag
I understand how the adverts can be worrying, and there needs to be control over how long kids stay on.
BUT. Neopets encourages the learning of some wonderful skills for children. Through building layouts guilds and shops, on the site kids develop skills in html, CSS, photoshop and loads of similar programs. My playing neopets when it first came out taught me these programs and skills which got me my first job as a web and graphic designer for a large Australian Company.
So parents as worried as you may be! There are upsides!
Posted by rocky00753 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
i like neopets but i dont like the chatting on it my brother went on my acct and got me frozzen dew to a bad name my brother is stuipid . but the game does not mean much to me
Posted by puppy525525 (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I am an adult. I had a neopets account for four years. It was frozen for no reason. I know what the rules are; no one would tell me anything more than the same form everyone gets. My account wasn't hacked. They just didn't like how much neocash I paid my children for things from their shops. I had millions of neopoints; they did not. I played for them; then bought things at inflated prices to trade points to them. I did it the whole four years; yet they wait to freeze it until now. I seriously think they have a major problem. Facebook never gets frozen. I say go on facebook, play games for free. Forget about neopets; they break too many hearts. And I for one am not buying anymore of their garbage stuffed animals either.
Posted by kfinlon (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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