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April 25, 2012 / jwaxo

Neopets (Supply and Demand)

I’ve been putting this post off because I couldn’t find a screenshot of Neopets from 2000… but I realized that so little has changed nobody would notice, in any case.

I know that browser-based social games are one of the biggest venues of video games in this day and age, but, as I am constantly forced to remind you, it wasn’t always so. In fact, back in the age of dial-up, like big downloads, it was nearly an impossibility. Couple that with a base fear of internet predators lurking in chatrooms and something called IRC, and you had an internet that was not receptive to something like that at all.

Now, I don’t think that Neopets was the original idea for such a site. It was created by a duo of an advertiser and a marketer, both attempting to create the highest number of click-throughs, supposedly assuming only college kids would be interested in collecting and raising a bunch of cartoony, colorful animals.

Tell me when that made sense. Because for me, the second I heard about it, I wanted in on this game.

By 2000 the site was receiving over 600,000 visitors daily. All so users could interact in a very basic way, playing silly games and owning a few virtual pets. It was at this time that my middle school exploded in news of the game. I, fresh with creating my first email address, plopped down at a school computer, removed Bonzi Buddy, and made an account.

There may have been more steps in there.

It was really a simple game, and having not played it in over a decade, I’m betting it probably hasn’t changed much: you could own several fictional varieties of animals, purchase clothes and paints to customize them, feed them various foods to keep them happy, and play games to try to win more items. By the time Neopets faded from my life there was a rudimentary battle system, about four dozen species, and even houses you could arrange furniture and buy more rooms in. All of it ultimately pointless, of course.

But boy did we play it.

It was a huge site, riddled with ads and fancy graphics, and almost none of us had cable or DSL, so school was the best place to play such a game. During lazy classes, sometimes after school, and definitely every lunch, you could find a select group of kids in the normally-empty computer lab, collecting omelets and playing a wetter version of Hot Potato and collecting interest and browsing the markets–all in the virtual world.

And the markets. That was where the true lesson lurked, waiting for all of us.

One of the most interesting parts of the game, at least for me, was the user-created storefronts. Every user got a store that they could place unwanted items in, price them manually, and generate extra income for themselves. It was my first experience with such a living, breathing thing, and it was intense and exciting.

All of this can be yours, if you have the patience.

Also I’m horrible at crowd scenes. This should look busier.

The main items that we bartered for are called codestones. Codestones are rare items, mostly occurring as random rewards for games or found while wandering the site, that could be used to train your Neopets up in skills and levels. They were so rare that they were probably the most expensive items for sale in the markets, and if you managed to find one that you didn’t want or need, you would soon be rolling in a few thousand extra Neopoints.

It was here that I found I had at least some basic skills at producing income, merely by playing the market.

Like all organic economic systems, prices in Neopets fluctuated wildly. One week a low-level codestone might be worth 2000 Neopoints, the next week it might be 7000. I watched these prices like a hawk, checking throughout the day to see if they were rising and falling. And, like a good stock broker, I would do my best to have a lot of extra spending money during low points, to snatch up the stones. Then I would hold on to them, or just place them in my storefront at an unreasonably high price that, in a few days or weeks, would be the cheapest prices on the site.

I didn’t become a famous trader. I wasn’t the kid that the others in the Neoclub came to for stones. I wasn’t as ridiculously awesome at it as my friend. But there was rarely a time when one of them wanted a specific stone that I wasn’t able to get it.

Stupid thing was, having higher levels was utterly pointless. Might as well just throw them away.

Geeze, this was supposed to be a well. Where are my drawing skills going? Seriously. It was, like, four years later that it had a purpose.

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