neopets is a fascinating little site, really. it's fairly ingenious in its methods. it tries to be, and functions quite well as, a microcosm of the entire internet. and it's entirely free. they pay for themselves by running banner ads, as they are a HIGH traffic site, and by partnership programs with companies, wherein if the player signs up for an online service, they are rewarded with items, "money", or prizes within the neopets system.

it offers chat. it offers shopping and auctions (for fake items, with fake money, of course). it offers games upon games. it offers (graphically inoffensive) combat. it offers thought puzzles. it offers newsletters. it offers virtual pets type of things (as that is its premise). and, like every branch of the 'net, it has its own community of trolls and scammers. they're even in the process of adding a fully functional RPG to the site at the moment.

it's interesting in the crowds it collects. it has a higher female audience than most areas of the 'net. the age distribution is such: children 8-12 or so who are literally playing a game. kids 13-15 or so, mostly male, are the dominant hacker faction. then college students are the next major players, starting at about 18 or so. there's another gradual jump to the self-labeled "over 21" crowd, which runs to about 27 or so. then the last group is the "over the hill" neopians (residents of neopia, the land in which this is based) who are mostly out in the work world, and often parents who first came here for their children but stayed for themselves. this oldest group is more female than male, but both exist in abundance. its player range is much wider than would be suspected.

brief anecdotal pause about the player range.
1) i found out, after months of being in the dorms, that my next door neighbor had randomly started playing neopets some time ago.
2) i was down in the dorm computer lab friday, as my printer wonked out. down in the lab was the self-proclaimed "cool" resident goth girl in the dorm, busily typing away. i assumed she was doing a paper, but as i paid more attention, quickly realized she was playing neopets herself--and glaring defiantly at anyone who dared to look at her funny.

the basic premise of the site is that you can create (or 'adopt' from the pound) anywhere from one to four pets (and they have a fairly interesting assortment of creatures). you need to take care of them, feed them, keep them happy, etc. you can also train them to fight in the battledome, but to be successful there you must train them to raise their stats first, or they will meet with little success. to buy food, weapons for the 'dome, toys for your pets, items to increase their stats, if you want as a new feature you can build a home for them, etc etc you must earn money, called Neopoints. you can do this by playing some of the games, by running a shop and selling items, or any other number of ways.

one of the nicest (or worst, depending on how bad of an addiction you are trying to break) things about the site is that just when you've started to get bored of the current offerings, they come up with something completely different that gets you hooked all over again. *shrugs* it's well worth looking at if you have way too much time on your hands, and a fairly harmless diversion at 3 am when you suffer from insomnia. (personal experience? ^_^ naaaaah.)

One thing I have noticed about nearly all the nodes and write ups about Neopets, is that no one has yet mentioned the "shop" or the "Stock Market" features.
Neopets, while based primarily on the raising of ones pets, is also about making Neopoints, or NP, as has been said. The shop feature allows the owner to sell items that has no use to the them, or so that he or she can make a nice little profit, therefore, raising the amount of neopoints they have.
I myself, have a shop and use it to generate a nice profit.
This could quite possibly be why neopets is so successful and popular. One isn't forced to play games to earn "money". You can use your skills as a buyer or seller to make profits. It definitely adds to the appeal.

The stock market feature is also a profit making venture for any owner, although quite often playing the stock market results in the loss of neopoints if one isn't constantly in the neopetss site.
Based on "real life" Stock markets, one buys a certain amount of shares (limited to 1000 per day) at a low price then sells them if they go higher.
Unfortunately, as I said, if one isn’t in the site at the right times, the particular stocks that have been bought often plummet in value, causing the loss of quite a lot of neopoints.

The Dark Side of NeoPets

When NeoPets was created in 1999 by two British university students, it was a harmless diversion meant to amuse them and their university friends. Its only purpose was, as the "about us" NeoPets webpage currently states, to "keep on adding features, improving our Web site, and making NeoPets more fun for you!"

Yeah, right. That was several years ago. And now the dark, evil reality sets in.

You see, NeoPets was purchased in the fall of 2001 by Dohring Market Research, a demographics and marketing research company (as the name suggests). DMR turned over a large portion of its staff, who had formerly been designing clever ways to sell cars, to work on ways to sell things through their newly acquired website (NeoPets). Enter "immersive advertising."

Immersive advertising is advertising woven into the fabric of something, so that it is not noticeable. Think of clever product placement. The beer label that just happens to be placed facing the camera. That sort of thing. Subtle (in most cases), but effective. So effective that most users of NeoPets (mostly the 12 to 17 year old crowd, 57% female - if other websites could get that demographic, they would die happy) do not notice the advertising. The Hollywood Records store. The Snow Dogs game (think the Cuba Gooding, Jr. movie). NeoPets sponsers include Mattel, Heinz, Nabisco, Mars, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble (Crest toothpaste). Users talk about, and see, the advertising, but don't consciously recognize that it is there. Refresher: What is it called when you see something, and talk about it, but don't consciously know it is there, affecting your choices and thought-processes? Ah yes, "subliminal." Right.

Kalle Lasn, editor-in-chief of Adbusters magazine, is worried by the fact that many of the users cannot tell the difference between the advertising and non-advertising content. Ralph Nader has the same concerns. And it doesn't get any better. Just recently, a line of plush dolls depicting the NeoPets characters (which look like a cross between Pokemon and Beanie Babies) started selling in Limited Too stores. There is a fledgling clothing line. There are plans to branch out into a movie and a television series.

And because NeoPets is a heavy time-investment site (the average user spends more than 4 & 1/2 hours a month - which includes click-and-go websurfers. Many users go there every day for over a half hour), the users are seeing this advertising a lot. And the trend is increasing. Because the game designers are making it more difficult to earn NeoPoints (their money), the user is required to spend more time playing the games and contests. And the system that governs a NeoPet's happiness is derived from having new stuff and playing with it. Once an item gets old, it is no longer effective in keeping a NeoPet happy. More time spent.

And therein lies my greatest concern. What is the lifestyle this game promotes? What is the point of NeoPets? To interact one's character with other characters? Yes, but it is vastly more than that. It is all about buying stuff. Toothbrushes. Combs. Shirts. Bottles of sand. A Super-Blasting Wand of Potence. Mars bars. Skittles. Toast. Everything can be bought. It is about making a buck to buy something with it. Neopets is a game with a definite agenda behind it, an agenda that implicitly supports an increasingly capitalist world, where everyone is a materialist.


And in this lies its most potent danger to children. They are, I have been told, very open to influence at the age of 12-17. Should NeoPets be allowed to influence more children into thinking that life is all about getting stuff, and getting newer, better, more expensive stuff? I think not.


Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to my NeoPet, ariRahel. She wants to play.


Sources:

C-Net News
The New York Times
The Contra Costa Times
www.freep.com
www.neopets.com

This write-up has been noded in full awareness of the term "irony."

The Trading Card Game!

My fiance, wonderful woman that she is, is completely crazy about Neopets. Me, being the gritty cynical bastard that I am, naturally cringed away, hissing violently, at the thought of ever stepping into the colorfully cute world of Neopia.

So when lovely AmberFe decided that she wanted to begin playing the Neopets card game, she needed a partner to play with. Naturally, since I was there, I got opted into being her opponent. So I ignored my profusely smoking skin as I picked up the deck, and in the interests of appeasing the girl I love, began to play.

As much as I hate to condone anything that's even remotely Neopets related, the card game was actually a pleasant surprise. It's really fun!

The game is based around four arenas: Strength, Agility, Magic, and Intelligence. The object of the game is to use your Neopets, who have varying statistics in each arena, to win contests in that arena. For example, a Grarrl, with a strength of 8, will dominate in the strength arena, but with an intelligence score of only 1, will be sorely lacking in the intelligence arena. The contest is determined by taking the Neopets intrinsic stat for the arena, rolling a D6, adding them together, and comparing each player's results. A roll of 6 automatically wins unless, of course, each player has rolled a 6. At that point, you roll again. One of the more strategic parts of the game is that although there are four arenas, you may only have three Neopets in play at any time.

Example of a contest:

Player A has a Scorchio, with a strength stat of 6, in the strength arena. He is challenged by Player B's Grarrl with a strength of 8. Each player rolls a D6. Player A rolls a 5. Player B rolls a 2. This gives Player A a total of 11, while player B has a total of 10. Player A wins.

If an attacking player wins a contest, they may either bank a card, or draw a card. You may bank either item or equipment cards for a range of 1 to 4 points each. Once you bank 21 points, you win the game!

There are several different types of cards besides Neopets in the game, which I will attempt to clearly explain below.

Items

Once a contest is initiated, the attacking player may opt to play an item, after which the defending player may make the same choice. Items give a bonus to one or more stats for that contest, and some items have special effects which are listed in the card text. Items are discarded after the contest is resolved. For example: Player A initiates a contest in the agility arena with his Mynci. He chooses to play a Potion of Agility, which grants a bonus of +5 to agility. A Mynci has a base agility of 8, meaning that the player rolls a D6 and adds 13 to the result.

Equipment

Equipment is like an item, in the sense that they increase certain stats and may have special effects. They are not discarded after your turn, however. In order to play an equipment card, you must tap one of your Neopets. Then you may attach the equipment card to any of your Neopets that you like. Equipment can only be removed by the choice of the player who attached it, or by special cards, such as the Broken Sword card. Petpets, while differentiated slightly, work just like equipment, and counts towards the limit of one piece of equipment per Neopet. For example, a player has a Mynci in the agility arena. He taps his Grarrl in the strength arena, ending it's action for this round, and then attaches a Wooden Blocking Shield to his Mynci, granting it a permanent bonus of +4 to it's agility stat until the equipment is removed. Equipment and item bonuses do stack.

Experienced Neopets

The Aisha Enchantress. The Werelupe Sage. The Grarrl Defender. These are a few examples of experienced Neopets, special Neopets which, frankly, rock the world out of anything except other experienced Neopets, Heroes, and Villians. Their stats are ludicrously high, many of them have special effects, and with the ability to use Equipment, Petpets, and items with them just like regular Neopets, a few of these on the board equals domination, in most cases. In order to play an experienced Neopet, you must have a Neopet on the board that matches the race of the experienced Neopet, and you replace the basic Neopet with the experienced one. The experienced Neopet keeps any equipment that the old Neopet had equipped.

Locations

Locations were added in the Battle for Meridell deck. They are generally restricted to being played in a certain arena, and add a special effect for contests in that arena. For example, the Grarrl Factory card causes anyone involved in a contest in the Agility arena to draw a card after the contest, regardless of who wins.

Something Has Happened!

Generic event cards, which cause certain effects either to oneself or the other player. For example, the Pants Devil Attacks! (don't ask) card allows you to choose a card in your opponents hand, and discard it.

Heroes

These cards are, basically, a one-time-only utter smackdown. With stats higher than even experienced Neopets (sometimes over 20), and often having special effects associated with their use and deployment, they will defeat just about anything in the deck. They may use items and equipment, and are discarded at the end of your turn.

Villians

A villian is basically used to tie up an arena and prevent any players (including yourself) from initiating contests in that arena. Once a villian is deployed, no player (including yourself) can initiate a contest in that arena until they defeat the villian in a special villian contest. With stats matching those of Heroes, and special effects associated with them as well, these cards will dominate just about anything. (Except Heroes.) Once someone wins the villian contest, the card is discarded.

Villians do not roll dice in contests, they use only their base statistic, and cannot have items played for them.

Speaking of which, my prized card is my Darkest Faerie card, one of the villians, which is actually the 3rd rarest card in the game. Not only does it have utterly sickening stats, but when it wins a contest, it KICKS THE OFFENDING NEOPET OUT OF THE ARENA! Ownage.

My thoughts

With over 200 cards in the base deck, with many, many special effects and exceptions associated with them, the strategy of building and playing a deck in this game is actually quite complex. I know that it's difficult for some people to play a game that involves cute cuddwy wittle aminals, since it brings a very disturbing parallel to Pokemon to mind, but it is actually lots of fun to play. I recommend it to anyone with a surplus of money to spend on colored cardboard!


Sources:

www.neopets.com/tcg/
Spending entirely too much money on booster packs. ::sob::

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