Neopia’s Market Crash: What Neopets Can Teach Us About Economics

neopets

There are only two things in this world that never die — love and your Neopets (go check. I’ll wait).

Neopets was an extremely popular web-based game that allowed players to choose virtual pets, collect items, and explore the unique and interesting world of Neopia. The Neopets universe was so incredibly vast and diverse with games, shops, museums, and live events that excited a lot of investors — for a time, it was Wall Street’s darling, proving time and time again that it was the site to advertise on in order to reach young children and teenagers. The website was launched by Adam Powell and Donna Williams in late 1999 and in June 2005, Viacom bought Neopets Inc. for $160 million USD. Not bad for a free-to-play game from the ‘90s!

neopets
via Twitter / SamMaggs

The point of the game was to play mini-games in order to win Neopoints, the site’s currency. Neopoints could also be earned in other ways, such as betting on events, random encounters, and through selling things in the user’s shop. These Neopoints could then be used to buy virtual goods, such as food or accessories for the Neopets to use, or they could be tucked away in the bank to save for a rainy day.

Some shop-savvy users would use these Neopoints to peruse the many shops, both officially generated by the developers and gamers alike, in order to buy items on the cheap and mark them up in their own shops to make a quick buck. There was even a feature called the “Shop Wizard” that allowed users to see the prices of the item in question so they may set it for a competitively attractive price.

neopets shop
via YouTube / JD Gaming

On certain set dates, the Neopian shops would cut their prices in half, making these days prime shopping times. Stellar sellers would flock to the shops and grab up items that they could later resell for a profit. The items were desired, and the Neopoints were rolling in. For a while, life seemed to be pretty good in Neopia.

For example, paintbrushes (items that would paint your Neopet a different skin), which could range from 5,000 to 75,000 Neopoints, would be cut drastically in price on these special sales days. Ideally, it was meant to allow less fortunate users to enjoy some of the same perks that the more affluent Neopians enjoyed; in reality, what ended up happening is that the good deals went to a speedy few that would refresh their pages quickly and repeatedly in order to load the items before anyone else.

neopets
via Twitter / dilfosaur

Eventually, a small subset of users had amassed a large amount of wealth and completely distanced themselves from the middle-class masses. These gamers would keep selling the rare items for a pretty profit, and since the site was largely unmoderated, they were allowed to continue doing this without any consequences.

What ended up happening was runaway inflation that put newer users at a disadvantage — the users that had been around awhile already had the items and pet skins that they desired, but the newer users could, in no easy way, accumulate the same level of wealth that the established users had.

Soon, earning Neopoints became less and less fun; users were no longer playing the games (unless they had a high payout) and instead were focusing on auctions, stocks, and selling items. This continued to drive inflation higher and higher until it eventually became so out of control that the game was nearly unplayable.

neopets
via Twitter / dilfosaur

One popular Neopets blog commented on the matter, stating that the site became “a horrifying and disturbing look into the faults of late capitalism and the unfettered exploitation inevitable in unregulated economic systems,” that “poverty in Neopia nowadays translates to earning something around 33,000 Neopoints,” and that “wealth disparity is huge with no regulatory system helping out the lowest tier.”

“If you earn 16k a day (about average if you’re casual), it would take you 59 years to save up for a dark faerie wand,” the post also reads (the item was never designed to cost this much).

Eventually, the Neopets team came in and cleaned house in an attempt to salvage their broken economy, but the damage had been done — many users left the site, a shell of the formerly delightful time-waster it had once been.

So what can we learn from this?

Regulations that have been put in place to safeguard against inflation are definitely there for a reason — and they are appreciated by the everyman. Without these safeguards, inflation would be even messier and we would certainly have a broken economy…well, more broken than it currently is. The middle class wouldn’t exist, and anyone not in the upper class would struggle for basic necessities. So, even though the state of the US economy is an absolute tornado at the moment, it’s better than Neopia ever was.

neopets
via Twitter / ohitsmaura

For many millenials, Neopets was their first stint into economics. This site ended up being more than just a place to gather and play video games — it became a learning experience that, only later in life, would these non-adults realize they learned. And they said video games were a waste of time!

Now, go feed your Neopets.

They’ve been waiting.

Forever.

Also be sure to check out our hit game, “TerraGenesis“! Available now for iOS and Android!

Featured Image via YouTube / Duckarooni

(un)Finshed: How Broken Mechanics Made Good Games Great

Civ Gandhi

In the age of digital downloads and DLC, developers now have the option to fix broken games after their release. Glitches are stitched, levels are added, and portions of the game that give unfair advantages are removed. These fixes are sometimes minor, such as nerfing a character, but are other times absolutely critical, like addressing an issue that could be game-breaking.

So why would anyone think a broken mechanic could enhance gameplay when they’re often patched ASAP?

Well, sometimes it actually does add value and has even ensured the longevity of those lucky few properties. Here are some of the more notable ones:

“Silent Hill” – Fogging

Oh boy, did “Silent Hill” stretch the absolute graphic limitations of the PSX or what? Released in 1999, this Konami classic gave everyone the heebie jeebies something fierce. Murderous creatures, nurses who don’t know they’re dead, and your stupid-ass kid running away into the eerie fog really set the scene for this title.

Silent Hill
“Okay fine, run away. I can always make another kid.” / via Fanpop

Interestingly, it’s the iconic fog that’s the broken mechanic. Called “fogging”, the technique was cleverly introduced because processing power on the earlier consoles wasn’t quite strong enough to render items too far in the distance. Instead of rendering items that weren’t immediately within sight and overloading the system, the developers ingeniously utilized clipped polygons and fog to set the town in haze that only lifted with the character as he walked. It’s been employed in a number of games, including “Goldeneye 007 and “Spider-Man, but none of them truly incorporated the technique into a meaningful way. Since the game was meant to be frightening, removing a player’s ability to see into the distance where potential enemies could be lurking literally added that layer of fear and gave the city of “Silent Hill” a believable curse.

In contrast, take a look at “Superman 64” – the developers did the same thing here, but told gamers that the green fog was a “Kryptonite haze”.

Superman 64
“Kryptonite haze” is a really odd way to spell “not gonna finish rendering this game lmao.” | via YouTube / Cinemassacre

Unlike “Silent Hill”, which made the fog not only part of the storyline but actual fun (if you like ’90s jumpscares), “Superman 64” just…sucked. The fog added no value whatsoever and was one of the many reasons why this game was undeniably terrible.

The “Silent Hill” fog was considered such an integral part of the game’s universe that, even though later additions on more advanced consoles could handle distance rendering, the developers still added fog for that anxiety-inducing tactic we’ve all come to know and love.

Silent Hill Heather
“San Francisco sure is nice this time of year!” | via YouTube / TrashTV2012

“Grand Theft Auto” – “I Think It Was A Bug”

If you’ve been around video games for the past couple of decades, you’ve heard about stealy wheely automobiley, AKA “Grand Theft Auto”. The beloved franchise that is the criminal underground of America as envisioned by the British company named DMA Design started off with pretty much the most polar opposite game possible called “Race’n’Chase”. There’s some robbery aspect to it, but it was mostly cops pulling you over for…something???

race n chase
No, stop. The excitement is too much to handle. I’m so entertained rn. | via Flickr / mikedaily

According to Gary Penn, who worked on the game, “Race’n’Chase” was somewhat problematic in that it was terrible. They soon found something that made the title fun, however:

“…One day, I think it was a bug, the police suddenly became mental and aggressive. It was because they were trying to drive through you. Their route finding was screwed I think and that was an awesome moment because suddenly the real drama where, ‘Oh my God, the police are psycho — they’re trying to ram me off the road.’

That was awesome, so that stayed in. It was tweaked a little bit, but that stayed in because that was great fun. Suddenly the game got more dramatic and it’s no longer boring — the police trying to pull you over. They’re after you, they’re trying to ram you off the fucking road. Everybody suddenly went, ‘Hey this is actually pretty cool. There’s something in this, this is working.’ It was less about the mission stuff, which we always thought was another mess, and more about just general play — just being able to piss around.”

GTA V Police
“Tail light out? Not on my watch.” | via YouTube / Typical Gamer

The game was completely overhauled with the glitch becoming an integral part of the storyline and gameplay. The result? “Grand Theft Auto, released in 1997. It was still kind of terrible, but it lead to terribly fun games like “GTA: San Andreas and “GTA V so we’ll let it slide.

“Sid Meier’s Civilization” – Simple Coding Oversight

I’m really going back far for this one, but I do so out of immense love because this was one of the first video games I ever played. I was only two or three and could barely read, but I loved the opening scene, animation, and building my palace. Also, I got a rush whenever I invented something. Ahh, memories!

But I digress…

“Sid Meier’s Civilization” didn’t actually have much wrong with it; on the contrary, it was considered revolutionary and has even topped a few “best game ever” lists. The notion that you could build up a civilization and play as a new nation each time, conquering your neighbors and literally re-writing history with each gameplay was certainly an entertaining one. What could have possibly been in error here?

Well, despite their best efforts, they made Mahatma Gandhi go apeshit from time to time.

Mahatma Gandhi
“I’m gonna fucking nuke your shitstain of a country and atomize everyone you love.” – Mahatma Gandhi, probably. | via Pixabay

In case you were unaware, Gandhi was a devout pacifist who only wished to spread peace and love throughout the world. He was unfortunately assassinated in 1948, and “Sid Meier’s Civilization” developers wanted to honor his memory by incorporating him into their game as the leader of the Indians. They set his aggression level to the absolute lowest setting, “1”, and let Good Gandhi loose into the PC world.

One problem – when a player adopted democracy, the code was told to roll back all the leaders’ aggression levels by two points. Instead of Gandhi’s aggression level dropping from “1” to “-1”, it went to the other end of the code and nearly maxed out at “255”, making him the most aggressive, trigger-happy, nuke-flinging pacifist on Earth.

Civilization Gandhi
Well, that escalated quickly… | via YouTube / The Salt Factory

Confused? Think of it this way: the aggression levels can be likened to numbers on a clock. The numbers loop from 1 – 12 and then, when 12’s hour is up, it goes back to 1 again, right? But when your clock says “1” and you want to set it back an hour for the ridiculous holiday that is daylight savings, what happens? The time doesn’t go to “0”; instead, it’s now “12”. The same thing applies here – instead of going to “-1” and becoming the ultra pacifist, Gandhi’s aggression looped to almost the highest setting possible and set his aggression to the extreme.

Later games would have the capacity to rectify this issue, but the developers left it in as a humorous, memorable tribute to their oversight, which is pretty sweet considering it’s probably the only consistent thing in the entire franchise. One game may place Rome and Japan as neighbors and another game will find you building the pyramids in 1997, but Gandhi will always explode your ass if you decide to adopt democracy. Classic.

Civilization 1
“Ah yes, the Dutch-Babylonian Space Race of 1941. Scintillating.” | via YouTube / The Salt Factory

Do you know of any other broken mechanics that have made their way into gaming standard practices? Let us know!

Also be sure to check out our hit game, “TerraGenesis“! Available now for iOS and Android!

Feature Image via Twitter / VRominov