Image from: Neopets Homepage / Neopets.com
In 2001 Neopets outranked Google in overall attention online by eight rankings. Eight of them! And you know what? It completely makes sense to me. There was a time in my life where I craved the unconditional love (read: dependency) of a virtualized pet, and Neopets was there to satiate my 12-year-old power complex. Since then I’ve aimed my psychosis at other things (a series of pet hermit crabs and some parakeets, god rest their souls, all eight of them), but there was a time when I– and absolutely everyone else I knew in middle school–was obsessed with this community. And where are our Neopets now? Probably reclaimed by Neo-PETA, if that’s even a thing.
Inspired by the re-discovery of this hilarious 2001 ranking I decided to appease my nostalgia and start a new Neopets account (my new Neopet, a yellow Gnorbu named Anastasia Beaverhausen, is pictured above), and let me tell you something: Neopets has changed! It’s grown up! It’s gotten sophisticated! The Neopets economy has inflation, the Neopets world has its own time zone, and now you can buy your Neopet fashionable clothes with real-world money. The site is now rife with games, shops, and personalization opportunities. On the more gruesome edge of the updates, you can now officially abandon your Neopet if you’re sick of them or, if you’re feeling benevolent, you can adopt an abandoned Neopet. I did my part and adopted a red dinosaur-thing named ‘SLighty_Stoopid’ for 86 Neopoints because, honestly, his future did not look promising.
Obviously times have changed beyond the Neopets universe. In 2001 they ranked as having nearly 1% of the internet’s total attention. Google only had .54%. In 2007 Neopets had reduced to .22% and Google had increased to 2.60%, and now in present day 2012 Neopets has only about .02%. Taking a look at the overhauled site it was obvious that Neopets has grown more complex, and from an outsider the community appeared not only tight but rather confusing. There is simply a lot to do and it’s hard to decipher what’s related to what. I thought this would translate into a certain trend with their unique visitors verse the average stay of their visitors, and I was right.
According to my data from Compete PRO, UVs has been decreasing over the past year but average stay has been slowly climbing. Currently the site boasts an average stay of over 27 minutes! That’s even more time than Facebook, which has an average stay of only 18 minutes. I fed a few more related sites into my comparison and it turns out Neopets is the reigning champion of average stay, with a distant second at Gaiaonline.com, another popular avatar-based online community.
Neopets sure isn’t competing with Google, but it isn’t exactly fading into the oblivion. In fact, it appears to have cornered its niche and mustered up a small yet fastidiously enthusiastic community. This is apparent in not only their average stay metric, but also the sites in their outgoing traffic where of the top ten, three are Neopet satellite sites offering help, gaming cheats and extended communities. The same trend is reflected in the search destinations for the term ‘neopets,’ where satellite/support type sites dominate 60% the top ten.
The point here is that Neopets, though founded way back in 1999, has managed to embed itself into the lives of its users to the point that excess community enthusiasm is spilling off into satellite sites. And how have they done this? Taking a look at the site it seems obvious: the universe of Neopets is rife with opportunities to personalize and flaunt a variety of status symbols, all obtained through using a currency that is either gained through participation on the site or through the exchange of real-world cash. In this way Neopets has not only managed to digitalize a sense of community, they have also found a way to digitalize social status and hierarchical pressure to the point that digital status symbols are worth real-world currency. The key is that these status symbols—the clothes and items you can decorate your pet with—have virtually no production cost.
So, before anyone scoffs at the ever-great Neopets, let’s review a few points:
- Though not even close to outranking Google, Neopets maintains the top average stay metric in a formidable comparison to other online communities, including Facebook.
- Neopets has managed to embed its users with such a sense of social urgency that they’re willing to pay real-world currency for exclusive digital status symbols.
- The crux? The domain where users make these purchases, the NC Mall, has the highest UVs of the whole site. Whatever they’re doing, it’s working.
So, dear Internet, what say you? Will you be reclaiming your forsaken Neopets? If you can’t remember your middle school password, don’t worry! You can always adopt.
Ryan La Sala joins Compete as the Digital Marketing Co-op for Compete.com, sovereign of all things social media. Ryan is a current attendant of Northeastern University, dual-majoring in Cultural Anthropology and International Affairs (with minors in Biology and Psychology), with career interests in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and Consumer Anthropology. Aside from acquiring aspirations with big words, Ryan’s other interests include reading cheesy fiction, writing in any capacity, singing and cooking. Find Ryan on twitter @Ryality or connect with him on LinkedIn.