Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in my peer group who cares about this, but I’m going to write out a little timeline anyway because it cuts to what’s left of my childhood nostalgia.
Back in 1999, Adam Powell, a programmer and game designer, and Donna Williams, a web designer and graphic artist, started Neopets as a way to “keep university students entertained, and possibly make some cash from banner advertising.” (Source) It soon garnered more than 600,000 views per day, and those working on the site reached out to investors to help cover costs. I probably joined in 2001 when I was about 9 when they had become a serious gaming site, and had taken off a lot of the non-Neopets jokes and branding. It was, at that point, almost totally converted to a children-oriented site where swearwords were monitored and personal information couldn’t be shared, but there were still themes of dark humor (murder mystery complete with decapitation!) in some of the content put up, and some of the female characters of the site were perhaps more scantily-clad than on a regular kids’ site.
In 2004, the team developed a premium membership in place of banner ads and some virtual perks. I never personally took advantage of these because I was still school aged, but I did take advantage of the free trial once!
In 2005, Adam and Donna sold the site to Viacom for $160 million (Source), and by 2007, a lot of the site was completely redesigned. The site itself, the pets, the shops, the worlds, etc, and some of the changes were made to make customization of pets (namely clothing and backgrounds) feasible, which opened up the possibility of pay-to-play features that they launched later in the year. Neopets was promoted through Nickelodeon at that time with lots of different types of merch and gift cards and a minishow. Some people were disgusted that TNT (The Neopets Team, as they are collectively referred to as) had sold out, and along with their demographic aging on them, the site became less and less popular. Users who were still on it however were more or less accepting of the changes as the function and core of it was still the same. Myself included, though I started to use the site less frequently.
In 2014, Neopets was acquired by JumpStart (Source), and basically everyone hated that shift. Server lags, glitches, didn’t add anything new– and on March 6th, nearly all of the Neopets staff were laid-off for unknown reasons. (Source)
It doesn’t look good. I think I may have to say good bye to a huge chunk of my childhood, and it is not a nice feeling.