It is a shared Millennial experience: the Y2K crisis is still a fresh memory, a hulking beige computer takes its sweet time connecting to the world wide web, and everyone under the age of 12 finds themselves back on Neopets.com.
Neopets, which still lives on today, was a total phenom of the early internet era. Combining virtual pets with games, discussion boards, and a host of original stories to be read, Neopets was a huge part of the online landscape of the aughts. And while still fondly remembered for its old-fashioned Flash games and as a first foray into social networking for many, one of its lasting impressions on my younger self was the introduction it served to finance, economics and all things money.
The backbone of the Neopets economy is simple: you play games to earn neopoints that you use to purchase goods and services.
Easy enough to grasp, easy enough to exploit.
When pressing arrow keys became a bore, the Neopets stock market is where the braver kids went to cut their teeth in the neopoints big league. Players can buy and sell shares from 43 different companies, each with a cutesy name and accompanying icon. I myself had a soft spot for the Confederation of Fish Lovers. In the early years, the stock market was influenced by how well certain Neopian businesses were doing, however the whole thing has now been defanged after a few particular players banded together to buy out entire shops to inflate the value of their stocks.
With players now practically guaranteed a profit after a certain length of time, the endeavour is still a testament to the dizzying highs and devastating lows of our own IRL stock markets.
I didn’t get my first EFTPOS card until 2008, but I already knew what compound interest was by age 11 thanks to Neopets. The National Neopian Bank offers players a safe place to keep their money, as well as the chance to passively increase their wealth through collecting interest.
A no doubt conflicting proposition for children, not known for their impulse control or foresight. However I clicked onto the sweet rewards of patience rather quickly; why withdraw a measly couple of neopoints each day when I could wait and have 20 by the end of the week?
Although a simple system by nature, it still mirrored the complexities of a normal banking experience. You could use the proffered interest calculator to figure out your daily interest amount, you could choose the type of bank account best suited to your needs, and there was even a maximum amount of withdrawals you could make in a day. Truly, one of the first instances of online banking.
Many people would balk at the idea of owning a business, but any Neopets veteran worth their salt would have opened a shop as soon as possible. Players only need a meager 250 neopoints before accessing the option to become the proud owner of their own storefront.
Any item in your inventory could be transferred to your shop to be priced as you pleased and sold, which meant 100% profit on any free items that come your way. Nobody will pay you for the omelette that’s publicly available on a daily basis, but they will for sure fight over the rare Royal Petpet Paintbrush you won in a prize draw 3 years ago. While certainly another fun aspect of the site, it was a simple way of introducing good retail acumen such as supply and demand, stocktaking, and inflation.
As someone who actively participates in the economy now, it’s fun to look back on how much of my grown-up responsibilities were mirrored pretty flawlessly in the gameplay of a website that was barely strung together with HTML. Neopets offered more than just the opportunity to take care of virtual pets, and although the site today is bogged down with an alarming amount of advertising, it still holds a warm place in my memory.
It’s really cool that kids (and adults alike) can find money lessons in unexpected places, and the opportunities for improving your financial literacy online is easier now than ever. So don’t mind me while I go and unearth my old login details, I’m about to cash in 20 years’ worth of compound interest at the Neopian Bank.
Chloe is PocketSmith’s Content Marketing Specialist, and she loves that she gets to combine her love of telling stories and technology. In the office, she’s drafting a pun-filled post or debating emojis. Outside of the office, she’s collecting comic books, listening to music and suffering through Bulgarian split squats at the gym.