The Homeless Pet Epidemic in Neopia

A definitive feature of Neopets is that once a pet is created, that pet exists forever. A user can leave Neopets and come back three years later to find their kacheek eagerly awaiting their return. This furthers the bond a player can feel with their Neopet, but it also means that unwanted pets can remain in the Neopian pound for years.

pet epidemic-01

An Intrinsic Flaw in Game Design

Creating a neopet is a required step in creating an account. After creating a pet, a user can choose to adopt or create more. There are four pet slots per account, five for premium accounts. If a user decides to forfeit one pet to either adopt, trade or create another, the pet she releases goes to the pound. Users can create and pound and unlimited amount of pets.

How many homeless pets are there?

The homepage states there are over 280 million total Neopets. In Swordlilly’s Neopian Times Article, “What To Do With Abandoned Pets?”, she estimates there are 44 million neopets tied to accounts. This figure results from figures in a site-wide poll and an assumption that there are 11 million active user accounts on Neopets.

The figures of the total neopets and total owners on the Neopets home site only grow. The moderation team on Neopets suspend rule-violating accounts daily. After multiple suspensions, accounts are closed and rendered inactive. The pets on these inactive accounts remain in place. Inactive pets and user accounts are purged from the system every four years. The total number of users and pets factors active, inactive and purged.

If there are 44 million neopets actively on accounts, then there are at least 236 million neopets somewhere else in the system. Basically, there may be more Neopets than Neopets users.

Due to the total pet number being of all created instead of all active, there’s no way to know how many homeless pets exist. Those pets not affiliated with accounts or purged are in the Neopian pound.

The challenge of leaving the pound

Once a pet enters the pound, they can be theoretically located by any user and adopted for a small fee. Each pet has to compete on their own to get the attention of users browsing through the pound. Basic colored pets, common species pets and pets with undesirable names may be directly compared against more desirable pets.

The pound may or may not show a pet when a user is randomly browsing. The deciding factor on whether or not a pet will show is the pet’s name, according to The Lost and Pound. The Lost and Pound is a site that records these “stuck pets”. As they explain in their FAQ,

“There is a glitch in the way that the pound works that causes some names to never show up. Pets with these names are effectively stuck in the pound until someone searches their name either in the pound search box or in the sidebar.”

Pets like TOEDY, a female shadow Nimmo, can remain in the pound for months because their name renders them unavailable unless by search. She’s recorded on the Lost and Pound where users can see her and be aware that she’s up for adoption.

Rehoming every Ruki

The current model of pet ownership in Neopia means that there will always be pets in the pound. Different routes of alleviation could be capping the amount of new pets that can be created, implementing a pet removal system or even remodeling methods of pet ownership.

A user can create as many pets as they want. Limiting this process to only being available once, once a month, or only be unlocking with on-site currency would reduce the amount of pets in play. New users would be forced to adapt a model of play that involves adopting pets from the pound.

Other virtual pet games like Flight Rising and Lioden have systems engineered to remove unwanted pets. On Lioden, users can “chase” unwanted lions from their den. Chasing lions purges them from the system entirely. On Flight Rising, a user can “exalt” a dragon from their lair. Exalting renders a dragon inactive and gives the user a reward in currency.

Swordlilly proposed a method of pet ownership where a user can encounter pets around Neopia and by interacting them, these pets become associated with the user account. The user does not own these pets and these pets are independent agents. This method would free these pets from “sitting and crying in the Pound.”

When there are more pets than users, is it really sustainable to continue this method?

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