[Neopets] The curious case of Charity Corner 2020 and the sticky snowball : HobbyDrama

[Neopets] The curious case of Charity Corner 2020 and the sticky snowball : HobbyDrama

Background:

Neopets is a browser-based virtual pet and game site that took over the world in the late 90s and early 2000s. It’s known for its Flash games, player-controlled economy, and nostalgia value. It has been sold to many different companies over the years- Viacom in 2005 for $160 million, and most recently JumpStart in 2014 for an undisclosed sum. Each change of company saw a little more removal from the original designers and developers, and a little less care taken in maintaining the site people are familiar with.

When JumpStart acquired the site in 2014, they had to migrate it to their servers, their *smaller* servers, and the site lost a lot of functionality people enjoyed. They closed Key Quest, a virtual board game that linked IRL plushies to player figurines and gave out sought-after prizes, Habitarium, a strategy/base management idle game, and many random site features. People are still discovering features that didn’t “make it over”, pages that are broken, and avatars (images that you customize your board posts with) that are no longer obtainable because the code is gone.

This frustrated and angered many loyal players as JumpStart gave no word that the migration would result in removal of so many popular and loved site features.

The features were never restored. In 2018 they hinted that Key Quest would return- but then in 2019 they announced the effort was cancelled.

Neopets celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, and has been working on several large projects to enrich the site- a town builder app, a match-3 app, and especially a mobile-friendly HTML5 version of the site due to the approaching Flash decommission.

In parallel with those long-term goals, players expect certain recurring events on the site, like the Altador Cup, an annual “World Cup” like sports event where users join teams from each region of the Neopets planet, Neopia, and compete in flash games to determine which Land wins, and the Advent Calendar, a month-long event in December where users view a new holiday-themed animation and collect related unique items.

It’s unknown how many people are working on JumpStart Neopets versus the Viacom Neopets days, but it’s rumored to be a smaller crew. The mobile games are being developed by a separate team in Canada. The NC wearables (real-money clothes for your pet) are made in India. But the actual site features are a mystery.

The reason this is relevant is because the events on the site require months of work ahead of time, and there are questions of if JumpStart Neopets can handle it at its current size.

This becomes apparent at every new event they try to host- because the userbase is sure to be loud and clear at things they do not like. Every event has taken a major cut in quality, especially ones that are less recyclable year-to-year.

Charity Corner:

A huge part of the Neopian experience is the economy, as its entirely player-controlled. Neopoints are the currency, earned by doing many things, playing Flash games, selling items, winning contests, doing “dailies”- small one-click HTML games that award prizes etc. The Flash games have a fixed Neopoint ratio per point earned in the game, and the NPC shops have an inflation rate that changes periodically. The NPC shops that randomly stock items at set price points, and users fight to be first to buy the “rare” and expensive items first. Then, they can resell the item for a high profit.

Dailies are something every user does every day. They give out a lot of items that are “junk”- worth so little because everyone ends up with 1000 of them kicking around in their Safety Deposit Box (SDB)- a place to hold extra items safely, that they have no value in the economy.

2014: Charity Corner is an event that was first started in 2014. It is centered around clearing out all the junk in Neopia by getting users to donate 5 items of certain rarity values in exchange for another single item of that rarity. This caused a lot of turmoil in the economy, because one could donate 5 Mallard Balloons at 1,200 Neopoints each and receive a Baby Techo Bobblehead worth 7,000,000 NP! So, due to supply and demand all the “cheap” items of the highest rarities quickly ballooned (pun unintended) to huge prices as people gambled for rare returns. Overall, it was seen by most as a good event and a cool way to obtain otherwise unobtainable items. Those who had the rare items to begin with saw it in a negative light for depreciating their worth.

The event returned each year with similar rules and prize mechanics.

2018: A big change was made this year- instead of giving 5 items for 1 item back, you would now redeem items for points. These points could be used at the end of the event to cash in on “perks”- less tangible rewards that modified your user experience. TNT did not list the perks prior to the end of the event, so they were a mystery.

One perk example is “Limited Edition” which would give you the ability to change one of your existing pets into a species that is hard to obtain/expensive. “Bank Bribery” would grant you 3% higher interest on the Neopoints in your bank account. Generally, these perks were extremely sought-after as they lasted the entire year and could allow people to more easily obtain their dream goals.

2019: The perks returned- this time allowing users to see the list while still donating.

Certain items in high rarities could be guaranteed from dailies, like an item called a Sticky Snowball that could be purchased from a special, infinitely-stocked healing item shop for 25 NP each. This transaction could be done every 30 minutes.

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Because the event structure had not changed in the last few years, Neopians stockpiled these snowballs. People listed in their forum signatures how many they’d purchased- many in the THOUSANDS. Contrary to the event’s purpose of getting rid of clutter, people were hoarding junk on purpose, either to give in the event for perks, or to sell during the event when the prices inflated for a tidy profit.

The Drama:

Ok guys, all caught up? Here’s the drama now. It’s 2020, and TNT has just unveiled the new Charity Corner for 2020 yesterday night. The theme for this year ties in to their new town-building app, and brings the world its set in into the broader Neopets game. And surprise! They took away the perks!

This year is still using a point system, but instead of redeeming for perks, points can be redeemed for prizes unique to the event. This ranges from a petpet (a pet… for your pet), to foods, to a stamp (these limited time event stamps are highly sought after due to the stamp-collecting book, once you put in a stamp you can never take it out again). But the most interesting items were “mystery capsules” of 3 different tiers.

These items are similar to the “give 5 get 1” mechanic, but it’s more “give 187.5 get 1” to “give 500 get 1”. This is because each single capsule costs 1500, 2500, and 4000 points respectively for each tier. And donating one item of a rarity 98-100 (the most points for the least NP), gives only 8 points.

Now, a Sticky Snowball is rarity 100, so users who spent every 30 min of the last year buying a snowball should be able to get 8 * 2000+ points, right? Well, no. TNT caught on to this get-rich-quick scheme and dropped a big surprise on everyone: Sticky Snowballs specifically were now only 1 point. 1 point!

To top it all off, if you DO buy one of these boxes after donating hundreds of items, do you at least get something cool like you could in 2014? Not really. TNT posted the chances for these boxes in the FAQ for the event, quoted below:

Tier 1 – Ultra Rare (4000 points)

1-84 : 85%

85-89: 10%

90-94: 4%

95-99: 1%

Tier 2 – Rare (2500 points)

1-74 : 85%

75-84: 10%

85-89: 3%

90-94: 2%

Tier 3 – Common (1500 points)

1-74 : 85%

75-84: 10%

85-89: 5%

Notice how each has an 85% chance of giving a junk item (rarity 1-74), and paying 4000 points for the highest tier only gives you a 5% chance of getting anything above rarity 90 (1% for 95-99).

This is heinous compared to the give 5 get 1 method, where if you gave 5 items of rarity 90-100, you were *guaranteed* another item from that rarity level. It means that you could donate 500 1,000 NP items and get a single 500 NP item back. Not just *could*, but it’s the most likely outcome!

The community went absolutely rabid yesterday because of these changes. Here are some choice posts on the Site Events board:

“Opened the top tier mystery capsule”

“It’s really pathetic that they did that with SSB. If anything, they should have raised the point requirements for prizes, not destroyed the value of SSB. They knew most users who planned on participating in CC this year were stocking up on them, it’s really disappointing that TNT would do this. It’s really petty.”

“I canceled my Premium subscription. I’m not going to financially support a site that blatantly and maliciously disrespects its userbase with stuff like this.” (Premium is an upgraded version of the site with no ads, other perks, that costs real money. About 2 dozen others also replied to say they also cancelled)

“Why Hasn’t TNT Come Out With A Statement To Address This Tragedy Yet?”

“What did you get from your level 1 capsule?

I got a quality r42 Professor Chesterpot worth 1,400.

You’ve got to laugh or otherwise you’ll cry, right?”

“let’s be honest, even before the event was boring, sluggish, and god awful ugly. i mean the design of the machine is just despicable. I cannot imagine anyone getting a degree in art and then coming up with THAT at a professional job!!! i mean it’s absurd.

And then they took away the only part of it that made any of it worth it or cool.”

“Let’s maybe not call people bootlickers and trolls for enjoying a thing.” ​ “Quote:

I don’t think TNT is in the wrong

ahhh, another TNT can do no wrong type of thinking. Keep thinking this way and they will feel entitled to destroy yet another event / part of the site.”

“Imagine hating your userbase this much lol”

“I don’t have enough cups for all the tea.”

“I’m sorry tnt, but literally just stop trying”

“This is the most pathetic excuse of an event I have ever seen in my entire existence.”

“In my opinion TNT is just active trying to k/ill this website tbh

this was the last straw for me and im not coming back”

View post on imgur.com

Consequences:

The economy is in shambles- Sticky Snowballs went from cheap to expensive and are now right back at cheap again. People with 5000 are crying. The Site Events board is on fire.

Everyone is frothing at the mouth, and the few people that like or try to defend it are promptly dismembered by the mob. People are cancelling their Premium memberships left and right. Others are downright quitting altogether. Many are boycotting the event and the mobile game its themed around. There are several “petitions” to fix the event.

Keep in mind that everyone in this situation are firmly adults, at least in their 20s. A nontrivial amount are over 50. Actually, that might be relevant to this post:

“this site is full of karens who are not happy with anything”

Will their outrage cause TNT to change the shop? Will they add perks? Will they reinstate the Sticky Snowball? Will they adjust the capsule chances?

Surely there is more to come here and I will edit to update.

Update 1:

Prize shop prices have changed! The 3 capsules have been cut to 10% their original price- so T1 is 400, T2 is 250, and T3 is 150. These prices are MUCH more reasonable- requiring only 50-100 items per box instead of 500. Other prices have also changed- for example, the stamp is 1,500 instead of 5,000.

TNT also posted this message in their staff-specific board:

Hi everyone,

As many of you know, Charity Corner was released this year with a few changes. We wanted to take a moment to talk about these changes, as well as address the concerns we’ve heard from the users since we launched the event yesterday.

The first thing we’d like to talk about is the removal of perks. During last year’s Charity Corner, the site encountered some technical difficulties as a result of their implementation. This year, our dev team has been focusing their main efforts on converting the site in preparation for the end of Flash. This dev team is also responsible for working on all site events, including Charity Corner. In the interest of directing efforts towards the site’s conversion and to avoid unforeseen site bugs and user difficulties due to perks, they were removed from the event.

We’d also like to address the issue of the sticky snowball items. This adjustment was made as a necessary balance change; the Charity Corner donation items are intended to be worth the same amount that it takes to obtain them, similar to the value of other snowball items on the site. The team never intended to intentionally obstruct the event due to this balance change, and we’d like to apologize for any miscommunication this change may have caused.

We’ve heard your comments and concerns regarding Charity Corner this year, and we’d like to make this right. Adjustments will be made to the prize shop; prices will be reduced on all prizes, and you’ll be able to claim a free gift of 500 points to use in whichever purchase you wish. The price changes will be rolling out immediately, and those 500 points will be coming your way soon.

We know we’ve let you down this year, but we truly do value the community and want to thank you for keeping an open dialogue with us. Our team is doing its best to ensure the future of Neopets, and we hope you’ll stick with us as we work to modernize the site approaching the end of 2020.

-TNT

Reactions:

Wow. I wasn’t going to cancel premium. But that response was horrendous. TNT truly does not care about the users.

“wow -facepalm emoji- so now what about all the folks who already spent their points?”

“lol wonder if I’ll get back my 2,500 for the stamp now that its lower. Probably not, oh well. I don’t care anymore, this whole thing just sux”

“Refunding after people already sold what they bought with the points? umm… no”

“Changing things without notice, so that it hurts whoever was getting things done early on. Where have we heard that before?”

“I SPENT 13000 POINTS FOR THE LOVE OF GOD HELP MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE”

“wow i absolutely love how they not only messed it up AGAIN but messed it up PARTICULARLY for the people who had actually TRIED to play the event and used it even tho it was bad amazing fail tnt 10/10 genuine evil”

Most of these came from a topic that got deleted by the moderators- not because of the whining, but because the first post mentioned a different pet site and encouraged people to go there, which is against the rules.

Of course, people are seeing it instead as censorship of their demands.

Seems TNT can’t win with this one guys- they apologized and adjusted things as asked and somehow everyone is MORE angry because they already spent points on something they were already so angry about.

The Karen comment from above is a little more relevant as people are now demanding a refund!

Update 2:

New message from TNT:

Hi Everyone,

This is the second part of our charity corner update. If you spent points in the prize shop before we reduced the prices, you will be receiving a refund of the difference. Additionally if you visit the prize shop you can claim 500 free points by clicking on the little gift box in the lower right corner. Lastly please note that the prize shop will stay open during and after the event ends.

-TNT

So, they got their refund!

Reactions:

Total Prize Points Earned: 10,059Prize Points Left: -2,441Prize Points Spent: 5,300

I’m not gifted at math, but something isn’t adding up…

I work in IT.

Yeah I know this event is a let down. But everything I’m seeing is a sign that they’re understaffed, underfunded and the transition away from flash is a massive undertaking.

Can we cut them some slack?

what about the people that bought the expensive prizes (stamp) sold them already and still got their points back? that’s not fair

Update 3:

Hello [username],

You’re receiving this Neomail because you purchased 1 or more Tier 1 Mystery Capsules during this year’s Charity Corner event prior to this Sept 18th neomail. Recently, our team uncovered an internal issue that was causing the rarity drop rates of Tier 1 and Tier 3 Mystery Capsules to be switched. The issue has since been fixed; Tier 1 capsules will now properly grant higher rarity items at a higher rate, and Tier 3’s will grant the lowest.

We’d like to sincerely apologize to you for this oversight. Due to those previous balance issues, you have been re-granted the same amount of Tier 1 capsules that you previously purchased. You can now find those capsules, working with the correct drop rates, in your Inventory. Any existing Tier 1 capsules you had unopened will now have the corrected rates.

The Neopets Team

Uh-huh, an internal issue, eh? That’s confusing, since the drop rates for Tier 3 when I bought my Tier 1 capsule didn’t even include the highest rarities.

The FAQ now has some slightly different rates:

Tier 1 – Ultra Rare

1-84 : 85%

85-89: 10%

90-94: 4%

95-99: 1%

Tier 2 – Rare

1-74 : 85%

75-84: 10%

85-89: 3%

90-94: 2%

Tier 3 – Common

1-74 : 85%

75-84: 10%

85-89: 5%

With R90-04 and R95-99 spit with slightly higher chances on the T1.

I opened the replacement capsule I got and received a Banana Hot Dog- R70 and worth 700 NP.

A staff member from the dev team also released a statement in this week’s Neopian Times (weekly newspaper released on Friday nights):

Hi all. Gutterfoot here. It’s been a tough week for everyone and we know this years’ Charity Corner isn’t what any of us expected. There were a lot of issues that we should have been more on top of as well as things like server crashes completely outside of our control.

We’ve heard everyone’s concerns on the Neoboards about the need for more open communication. I personally try to be on the Mobile Beta board as much as time permits me (as I am also a member of the dev team, not a full-time community manager), but it just isn’t realistic for all of us. The problem is that the TNT you all see on the boards popping in ARE the dev team as well. Having us be constantly available for communication just isn’t viable, especially not while that same team is responsible for both the conversion effort and keeping up with content/events.

Now, I know NONE of this is your problem. This is entirely a problem that TNT needs to handle and we promise that we’re going to make an effort to communicate more openly. We want and value your feedback. I appreciate every user who participates on the Mobile Beta board, whether they have dedicated entire pet pages of feedback or just pop-in to report a bug they’ve noticed. It’s all so incredibly helpful to our team.

Circling back to Charity Corner, refunds should be processed and the glitch that prevented some users from claiming their free 500 points should be solved. If anyone feels that their point totals aren’t accurate, please send a support ticket and we will try to respond as quickly as possible before the event ends on the 28th of September. We have also fixed the issue where tier 1 and tier 3 mystery capsule drop rates were switched. Those who purchased tier 1 capsules have been reimbursed with new ones. And the capsules within your inventory/prize shop are now reflecting correct drop rates. There won’t be any penalties at all since this was entirely our mistake, so everyone is safe. We know we can do better than this and we hope to regain your trust one step at a time.

Note: Today is International Talk like a Pirate Day, and Neopets has a forum filter that makes “see”-spy, you- ye, about- ’bout, etc. Any odd wording in these messages is just a result of that filter.

Reactions:

eh, response was bad and didn’t address anyone’s questions

Dunno why people are upset at someone from the dev team doing their best.

Gutterfoot then came to the thread to discuss with users:

i agree that our response doesn’t answer a whole lot of questions ye may have had across the boards, but we’re planning on making a statement in the next editorial ’bout specific things like the status of the conversion effert and ways to hear more feedback within the community ’bout what the users want.

if anyone wants to send me a neomail, please do so and i will be able to respond better there than monitoring the ferums throughout the work day. i’m only here now because the day is over, haha. but i truly do care ’bout this community and so does the rest of the dev team. thank ye to everyone.

Reactions to Gutterfoot responding:

i’m literally gonna eat me shorts

I don’t know if the dev team has a say in decision making or ye just execute orders, but plz let yer other “professional colleagues” know that their decision making is highly flawed and this site probably won’t be able to survive 2-3 more bad events.

Our opinion of TNT is so low, that even by association, we can’t fully trust yer words. You are part of TNT.

2 thoughts on “[Neopets] The curious case of Charity Corner 2020 and the sticky snowball : HobbyDrama

  1. Manuel Sperier says:

    This blog was… how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I’ve found something that helped me. Appreciate it!

  2. Rubin Hsiao says:

    This is a topic which is near to my heart… Many thanks! Exactly where are your contact details though?

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