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[Neopets] A Burn Book, Witch Hunting, and Doxxing Those Who Dox Others.
I was inspired to write this post on recent Neopets drama that brought me back to the site after a long hiatus. Neopets is a 2000s pet site— probably the 2000s pet site— where players adopt virtual pets, play remarkably fun flash games, and take part in a simulated, Neopian-run economy (Neopian being the word for citizens of Neopia, the Neopets world). Currently, most players on the site are probably veteran adults, keeping the site alive out of pure nostalgia. You can read more about Neopets’ background on this spectacular former write up.
Disclaimer: I’m happy to have conveniently gone on hiatus just before this point, so this is what I have gathered reading all the sources of what transpired at the time. Please feel free to comment with more information or corrections!
In 2005, the original owners of Neopets, Adam and Donna and v1.0 of “The Neopets Team” (TNT), sold Neopets to media mega-conglomerate, Viacom. In 2007, to monetize the site, Viacom standardized the Neopet artwork to sell clothing and other customizations. Purchasable with real money, NC items could be used to decorate and dress up your pets. This cutoff became known as the conversion.
Traditionally, pets could be painted with paintbrushes for a new colour or design. Some of these alterations offered more than just a simple paint job; they also had more elaborate poses or special artwork stylization. A select, lucky set of pets— or perhaps unlucky now in retrospect— were chosen to have the option to convert their artwork or maintain their current designs. At the time, many players chose to convert, excited for new updates to their beloved pet site. Pets that were not converted became known as Unconverted (UC).
The Pound Chat
The Pound Chat (PC) is a board (a forum) on Neopets where players trade or giveaway their pets. The PC is known for their immense fervour towards their pixel pets, for under-offering on trades, and for viciously reporting unknown-to-them (and known-to-them) rare pets and getting those pet owners frozen (banned). Personally, I think they should also be credited with fuelling a large part of the continued existence of Neopets.
Over time, as players grew up and left, were frozen, or their pets found permanent homes through trading, UC pets became more rare and all the more coveted for their artwork. After all, it was hard to deny the generic poses given to the converted renditions of UC pets to allow for dress up. For example, the UC Royal Boy Cybunny versus the Converted Royal Boy Cybunny. On the PC, you can see people trying to trade upwards to their “dreamies” every day. For many, this can take months or years or never even materialize.
The UC Black Market
Naturally, in any economy where there is a scarcity of goods and rules against acquiring such goods illegally, as buying and selling Neopets offsite is a bannable offence, a black market will form. Thus, the UC black market was born. Estimates by non-professional, but avid Neopets enthusiasts and cheaters alike (possibly an overlapping group) peg 75-80% of all currently non-frozen UCs spiralling the PC as illegitimate at some point.
What does it mean to be illegitimate? Legitimate pets are those that were created by an owner and painted before the conversion. Illegitimate pets have been bought and sold, often taken from unsuspecting inactive accounts. A long time ago, people even stole UCs from active accounts, though that doesn’t seem to be in practice often or at all anymore.
The PC Black List, The PC Out List, and PC Pals
As mentioned above, the PC has acquired quite the reputation for reporting pets. They especially dislike PC-unknown pets appearing and will secretly (or flagrantly) mass-report these unsuspecting owners for buying and selling pets, whether or not that claim holds water. TNT has a “freeze first, decide innocence later” stance, and it can be incredibly hard to get your account back even if you have never cheated. Author’s side note opinion: I’m not really sure why they are so obsessed with doing this, because any new UC pet introduced should give them a greater chance of trading up the ladder.
Circa 2014, the PC Black List was created on hobbydrama’s favourite place: Tumblr. This anonymous burn book posted mostly UC pets they believed, often with no evidence, were illegitimate, and they accepted anonymous tips from individuals. Some of the PC, grasping their pitchforks tightly, would then go on major crusades to report these pet owners (or perhaps they already had before submitting the tip). This blog also called out many members of a prominent Neopets cheating forum, clraik (CK), where UCs could be bought and sold. Unfortunately, this Tumblr was deleted after the ensuing drama…
But before we get to the absolute shit storm that defined the pinnacle of the burn book era, there were a few notable offshoots to this Tumblr including witch-hunt lookalikes and particularly PC Pals, who, in response to PC Black List went around compromising people’s accounts and converting their pets [Screenshot of the blog]. Yay.
At some point, a Tumblr that would start off as a mimic and turn into a less-successful heir was created. This blog donned the very original name, PC Out List. For this blog, I have some examples: [Example 1] [Example 2]. Like the Black List, they also took anonymous tips on pets assumed to be illegitimate. You can leaf through the Tumblr here.
CK: An Unlikely Hero
As simultaneous burn-the-witch fever and fear swept the PC, and as both legitimate and illegitimate players found themselves on the black list, the PC Black List took things one step further— one step too far— and escalated the drama: they found a Neopian’s Facebook account, doxxed them, and made fun of their sexuality/sexual identity. Classy as ever, they linked this Facebook page on their Tumblr.
Apparently the PC drew the line here, and PC Black List had crossed it. PC members sent in angry messages of disapproval, asking for the Facebook link to be taken down. In response, PC Black List wrote that it was the individual’s fault for not securing their Facebook. However, they eventually took down the post, but the damage had been done; unfavourable discussions about the Black List were littered across the PC board on Neopets. Some active Neopians quit because of the harassment they had been facing from having been posted on the Black List.
The forum CK, who had been quietly watching from the sidelines despite having members called out by username time and time again, decided it had had enough. On CK, the blog was rightly panned as “vile”, “fucked up”, and “cyberbullying”. Harnessing the technology prowess they had honed over the years by building various cheating programs (score senders, autobuyers, the lot), they went to work on investigation. In a week, they had IP traced at least two of the progenitors behind the burn book back to… CK. Two girls had been lurking CK on newbie accounts whilst calling them out. On top of their IPs, the sleuths at CK also gathered these girls’ Facebooks and other evidence.
In response, one of the CK investigators leaked the PC Out Out List, which I won’t link here because it partially doxxes one of the girls. On it, they posted two girls’ first names, a picture of one of them, and one of their universities— yes, university, not high school, not junior high. When this happened, much to the mirth of CK, one of them happened to be lurking the CK thread discussing them.
Cornered, one of the girls then appeared on the PC herself!— With absolutely no remorse and a completely punchable post. [Here are screenshots of her post] (she is the OP). Note: I lifted these from CK, so if anyone from there would like me to take them down, please contact me! Although she posted on a side account, the PC quickly descended inwards and outed her main account. Even more surprisingly, it came out that this girl was a contributor on SunnyNeo, a longtime Neopets fan site. The PC was in disarray. Some, at long last, had opportunity to verbalize their anger towards the black list. Others felt betrayed by an individual they thought they had known. Finally still, a small group of innocents had no idea what was happening and had been totally out of the loop. At some point, the board was deleted by TNT. The PC Black List was dead.
To this day, there is still drama that pops up on the PC every few days or so about unfair reporting and freezings. The reporting extends to very nice real word and real name pets as well. The UC craze has become even more difficult to navigate as fewer and fewer of these pets exist to be traded. Since around 2015, after Viacom sold (offloaded) the dying pet site to JumpStart, the cost of certain rarer converted pets, was rebalanced (read: made easier to obtain). UCs now almost exclusively trade for other UCs; it’s very hard to enter the market without one of your own, but it can be done. Tier guides even exist to help you with your trade. Unknown UCs, whether owned by players returning from extended hiatuses or whether they have been bought, are still reported; this reporting apparently now happens on boards outside the PC as well, since individuals of the diminished user base no longer relegate themselves to one board.
UCs are still bought and sold. At this point, there is an argument that UCs, had they not been removed from their original, inactive accounts, would have been purged alongside those accounts during mass-deletions. However, it’s always heartbreaking or perhaps a bit bemusing for longtime players to return, only to see to their childhood pets frozen or dotingly loved in new homes.
[Fantasy Wargaming] Warhammer Fantasy Battles, The End Times, and the Age of Sigmar
Warhammer (AKA Warhammer Fantasy Battles, or simply Warhammer Fantasy, will be referred to as WHFB from now on) was a regiment-based miniature wargame that involved blocks or regiments of troops represented by 25-250mm scale models fighting in a fantasy setting. Two or more players would set up their armies based on an agreed-upon limit on a table with terrain to have a turn-based war between them using measuring tapes and 6-sided dice. You'd buy, assemble, and paint your miniatures, as well as customizing them with unique sculpting or hand-painted banners. Created in 1982, the game had hundreds of models to collect across 15 different armies, each with unique themes and ideals.
WHFB had an extensive backstory and setting, with hundreds of well-documented histories and descriptions of nearly every location in the Warhammer World., as well as backstories for each of the races often spanning thousands upon thousands of years of history. Although the setting was heavily based on works from other fantasy authors, like J.R.R. Tolkein and Michael Moorcock, the overall story of Warhammer Fantasy was uniquely it's own. Each faction was quite different from the others, from the Empire, the current largest civilization of humans vaguely themed after a renaissance-era Holy Roman Empire, to the Orcs and Goblins, a collection of roaring, warring greenskinned savages that sounded and acted like murderous football hooligans. While some factions were relatively unpopular, like the chivalrous Brettonians and the Egyptian themed Tomb Kings in comparison to the wildly-popular Skaven rat people, each faction had hundreds and hundreds of fans and collectors who would lovingly and carefully build whole closets of models from their favorite model ranges.
As a brief note, the actual setting of WHFB isn't really as important as the stuff surrounding it, but I'll briefly mention the state of affairs across the in-game world. Basically, the world is super doomed. Every day, murderous, chaos-empowered savages march from the north pole of the world to conquer and ruin, and their numbers are endless. The southern civilizations of the Empire, the Dwarfs, the High Elves of Ultuan, and others stand resolute against the hordes, but also cannot let go of the mistakes and trespasses of history and thus fight each other just as often as they fight the raiders and despoilers. You, as a player, represent a general or leader amongst one of these forces for Order or Destruction. The end of the world is tomorrow, but today you'll show those greenskinned bastards a real fight. This oppressive, grimdark atmosphere was praised by fans for being gritty and pessimistic, but in a good way. However, the setting never made any real advances in the storyline, having the doomsday clock always being a half-second from midnight. All the interesting wars and conquests (other than the current, big final last one) and conflicts happened a couple hundred years before the game takes place, and some players wished that there'd be a big storyline event to move things along and freshen up the story. And off in the distance, a warehouse full of monkey's paws curled up...
As another brief note, I'll mention the company itself. Unfortunately, it's kinda impossible to talk about Games Workshop (AKA GW) without using a little personal and fan-public opinion, but I'll keep mostly to the facts and most common opinions. GW started out selling miniatures for Dungeons and Dragons, and eventually created a game for the models they made called Warhammer, which then exploded in popularity and quickly overshadowed the Dungeons and Dragons models they produced, and so they refocused to just selling models for their wargame instead. They continued selling WHFB for years until they released a science-fiction spinoff called Rogue Trader, eventually renamed to simply Warhammer 40,000. The popularity of Warhammer 40,000 (Aka 40K) got even bigger than WHFB for a number of reasons, including quicker gameplay as 40K used a skirmish battle design instead of a more restrictive regiment based system. By 2000, both versions of Warhammer were extremely popular, and arguably the most popular wargames on the marketplace, even with 40k taking the lead between the two. It seems that this success started to go to GW's head however, as they rarely if ever listened to player feedback and often made significant mistakes while designing rules for armies with some factions being blatant developer favorites while others languished with weak rules and extremely rare updates. It wasn't uncommon for an army to go years without updates to rules or models, with outliers of nine to twelve years being possible for really unpopular factions.
This feast-or-famine update style was extremely common and often two players could fight where one army had not been updated multiple editions, while others had recently received a new rule book and models, and thus were significantly more likely to win. Some factions, like the rarely-updated Tomb Kings, Beastmen, Brettonians, or Wood Elves, were considered challenge factions because of their weaknesses and out of date rules. Conversely, if you played an army that was either more future-proofed or more recently updated, like Warriors of Chaos, Daemons, or High Elves, you were likely flush with excellent modern rules and often had brand-new models to go with it.
GW became fairly infamous among the fan base for caring more about making a quick dollar than developing a fun game, and as mentioned above, new books would usually be noticeably more powerful than any previously existing book in order to help sell copies and push model sales. A WHFB army could cost several hundred dollars, sometimes reaching the low thousands thanks to the sheer number of models needed for some armies, and if your army had been languishing in no-update hell for 7+ years, you could be tempted to shelf that army and start a new one to at least have a fighting chance against some opponents.
ENOUGH BACKSTORY, GET TO THE DRAMA!
By 2010, Warhammer Fantasy had started to lose the wind in its sails. With nearly 30 years of history behind it, many players already had full armies that didn't need any new models or paints, and getting into the hobby was daunting, considering you often had to buy, assemble, and paint more than one hundred models just to get started, and thanks to infrequent updates GW rarely had new and shiny things to offer new or returning players. While this was happening, Warhammer 40,000 was enjoying endless popularity, as it was much easier to just jump in and start playing with a handful of models. GW was showering 40K with content, while WHFB stagnated. So in early 2014, a new event unlike any before it was announced: The End Times.
THE END TIMES
The End Times was a series of books containing new rules for new models, new ways of building armies, and most importantly, new lore. All hell has broken loose, with the most powerful necromancer in history, Nagash, reemerging from the shadows to try and take over the world, which tips the delicate balance as new alliances are made, old ones broken, and basically everything bad that was supposed to happen was now actually happening. Some players were confused as they'd never seen GW come out with books like this before, but many were excited about the new higher stakes, and the plot actually advancing for the first time in 30 years. Five books were released, one every few months, with new plots and developments happening quickly. The warring nations of elves unite under a new Phoenix King, the Dwarfs finally emerge from their holds to battle their ancestral foes the Skaven and Greenskins, and the Empire is plunged into overwhelming conflict with the invading forces of Chaos, and Nagash's undead legions.
And then, the final book, The End Times: Archaon was released in March 2015, and with it was... The end. The forces of Chaos and destruction win. The world is consumed by darkness, with the human god Sigmar battling the dark Everchosen Archaon on the burnt husk of the planet's core with every star in the sky flickering and going out. Every character in the last 30 years of history and backstory is not only dead, but everyone in the whole world is dead and gone. In no uncertain terms, Warhammer Fantasy Battles was over as a setting. And as it quickly proved, it was also over as a playable game.
Fans panicked. What were they going to do, now that the actual story of the world was done? Was there going to be any future content or updates?
WARHAMMER: AGE OF SIGMAR
There wasn't going to be any future content or updates.
There's much speculation on why Games Workshop decided to ax the game that put them on the map back in the '80s; Some hearsay from around that time implies that Warhammer Fantasy was not very profitable, for the previously mentioned reasons of being very expensive to start playing and discouraging older players from expanding their armies, and had extensive and arcane rules that took a long time to learn. Some believe that the primary reason was a string of lawsuits that Games Workshop threw around at smaller companies for making products similar to their own, while not having particularly trademark-friendly names or products (Games Workshop is infamously litigious). It's hard to trademark the word "orc" and Games Workshop actually failed to trademark the words "Space Marine" back in the late 2000s. Honestly we'll probably never know the actual reasons, as GW is legendarily reclusive and unwilling to communicate to the fanbase on nearly every topic.
In July 2015, just four months after The End Times of Warhammer Fantasy, a new game was announced: Warhammer: Age of Sigmar (AKA AoS). Set in a brand-new setting without any of the old locations or civilizations, the armies of the Stormcast Eternals battle the forces of Chaos! Brand-new armies cropped up, while many of the old ones were quickly dumped and forgotten, including the Tomb Kings, the Brettonians, and the vast majority of the Orcs and Goblins. Races and factions were renamed to be suspiciously more trademark-friendly, such as the Elves becoming the Aelves, the Dwarfs becoming the Duardin, Orcs became Orruks and so on. The new armies often resembled the old ones, with the Fyreslayers being a whole faction of Duardin (Dwarfs) who run into battle with two axes with little more than a mohawk and a loincloth, based on the Slayers of old Fantasy. Or the Sylvaneth, which was just the Treants and Dryads of the Wood Elves moved into their own faction while the actual Wood Elves were discontinued.
Gone were the old rules of regimented combat, gone were the old and arcane methods of army creation. In fact, gone were nearly all the rules, period. Whereas the previous edition of WHFB (8th edition) had close to 300 pages of meticulous and careful army building and playing rules, but the new game of Age of Sigmar had just 4 pages in a fold-out pamphlet. Models no longer came on square bases designed to group up in regiment squares, now they were on round bases so they could move in loose skirmish groups like in Warhammer 40,000. But the biggest change was that there were no points. Previously, points were used to measure how powerful a model was. A single human spearman would be 7 points, while a powerful Bloodthirster Daemon would be closer to 300. When two players fought a game they'd set a limit on how many points they could bring in order to make the game mostly balanced, for example a 1,000 or 2,000 point game. But now there were no points for anything, and AoS explicitly called in the rules for players to just agree on how many models to bring without any defining rules. There was nothing stopping a veteran from bringing his six hundred model strong army of Skaven with a full suite of Lightning-Powered War Machines to fight the poor new player and his fifteen or so Fyreslayers. But don't worry, it's just a "Beer-and-pretzels" wargame! Rules and points costs just bog you down!
To make things worse, almost nothing of the lore of the old world of Warhammer survived into Age of Sigmar, and the very few things that did were were radically changed and altered. Where old WHFB had a very gritty and depressing atmosphere that made for tense and realitic low-fantasy battles, Age of Sigmar threw all that out and instead had Warcraft-level high fantasy. Wizards were now common, floating continents and mystical world-hopping portals abound, the Stormcast Eternals was a whole faction of shining, 10-foot-tall knights wielding magic weapons and armor that arrived on the battlefield by riding lightning bolts and routinely talked to magic star-dragons. Oh, and the Tomb Kings and Brettonians, two armies with small but very dedicated fanbases, were entirely removed from the game without any fanfare shortly after launch.
To rub salt in the wound, many of the rules were... Silly, as an understatement. One Empire Captain, Kurt Helborg (memetically famous for having an enormous mustache), had an explicit rule that if you as a player had a bigger and more impressive mustache than your opponent, your sword got stronger. Fyreslayers were encouraged to come up with colorful insults for the other player across the table so your heroes would get stronger. A Brettonian knight player could reroll charges if they drank a glass of wine and shouted "FOR THE LADY!" before rolling the dice. Some of the names for the various models were just as silly, with the Stormy Stormhosts of the Stormcast Eternals of Stormheim who ran into battle wielding Stormhammers and Stormshields and flew atop Stormwings and rode Stormdrakes, who were fighting the Bloodsoaked Bloodwarriors of the Blood God Khorne and his Blades of Khorne, who all wielded Goreaxes and Gore-Smashers and Bloodfists. One model was honest-to-god named the Bloodsecrator. Games workshop rubbed their trademarked hands together and thought, players will be super stoked about these new, amazing rules!
THE END TIMES FOR GAMES WORKSHOP...
Players were not stoked about these new, "amazing" rules.
To say "And everyone was mad" was an understatement. Most players stopped playing entirely, and stopped purchasing models and instead selling off their combined collections. Forums were swarmed by endless complaining and grumbling, and a couple players even set their armies on fire in protest. For frame of reference, the link shows a disgruntled player burning about $800 dollars worth of models and supplies (warning, contains loud heavy metal music). The rules of AoS were routinely mocked by reviewers. Positive discussion of Age of Sigmar was extremely rare, and people posting about AoS, whether rules discussions or model painting, often had their threads and topics flooded by irate fans insulting and belittling the players who just wanted to enjoy their game.
Combined with Rick Priestly (The man who helped invent Warhammer back in 1982) leaving the company in disgust in 2010, new model-casting methods replacing the standard and reliable (if a big chunky and heavy) pewter with new, sleeker, and significantly lower-quality resin, and finally a series of godawful 40K book launches, Games Workshop share prices dropped badly. Games Workshop was not having a good 2010s. Many players wondered if GW would actually crash and burn, despite seeming nearly unbeatable just 10 years earlier.
To add a little of my own experience here, I was a long-time Tomb Kings player, having started in 2001. I'd been building my collection for closing on 13 years when Tomb Kings were dropped like a bad habit by GW, and the new rules for Age of Sigmar were not enticing. I quit the hobby in 2014 for about 3 years, selling off my supplies and putting everything else in my attic to gather dust, and every player I knew did pretty much the same. Everyone moved to playing Warhammer 40K, or to an entirely different company's games, like WARMACHINE or Malifaux.
Ironically, around this time was when a whole crop of great Warhammer video games were announced, including Total War: Warhammer, Man O' War: Corsair, Warhammer End Times: Vermintide, and Mordheim, City of the Damned. Lots of fans were pulling their hair out that GW had a bunch of excellent games set in the Warhammer Fantasy world come out only after they'd killed off the property they were based on for not being popular enough. If you ever get a chance, check out the list of Legendary Lords in Total War: Warhammer 2. The list is 60+ heroes, each with a detailed backstory, goals and ideals, almost all of them playable in WHFB at one point or another. Of that list, 50 of them are straight up dead forever. The remaining 10 or so have been altered so much in personality that they hardly even resemble their WHFB selves.
... AND SOMETHING RESEMBLING A NEW BEGINNING
Despite the overwhelming dislike of the game and the model releases, Games workshop stumbled forward into the future. In 2015-2016, Tom Kirby, the then-CEO of GW, stepped down and was replaced by Kevin Rountree, a former COO and CFO. After this, Games Workshop made some serious efforts to stop being the shittiest wargame company alive. It's unknown if this was the last gasp of Tom Kirby before his departure, or if Kevin Rountree booted Tom Kirby to the curb and started making sweeping reforms, but either way, Games workshop enacted new tactics. They added a new "Warhammer Community" section to their website, full of articles on how to paint, upcoming releases, short stories, and more. They even started to interact with the community, on rare occasion. They added "Start Collecting" boxes that included a small army sold at a decent discount, designed to help introduce new players to the game on the cheap. Most interestingly, and most relevantly to this article, they added a "General's Handbook" when contained points costs for nearly everything, and started updating future books and releases with points costs added in. The idiotic old joke rules quietly vanished like a fart on the wind, and future naming conventions weren't quite so recursive in theme. In 2018, they came out with a "Second Edition" that managed to further improve the game, as well as adding the much-liked Endless Spells feature.
New factions were added that quickly became new fan favorites, as the scars of the dropped armies began to fade. Age of Sigmar stopped being a game without concrete rules for babies, and started stepping into its own as a real wargame with its own feel. There's still a lot of resentment in the communities, and you'll still see "Age of Sigmar bad/for children" memes crop up on Warhammer subreddits and such, but they're considered fairly old hat by now. Age of Sigmar is now a decently popular skirmish wargame with generally balanced rules (with exceptions of course, it's still a GW game) that receives many, many updates every year. Even the hardcore Oldhammer players have to grudgingly admit that Age of Sigmar was updated more times in a year than Warhammer Fantasy would get in three. The age of waiting 6+ years for an update to your outdated rules was gone, and instead you'd wait AT MOST a year for a new General's Handbook to arrive with new points cost changes for you, and most armies have received two or more rules books in three years.
Players unwilling to move to Age of Sigmar instead moved to games like Kings of War or the fan-made The Ninth Age. Some even play all three. Regrettably, there hasn't been too much love between the old WHFB players and AoS players, at best being polite and civil, and at worst being downright derogatory. But even with the bad blood between the two crowds, AoS continues to grow on its own merit.
Games Workshop even announced they were bringing Warhammer Fantasy Back. Eventually.