I recently posted some other Neopets drama
and people seemed to enjoy it, so here's something a great deal longer! It's a doozy.
This happened in November 2019, but I’ve been too lazy to write up the story until now. It’s known throughout the Neopets community by many names: UCgate, Savage Saturday, UC Santa, etc, and is undoubtedly one of the biggest bits of recent Neopets drama.
What is Neopets?
If you were a kid on the internet in the early 2000s, you probably know what Neopets
is. It was the original virtual pet site: essentially, kids could adopt and name small images of fictional animals. You could play minigames, collect and sell items, explore the flash-based world, and chat with people using a bare-bones (and heavily censored) forum. Founded by two college students, it was originally backed by Scientologists
(which the founders didn't know at first), before being bought by Viacom (Nickelodeon), and is now owned by Jumpstart, an edutainment company.
Since the early days of the site, one of the most important things was Paintbrushes
: items that could change your pet’s color. Rarer ones add unique features, like costumes, wings, or new poses. Back in the site’s heyday they were impossibly expensive for most kids playing, an unattainable dream, but are easier to acquire today.
Neopets still has a surprisingly large fanbase (though nowhere near what it was), mostly made up of 20/30-somethings who grew up playing Neopets as kids. By now it’s a genuine surprise to see an actual child in the Neopets community. Almost everyone is there for nostalgia, myself included.
And people are willing to spend egregious amounts of money and/or time for a taste of their childhood.
On April 16, 2007, Neopets underwent a major change: adding the ability to customize your pets. This was controversial for a couple of reasons, but the relevant one is that nearly all of the Neopet art changed.
The poses and designs players adopted were converted to new art without warning…unless you had a painted pet.
Certain painted pets were allowed to avoid conversion and stay as "unconverted" or "UC"
pets, though you could still choose to convert them. This was a relief for a lot of people who had already painted their pets, but you couldn't make new UC Neopets (and still can't). If you wanted the old Royal Girl Aisha design
(UC on left, Converted on right), tough luck. The only way to get one now was by someone else giving you one, or through trading.
See, you’re not supposed to trade Neopets for Neopoints, Neocash, items, or real-world money; that's against TOS. Only Neopets can be exchanged for other Neopets. UC Neopets started out uncommon, but over time as more accounts went inactive, more kids converted their pets without knowing, they increased exponentially in value. Black market Neopets trading had existed beforehand, but now UC Neopets go from anywhere from $10 to $300, with rumors of incredibly rare/well-named ones even going for thousands of dollars. It’s risky business since you can easily get your account frozen if you get caught, locking those UCs in a banned account permanently.
Worse yet, most UCs are from hacked accounts. Back in 2013, there was a database leak that many hackers have gone through to find valuables. Having a UC, especially a rare one, can make your account a target for hacking, though most hackers don’t hit active accounts.
Since they’re so rare, having a UC is seen as a status symbol. People will brag about how long they’ve had them, if they were gifted them, how long it took to trade for them, etc. Some people collect and hoard them. It makes the trading community a pretty hostile place, and people are very slow to trade the more valuable ones.
Now that we've talked about UCs, it's time to switch gears a bit. You can abandon your Neopets and toss them into the pound for other users to adopt. The catch is that Neopets runs on spaghetti code and the pound is broken. Certain 2-character strings get "stuck," essentially meaning that you can't see more of them by hitting the "view more pets" button, and can only be adopted by searching for their names manually. But since Neopets was popular in the early 2000s, they often have terrible names like "xXx_SunshineKween_xXx" or "SaSuKeLoVeR1992" making them difficult to search for. But people do it (myself included), and there's an entire website dedicated to finding pets stuck in the pound
. If you don't click that link, well, there's a lot
. And this is just the tip of the iceberg; it's impossible to guess how many pets are stuck in the pound, easily in the hundred thousands, most of whom are lost to time.
If you put these two things together, you'd think that there's MIGHT be a chance of finding UC pets stuck in the pound. But people have been doing it for years, meaning that all of the obvious names were long found.
The "Spreadsheet" Method
I'm not sure of the exact origin, but the Spreadsheet Method was popularized by the page /~tileset, which has since been taken down. Luckily the information is now on /~megablade
, for those curious. (I believe you'll have to be logged into Neopets to see it)
Basically, you could
build a bot to find stuck Neopets, but the bot-detection is pretty good so you'd risk being banned. One user figured out how to get around it: by creating image URLs of Neopet names and inputting them into an HTML file, you could preview their icon. They then created a spreadsheet that let you create thousands of these image previews (usually by tacking on additional numbers/characters to the pet's name), as well as linking them to the pet's webpage. The result looks like this.
All you had to do was search through the icons for uncustomized UC pets, which were easy to spot, and then check if they had owners.
Now, UC trading is notoriously hard to get into, often requiring months upon months of trading to even get to a shitty one. Like everyone else in the community I thought "oh wow, this is my chance!" and spent a lot of time with the Tileset method.
The results? Absolutely nothing. Or at least, absolutely nothing for most people. A few people found some mediocre pets, and one user managed to get a UC Plushie Uni
, a pet so rare that there are probably less than twenty on active accounts. It was an exciting time, with people who found UCs getting reported under the pretense that they were lying and had bought their pets. But the general mood was excitement; maybe we could get our dream Neopets if we just searched hard enough.
And then, someone posted a list of 700 UCs stuck in the pound
November 22nd, 2019.
"Enjoy or something, IDK,
" began the page. "I just want to see the PC go crazy." Approximately 700 pets. The vast majority of them were fairly common, but there was some crazy rare stuff as well. I never did the math, but it was upwards of $2000 worth of pets on the black market. It was a mad dash; everyone went for their dream pets first but settled for whatever they could grab.
Someone then bragged that they had grabbed 12 UCs from the list. The gifter responded to them to "get fricked and commit sudoku, greedy btard :)"
and was promptly banned.
I was at work when this happened and completely missed the original drop. But it was pretty obvious from general reaction (on discord, reddit, facebook, forums, on-site and off) that people were salty
People often joke that Neopets is dying. But there are a lot of active users. 700 wasn't even enough to placate the trading community, much less everyone who wanted a UC but was too scared to get into trading. Thousands of people, suddenly, wanted UCs; they flocked to the trading boards in droves. That night was the craziest I've ever experienced on neo, winding up in a 30-person discord call in which a well-known hacker converted a UC Darigan Wocky
, one of the rarest UCs.
The trading community was in an uproar for a few days. Regulars on the trading boards lambasted the new UCs devaluing their pets; new players entered the trading scene; some people got their dream pets and stopped trading entirely. The big question was: what will happen to the trading market? Well, a year later, I can say: pretty much nothing. But it was a big talking point for quite a while.
The original gifter was nicknamed UC Santa
; lots of boards were made saying things like "I've been so good! Bring me a UC for Christmas UC Santa!" Then you had people getting mad at the begging boards, people mad at the people mad, an endless spiral of salt.
Things calmed down, slowly, until early December.
UC Santa Returns
A few weeks later, a new user named johanna_barker (Sweeney Todd reference) appeared claiming to be the UC Santa. Whether or not they actually were is a question for the ages. They dropped a few more pets to let people know they were legit, then said they wanted to help people out with finding as many dream pets as they could.
The community, again, went nuts. Lots of begging, lots of salt; big lists were made up of people's dream pets for UC Santa to look at. A few people reported receiving pets, but not many. johanna_barker turned off their mails so no one could directly contact them, but that didn't stop people from trying. Lots of people asked how they did it: the Spreadsheet method couldn't work that
well, could it? We never really got an answer.
Then, johanna_barker mentioned that Something would happen on December 28, 2019. The first few boards mentioned it just in passing, before making a bigger and bigger deal about it. By the later boards, they were kicking things off with "December 28th, 6:00 pm NST, don't forget!" Word spread fast, everyone waiting with bated breath.
Even if we didn't get our dream pets, the drama was going to be something worth witnessing. Hell, someone even made a bingo sheet
December 28th, 2019
A couple of boards were made in advance by johanna_barker, posting a few more stuck pets
for people to snatch up. They requested that people didn't spam/beg (which they did, of course) and just to be patient. The pets would be posted on the page /~can_i_haz_ucs, and johanna_barker said that there were over 8,000 pageviews
on that day alone. Note that we're not sure if that's unique pageviews or not, but even if people were refreshing that's a lot.
6:00 pm. All of us refresh to find this on the page
[Img description: "MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA / Syke you bunch of beggars / if you want your dream UC just buy it with USD / [list of cheat sites]"]
The final viewcount clocked in around 21,000
. johanna_barker left us with one final message
before being permanently banned
for mentioning cheating.
There was salt
, and, mostly, disappointment. UC Santa was never heard from again. We'll never really know what their motives were; maybe it was all planned by someone who owns the cheat sites. Maybe after the first drop, UC Santa was contacted by a UC seller about doing this. Maybe UC Santa and johanna_barker are two different people. Or maybe UC Santa started out with good intentions and just got tired of people begging, posting those sites as a joke.
A year later it's mostly a fond memory, a weird story to tell. But you do have to wonder if more people illegally bought UCs as a result. And, well, I'm not going to out any cheaters, but...yeah. Yeah, probably!
EDIT: for those trying to get back into their old neopets accounts after reading this! If you can't get in, your best bet is to email [[email protected]
) with all of the information you remember from your account, such as the town you made it in or if you ever bought neocash/when. Best of luck!