This post is part of my Stock Market Video Games series! In these posts, I’ll do a deepdive in the stock markets that we can find in video games! I want to find out how these fictional stock markets behave, and how they differ from the real world. Are they random or realistic simulations? And how can we use that knowledge to get excess returns? After all, we should only invest in what we understand.
As far as stock market video games go, the first virtual stock market I encountered was in online game environment Neopets, around the early 2000s.
Neopets is a website where you take care of a virtual pets, play games and interact with the world of Neopia and other Neopets players. On the website, you can play online flash games in exchange for virtual money, or NP (neo points). I would spend NP on buying food or items for my virtual pets. I would save my money in the Bank of Neopia, which would give me a whopping 12% interest (!). However, after playing for a while, I found out that “investing” my NP in the Neopets Stock Market would yield even more than that.
NeoPets has a large community, so we can find quite some guides online that explain how their stock market works. Most of the information in this post is taken from this excellent guide by Jellyneo.net.
If we look at the list above, the NeoPets stock market does not seem very realistic. The market is always open, there are hard caps on buying activity, and stock prices change only 48 times per day. Stock prices seem to be random, and companies are interchangeable apart from ticker and price. Realistic bits are that players pay transaction costs for selling stocks, and some companies have disappeared over the years.
According to Jellyneo.net’s guide, stock prices USED to be linked to in-game economics. However, this led to stock price manipulation by groups of players, so now prices are random:
"Other than the current prices, the different companies are functionally indistinguishable. Years ago, the Stock Market was actually influenced by how well certain Neopian businesses did; for example, Hubert's Hot Dog stocks went up and down in value depending on how many items the shop of the same name sold. However, this led to pockets of users grouping together and buying out entire shops to inflate the value of their stocks, so The Neopets Team put a stop to that. These days, stock price updates are random, though [they] do follow some patterns [...]."
Fan-website Neostocks.info hosts statistics about the the NeoPets stock market in general, and specific stocks. In earlier years, the website neodaq.com (now down) had advanced tools for monitoring the Neopets stock market, including game timers, technical charts, and elaborate Excel sheets for tracking player portfolios. I can imagine that charting and technical trading was a real thing for hard-core players back when the stock prices were still linked to in-game user behavior.
Using archive.org, I looked up the list of tickers on neodaq.com, which listed 52 companies in 2003. Neostocks.info lists 43 companies, so some companies have disappeared or “gone bankrupt”.
A funny detail is that Neopets has a stockbroker character called Nigel the Chia, who will occassionally give you tips about which stocks to buy. However, his tips are truly random, so following Nigel’s tips is generally detrimental to your return. I suspect these events are hard-coded sentences with random tickers, because I’ve read that some of the stocks he recommends no longer exist. Whenever you want to sell stocks, Nigel the stockbroker earns a trading fee of 20 NP. That’s a nice touch of realism: it’s a bad idea to blindly follow stock tips, and your stock broker will always profit from increased trading activity.
Some NeoPets player communities have collected 6 months of stock price data and done some analysis to find patterns, such as price change distributions. According to Jellyneo’s guide, the stock market prices can be modelled as a Markov chain. Only the current stock price determines the minimum and maximum price change, and all stocks follow the same probability distributions.
I think this visualization by Reddit user not-the-artist says it all:
If you want to know more about the distributions, read Detailed Stock Behavior in Jellyneo’s guide, or the Reddit post that inspired it.
*in the NeoPets stock market
Profit guaranteed :)
Of course, this is what made the Neopets stock market so enticing for me, as a ten year old: “Unlike the real world, you are guaranteed to make a profit on all of your stocks eventually; it’s just a matter of waiting.”
I remember I would buy stocks only when they were at 15 NP. I would spread my expendable NP income over multiple cheaply priced stocks and… just wait for the price to go up. Since there were no company fundamentals, no analist coverage, or investor relations updates to follow, I only had to wait (days or weeks) before the price would have randomly ambled to 30, and I would sell at a 100% or more return. The only thing I had to do was check the stock prices once every day.
This concludes my research into NeoPets Stock Market! If you would like more background about NeoPets, I can recommend this micro-documentary about NeoPets by People Make Games:
I hope you enjoyed this blogpost. If you know of any other video games with stock markets that I should play and/or look into, drop me a line below in the comments, via email or Twitter!
Judith van Stegeren, PhD is a Dutch computer scientist specialized in natural language processing and data science for two domains: investing and video games. Despite her expertise, no part of her PhD thesis was written by a computer program.