Thousands of adult players in Australia were angry after McDonalds blocked them from playing games like poker, roulette and blackjack at the Neopets’ website, seven.com.au reported.
The controversy started when McDonalds Australia included a plush cute fluffy toy – a Neopet – with every kids’ Happy Meal in Australia, directing kids to the Neopets website.
McDonalds announced it blocked gambling content on Neopets.com after parents raised concerns that one of the cute characters at the website teaches children the rules of poker and blackjack. Beside card games the site also offered virtual roulette and wagering.
The players must keep their Neopets fed and healthy, and if they don’t gamble to win enough points for their virtual pets, or worse, lose on their punt, their Neopet will starve or will be sent off to a virtual orphanage.
Michelle Stiebel said she was shocked when she found her nine-year-old son Harley gambling his heart out in a bid to keep his virtual pet alive.
“Gambling in these forms should not be available for minors. It does not appear neccessary for the game, and the rest of the Neopets game does seem to be fine,” said Keith Don, an educator at the Gambler’s Help Southern’s Gambling Guru website.
McDonalds’ move has raised protests among Neopet lovers, including thousands of adults who were angry that they’ve had the pin pulled on their games.
Jacqui Adams, 22, and Anita Esposito, 19, are just two of the thousands of adults hooked on the Neopet games. They’re now fearful the site could be shut down altogether.
Both women say the game isn’t necessarily for kids.
“A lot of my friends that are playing it, are 26-year-olds and a lot of them are married and have kids of their own,” Anita said.
Launched in April 2000 neopets.com boasts about 70 million virtual pet owners and is allegedly one of the fastest growing youth communities in the world.
Neopets’ director Adam Powell reportedly wrote at a web forum that his site, with 8 billion pageviews a month, is not about money at all, but critics have a different version.
“Neopets website contains loads of embedded advertising messages and links to merchandise,” Reuters wrote.
“Advertisers spend about $15 billion a year targeting kids through sites like Neopets, which has ads embedded into games and links to Web sites operated by McDonald’s, General Mills Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co and little is being done to shield kids in school or at home from corporate-sponsored ‘advergames,'” reads the Reuters’ article.
“I am a parent, and I love Neopets,” posted an irate mother (under the nickname amandamomof3) at a web forum. “So what if my son sees the Batman game and wants a Batman action figure. Who cares if he sees the McDonalds restaurant ad and wants to go there.”