Online virtual pet video game Neopets reportedly had troubling connections to Scientology during its early years, a new report from the Outline reveals.
Neopets was originally founded in September 1999 by Adam Powell and Donna Williams, and both strived to keep "religion and politics" off the site, according to a comment from Williams during a Reddit AMA. However, Scientologist Doug Dohring bought a majority share in Neopets by January 2000, and he went on to head Neopets, Inc. as CEO. Once he arrived, Scientology became a growing presence internally at Neopets.
Dohring quickly applied Scientology founder Ron Hubbard's "Org Board" business model to the Neopets company, using the same exact organizational structure used by Scientology internally. The model, which includes seven divisions that create a "cycle of production," is considered highly unethical due its focus on spying on employees and subsequently punishing them "when they act in ways that are not strictly in the interest of the company."
"Neopets’s business model [was] morally problematic," Northeastern University Professor Patricia Illingworth told the Outline. "The idea that an organization should fire employees for having views that are different from those of the organization is morally disconcerting even when we don’t share the views, or we are adamantly against them."
Williams claims in her AMA that Org Board didn't "really change anything" other than giving interviewees "some odd test" based on Hubbard's organizational model. Powell, on the other hand, told the Outline that Neopets was increasingly being staffed by Scientologists once Dohring led the site. Non-Scientology employees became increasingly "uncomfortable with the whole Scientology thing," which led to "somewhat of a them vs. us feel to the office."
"It was weird, we just didn’t mention it until they hired this lady who wanted to bring Scientology onto the site," Powell said to the Outline. "We fought that as hard as we could and they got rid of her."
Neopets' business model later changed after Viacom bought Neopets in 2005, leading to its Scientology links seemingly fading away. Even during the website's early years, however, Scientology never played a role in Neopets' content. It simply emerged internally through Org Board's structure and Dohring's influence, according to the Outline's report.
"At one time there was some talk about putting Scientology education on the site, but we killed that idea pretty sharpish," Williams said in her Reddit AMA. "Adam and I made sure that it never made its way onto anything site related."