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Summary:

Angry game owners are demanding Google (NSDQ: GOOG) compensate them for wiping out their investments in online pets. The loss of a virtual k…

Puppy
photo: Flickr / michael_baltic

Angry game owners are demanding Google (NSDQ: GOOG) compensate them for wiping out their investments in online pets. The loss of a virtual kitty may seem like a trifle to some but, in the big picture, the new lawsuit could be a bellwether for how the law treats what is an exploding market in online goods and currencies.

For those more familiar with real-life Rovers, the new legal dispute turns on SuperPoke Pets, an online game in which players chose a pet (dog, frog, sheep, etc) and then care for it in an online realm with other pet owners. Many owners purchased “gold” using real life money and used the gold to buy items in the game.

That gold is now worthless after Google, which had purchased the game from a company called Slide, decided to axe it last summer. (As of March 6, the website will be gone though players will be able to load their pet onto a display case of sorts).

As Liz Gannes of All Things D reported last fall, furious players were seeking a law firm to bring a class action against Google. They appear to have found one and filed a lawsuit in late December. The case was transferred to federal court in San Jose this week.

The lead plaintiff is Christalee Abreu who says she spent more than a thousand dollars on virtual gold. The lawsuit purports to represent thousands of people across the US in two categories: those who purchased gold and those who subscribed to a $4.95/month VIP subscription.

As Gannes has noted, Google is likely to rely on a license agreement common to games that effectively tells users “them’s the breaks” if the game goes away.

The plaintiffs, however, have a sympathetic case. According to the lawsuit, some players rushed to stockpile virtual items after the company announced that it would stop offering gold-based transactions. These players hoped to sell their items on a secondary market (basically, a Craigslist of sorts for items like virtual doggy bones) but those hopes were dashed when Google said it would kibosh the game.

Disputes over SuperPoke gold and other online currencies were once the stuff of futurists and law school hypotheticals. But now it’s big business — observers suspect the sale of virtual goods counts for a healthy portion of Faceook’s revenue. And Forbes magazine recently asked if the social network should be considered a central bank in light of the spread of Facebook Credits.

The SuperPoke lawsuit may help define the legal rules of the road for virtual currencies.

SuperPoke Pets State complaint
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  1. Its sad to see google shut SPP down.What gets me angry is how they kept tell us that the game was not going anywhere.SO they could  keep selling gold items .Google took our money knowing darn well they where just going to close the game down… Google lie to make as much money as the could form people. I for one have boycotted Google.I will not use anything google. 

    1. Thanks for the comment. I’m not a virtual gamer but am scratching my head as ti why Google didn’t just issue refunds (maybe to avoid a precedent?)

  2. I just read about four pages of the complaint, and some of the complaints aren’t actually true. Yes, the game did issue gold items, but the document states that the vast majority of items were gold. Not true. 

    In addition, the plaintiff makes it sound as though Slide restocked items that were advertised to be “limited.” Also not true. Rare gold items weren’t restocked. Non-rare items that sold out *could* be restocked.

    Slide also did NOT encourage the buying and selling of items for cash. They acknowledged that people engaged in the practice, but they actively discouraged it. 

    I would be sad if the plaintiff walked away with anything from this lawsuit. It’s unfounded. I know people are frustrated and sad because they will miss the game, but there is no case here, as it appears to be based on allegations that are patently untrue.

    1. I would love to be a part of this law suit as I too put a lot of money into SPP and especially after they announced the SPP would not be going anywhere after they decided to quit selling gold and prior to them stopping the sale of the Gold in June and July 2011. Where can I read the compliant? 

    2. I have to disagree on two points here- one, I believe that the plaintif may be referring to the new gold releases, where a partial release (a third) was introduced at a certain price, allowed to sell out, restocked at a higher price, allowed to sell out again, restocked a third time at an even higher price and then were never restocked again. Second, Slide/Google *did* encourage the reselling of items, at first with their ‘look the other way’ policy and after with the Authorized Reseller Program. If Slide/Google did not want reselling of their items, they should have taken a firm stance on it from the beginning, which would have been, as you say actively, discouraging the practice. I never saw any active discouraging of reselling at any time while playing SPP. I am of the opinion that by allowing the reselling of items, whether on the site or through the reseller program, they lost revenue that could have made the game more profitable and perhaps we would not be in the situation we are now. If they had taken a firm stance on preventing reselling, trading would have been more vibrant, as there would have been no other way to acquire sold out items. People may have bought more of the newly released items, which, after selling out, would have not been possible to get aside from trading. I don’t think the lawsuit is completely unfounded. I think it raises issues that apply not only to SPP but to other games that sell virtual items. It would be nice if what came out of this suit would be the requirement of any seller of virtual goods to at least offer a downloadable app (even if you had to purchase it) that would allow you not just to look at the items you purchased, but to interact with them in the way they were intended to be used.

    3.  A.) Not the vast majority, but PLENTY of it was gold and not cheap either

      B.) The rares were restocked including masterpieces

      C.) They did encourage selling third party, they even endorsed sellers. They simply said they wouldnt be involved if a dispute came up.

      Know what you’re talking about

      1. I have to disagree on your second point- rare items were never restocked except on two occassions: once, there was a black out which caused the servers to go down and a rare item was restocked, named “Sakura Wall Scroll.” It also happened on another occasion where there was some type of flood or water damage, if I remember correctly, but in that case I can not remember the name of the rare item which was restocked. Masterpieces were never restocked, nor were Community Classics. This was one of the things people most complained over in the forums, that the rare items sold out too quickly (with in minutes of the new release)  and were never restocked.

    4.  No, those claims are true.  I played from the beginning of the game.  There were several items that were “limited” but were restocked.  The items would say, “10 left” and then the next day say much more!  Also rare gold items were restocked at one point, making the items that were purchased by other people worth less.  (The sheep reaper comes to mind.)

      Slide encouraged the buying and selling just by allowing it to occur on their forums.  They could have easily shut that down, but they chose to allow it.  If customers thought they could gain a profit in buying gold, then they would just continue to buy it, hoping to mark it up in the future.

      I suppose all of that is superfluous now:  Google is about to make it all worth nothing.  I’m glad that I sold items when I did and made back what I spent.  Still, it’s sad to see it all go…It was an enjoyable game in the beginning.

    5. Anyone that knows anything about this game knows the truth. And you Miss Heather have no inkling of such.

  3. This is completely ridiculous.  The majority of these allegations are completely untrue, and have obviously been spun by someone who is extremely upset over the demise of their virtual pet.  The “majority” of the items, features and content (exactly what the complaint states) were not Gold.  Gold items were in the minority.  I’m laughing really hard that she’s not demanding any compensation, but that the game not close.  Good luck with this.

  4. Good question, where can I get in on this? I bought nearly $80 worth of gold when they said gold would be sold no more.  Then BANG! They put up the market, sucked the rug out from under us, an boom, that was it.  If that’s not knowing you were gonna ax SPP when you bought it I don’t know what is!

  5. I never put money into this pet game, but I did put money into another that suddenly changed the rules on who can play, and who can’t. I hope they win.

  6. Michelle Rustay Serrano Sunday, January 29, 2012

    Good I hope something becomes of this…I like others were LIED and tricked by Goggle…This is a fantastic game and enjoyed by many ages..Yes I also spent money buying those last minute GOLD items to use for trading  etc…I also don’t know why some people think this is funny or ridiculous. It is entertainment.I have  made alot of great friends playing this game. It is sad that Google did not handle this correctly. The LEAST they could have done was to keep the website up and running so people can still play..Boy Google YOU SUCK!!

  7. Yeah i dont no why google is doing this neither . Then  they say u can download spp lite. Well  i cant download it. My  computer wont let me. So i guess iam going to lose everything. Thanks alot google

  8. SPP/Google really did a number to all of us who are/were active players. First informing us with the discontinuing of the Gold Items in the Pet Shop, the VIP, the Spa Treatment around the beginning of summer and reassuring us all that SPP “WASN’T GOING ANYWHERE”.Then by the end of summer they start telling us they were shutting down SuperPoke! Pets the game altogether on March 6. Then this SPP Lite came into view to pacify all members to download it so that they may save all their items that were purchased with gold and the habitats as well. Many folks are having such a hard time downloading this SPP Lite. Without the SPP Lite they are not able to save anything and those who were able to download it are not able to save anything on it either. Then there are those who are not able to get to their pets because now the link through Facebook is not working and when taken to log in page it doesn’t recognize the password to get to their account. Trying to get the reset email in order to reset the password is not even accomplished. Many are not receiving this email to do so. I happen to be one of them. I’ve tried to get help from all sorts of sources but to no avail. It seems the only way to receive any help from here was through an Administrator of SPP, which they are no longer around. They couldn’t even stick it out to the end. This to me was Bad Form on their part. As far as I’m concerned, we were lied to and robbed. 

  9. Melissa Duprez Sunday, January 29, 2012

    I too have spent a ton of money on SPP. I have just about every gold item they released. I have my main pet and 4 storage accounts to hold all my items. I am very upset they are closing SPP not only because of the money but also the friends that were made in the many years we have been on there. When they made the clubs where only certain people can join have made the friendships stronger. You talk about more personal things behind the closed clubs that you would never talk about in a public thread. I think google should at least offer something back or maybe the original owners (slide) since they made money off us gold buyers and made a ton more money off the sale of SPP. It would be nice, they have the logs of everyone that bought gold items. I am sure they cant/wont do anything about the people that bought gold items via PayPal only but they do have the logs of us that have bought the gold items via SPP itself.

  10. why do some of you comment if you don’t know whats going on with spp???
    this is ridiculous for you to add your 2 cents when its not worth anyone listening to..
    we was ~~~ lied to by google~~~ plain and simple.
    for alot of us its not the money altho i spent a fortune !!!
    all we are asking is to leave the game online if it would take a fee to do this we will pay..after all we done spent whats a few more dollars a month to keep it going.

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