Google Pulls the Plug on SuperPoke Pets, Players SueIf you give people the opportunity to leverage their personal social networks online to play a game, you should probably think long and hard before you shut down that game.

Of all companies you’d think might be smart enough to “get it,” Google would be at the top of my list.

But in a demonstration that apparently some companies don’t really give much thought to such things, Google decided to shut down the popular SuperPoke Pets game, after buying the company that owned it. (Which begs the question — why buy a company only to shutter its popular products?)

The real problem for users of SuperPoke! Pets (SPP) is that the game featured a virtual economy full of virtual goods. Virtual goods that people paid real money for. And of course with pets, one can become emotionally attached to them (yes, even virtual pets).

A new lawsuit just announced features a group who are suing Google over the game’s shutdown — and the loss of meaningful interaction with their virtual pets.

Google made the announcement of the shutdown back in August 2011, and now as the March 6, 2012 shutdown date approaches, users have had enough of the company’s tactics. They are suing Google to recover the money spent in the online social game. A lot of people still play Superpoke Pets, including a substantial handicapped population that are limited to playing only games that are adopted for their use.

But I suspect another strong motivating factor behind the suit is because of the specific makeup of the game. That is, the creation and enhancement of emotional objects — in this case, pets.

Apart from being upset about lost money, and having been misled about how long the game would continue, SPP users are sad and angry about the loss of a valued community and the social aspects of a game that appealed to children as well as adults and was accessible to and enjoyed by handicapped users.

Surprise, surprise. Develop a game that encourages you to bond emotionally with objects you create in the game, and a lot of users will develop a strong emotional bond with those objects. This is a core component of game dynamics in modern gaming, making games “addictive” (in the sense that a person wants to play frequently and for longer periods of time). Mess with that emotional bond and you’re messing with people’s emotions.

Google does allow you to download your virtual objects and interact with them on your computer, but that’s not really the same thing, is it? The game is a social game, and it’s not very social to interact with virtual objects by yourself. (To add insult to injury, the software that allows this interaction is apparently buggy as well.)

This isn’t the first time Google has said, “Eh, we’re not interested in this product or service after all. Take your data elsewhere.” Google Health users were stuck with a set of health data that they could download but no longer interact with. (Others did even worse, offering PHR users only a PDF download).

This event offers a few pieces of wisdom for the rest of us:

  1. Don’t buy virtual goods in a social game expecting it to last forever — there’s no guarantee the company backing up that virtual economy will be around in a year (much less 5 or 10 years) from now
  2. When you offer your users something that encourages an emotional attachment, don’t be surprised when your users form an emotional attachment to that object (virtual or otherwise)
  3. Think twice about selling your company to Google if you want your products or services to have a bright and successful future

RIP SuperPoke! Pets.

Read the full article: Social Game Players Sue Google.