Virtual pet class action against Google wiped out by arbitration clause

July 31, 2012 by

Google and SuperPoke! Pets developer Slide Inc. convinced a federal judge that arbitration was the right path for a lawsuit accusing them of shuttering customers’ access to “hundreds or even thousands of dollars” of virtual pet items.

Buyers claimed Google illegally shut down the social game SuperPoke! Pets, developed and launched by Slide in 2008.  The online game allowed users to adopt, care for and interact with virtual pets.  Basic access was free, and players bought toys, gifts and habitats with virtual “gold” for their four-legged, pixelated friends.

After Google purchased Slide in 2010, it made a series of announcements that caused a frenzy among virtual pet lovers.  First, Google said users would no longer be able to buy gold with cash and instructed them to spend any outstanding gold on existing goods, according to the class action.  Plaintiffs claimed Google also announced that it would no longer accept new VIP subscriptions after July 1, 2011, but promised those who signed up before the cut-off date “indefinite” and “free” access to the VIP status.

As a result, thousands of SuperPoke! Pets users signed up for or renewed their VIP subscriptions, and “purchased and stockpiled … numerous virtual items, anticipating that such items would maintain and even increase in value after June 30, 2011, ” according to the class action lawsuit.

After the flurry of activity, Google and Slide announced in August 2011 that they were pulling the plug on SuperPoke! Pets within six months, allegedly barring users’ access to their virtual pet purchases.

Lead plaintiff Christalee Abreu said Google and Slide’s actions stripped users of access to goods that cost “hundreds or even thousands of dollars.”

Google and Slide argued that the plaintiffs should be forced to arbitrate their claims, according to an arbitration provision in their game’s terms of use.

“The validity of the non-arbitration clauses … are for the arbitrator,” Judge Alsup wrote.

The one claim that did address the arbitration clause — a challenge of the “unconscionable exculpatory clauses” in the terms of use — failed to render the arbitration agreement “substantively unconscionable,” the judge ruled.

Finding the arbitration agreement “valid and enforceable,” he ordered the parties to proceed immediately to arbitration and rejected the defendants’ motion to dismiss.

Steve Larson
An experienced trial lawyer who handles both hourly and contingent fee cases, Steve has expertise in class actions, consumer cases, antitrust litigation, securities litigation, corporate disputes, intellectual property disputes, unfair competition claims, employment matters, and disputes involving family wealth. Steve regularly represents individuals and businesses in federal and state court and has obtained class-wide recovery in multiple class actions. A veteran practitioner, Steve's clients value his creative approach to resolving complex litigation matters.

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