Class Action Over Virtual Pets Heads to Arbitration

     (CN) – Google and SuperPoke! Pets developer Slide Inc. convinced a federal judge that arbitration was the right path for a class action 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! Pet 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 the game’s terms of use.
     U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco pointed out that only one of the plaintiffs’ seven asserted claims actually tackled the arbitration provision.
     “The validity of the non-arbitration clauses … are for the arbitrator,” 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.

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