Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

SuperPoke Pets Saga: What’s the Long-Term Value of a Virtual Good?

Does an item purchased with virtual currency inside an online game have long-term value? Or is it more like a Halloween costume, relevant and exciting for the moment but unlikely to be reused? That’s the contentious argument going on right now between Google’s Slide and players of the Slide game SuperPoke Pets, which is scheduled to be shut down in the next six months.

The news we broke last week that Max Levchin, Slide and almost all Slide products would no longer be a part of Google just a year after being acquired was not particularly emotionally evocative for many readers. But for active users of SuperPoke Pets, it seemed lame, fraudulent, and evil — and they told us so in our comments section.

SPP fans left scores of angry comments in venues like our site and TechCrunch. They were particularly angry that SPP, which is a Tamagotchi-style game where users nurture pets, had enticed them to spend money buying in-game gold that will presumably be worthless once the game no longer exists.

Slide employees — who themselves are not particularly happy about getting shut down — tried to reassure SuperPoke fans with a user forum post this weekend that downplayed the long-term value of virtual goods. It’s an interesting line of argument that highlights the fact that expectations around virtual ownership of items within an online game are not firmly set. Should SPP users expect a refund or a transfer of value? Should they realize that a virtual game can be terminated by its owner at will?

Here’s the key part about the value of virtual goods:

The closest real-life analog to SPP items is probably a Halloween costume. You purchase it to dress up and enjoy the experience, but likely don’t wear that costume day in and day out, or for every Halloween thereafter. Unlike a costume, there are still months ahead for you to make the most of the items in your inventory and we are working on tools to help you export some of your SPP content/items to keep and access outside of SPP. We are still in the process of working out the details of what these tools might be and will update you as soon as we have more information to share.

(For whatever reason, the forum post is only available to players at SPP level six and above. My poor little frog is still at level one so I got the full text from a Google spokesperson.)

Part of the reason Google is shutting down the Slide apps is because they are not hugely popular. SuperPoke Pets has about 130,000 active monthly users, according to Facebook application analytics service AppData, though the game does not require registration with Facebook so that measure is probably low.

It’s possible that if SPP fans are loud and convincing enough, Google — which is in the process of launching its own games platform — will figure out a way to keep the game around. Asked for comment on that front, a Google spokesperson referred us back to the user forum post (which is printed in full below).

Posted: Aug 27, 2011 02:27 PMQuote | Reply

SPPers,

We understand that the last few days have been difficult for many of you. We are reading your posts and wanted to provide more information about several of the themes and topics we’ve seen emerge.

Since stopping active development on SPP, we’ve seen quite a bit of speculation about Slide turning off SPP altogether. We want you all to know that, until this week, we did not have a plan to shut down SPP. In our June announcement about the changes, you can see that at the time, we saw very little reason to turn off SPP and intended to keep it running for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, as all of us have experienced, the future is not very predictable. As you may have read in our recent Slide blog post or other articles, the Slide group will be splitting up to join other areas within Google. Unfortunately, this means that we will be shutting down almost all of our products, including SPP and several that we just launched. This is not something we anticipated or planned for when we made our announcements about SPP back in June.

Many people also brought up questions about the value of items on SPP and we want you to know that we have spent a lot of time thinking about this very topic. You can use and enjoy virtual items however much you want – and over the course of SPP, we’re sure that there are items you’ve used for hours, even months. While you can use SPP items in a number of different ways: trade, decoration, gifting, and collecting, one thing you can’t do is bring them home and keep them forever.

The closest real-life analog to SPP items is probably a Halloween costume. You purchase it to dress up and enjoy the experience, but likely don’t wear that costume day in and day out, or for every Halloween thereafter. Unlike a costume, there are still months ahead for you to make the most of the items in your inventory and we are working on tools to help you export some of your SPP content/items to keep and access outside of SPP. We are still in the process of working out the details of what these tools might be and will update you as soon as we have more information to share.

We know that the SPP community, and the friends you have made here, are incredibly important to many of you. We encourage you to transition the relationships you’ve built on SPP to an outside platform so that they may continue to grow and flourish. As an example, Nicole established a FB group for SPP users as a place where you can go to make these sorts of connections:http://www.facebook.com/groups/104602236311763/. I also anticipate that some of you will have groups of your own that you will wish to promote or invite your SPP friends to. We are also looking into whether we can find an existing public forum that might host SPP Community rooms so that you can continue your interactions there. If we are able to find something we can implement, we will communicate the details here. As I mentioned in my original post, we will not be shutting SPP down for about six months. One of our hopes is that this will provide you with plenty of time to re-establish these connections outside of SPP.

There is still a lot to plan and do as part of the SPP shut down, and as mentioned above, you will continue to hear from us. We are saddened by the eventual loss of SPP and committed to doing what we can to make this transition as smooth as it can be for you, the incredible SPP community.

Thank you,
The SPP Team


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus