Putting down our Superpoke Pets

Why Us Google?

Last Friday, players of Superpoke Pets learned that Google plans to finally “retire” the game after winding it down over the past few weeks. Hundreds turned to a comment thread on Techcrunch to register their anger, sadness, and frustration at the decision.

I can't even get to sleep now I am so upset. I know it is just a game.. but this was a game I loved above all others I have ever played... :c ( This stinks!

this is the most hateful thing you could have done. millions of us on on this game. most people have disabilities and this is what they have. we have developed friendships. alot of people have spent tons on money on here. are you going to give them that back? but most of all you are taking away something that we have poured our heart and souls in. I have been on this game for over 3 years. I have some truly awesome people that I look forward to speaking to every day. I will drop all my google emails, change my servers and have over 3000 people on my yahoo account that will be more than happy to help me spread the word that google doesn't care about the people that put faith in them. does google kick dogs and steal candy from babies too?

Meanwhile, regular Techcrunch readers – many of whom currently work or aspire to work in social media – dismissed the concerns of the SPP players with comments ranging in tone from the smug and snarky to the downright hostile:

Favorite part of this post? The Farmville moms trolling TC.

I've spent Alot of MONEY on Superpoke Pets...personally i'd never admit to that.. lol.

I'm glad they killed it. People can stop playing stupid games and focus on more productive work.

Superpoke Pets is multiplayer online game that combines Tamagochi-like pet care mechanics with an open-ended scrapbooking system, opportunities for socializing with other players, and special contests, puzzles, and rewards. Most players join the game through Facebook but it is also accessible through MySpace or through the game’s homepage. Readers of this blog may know it for its brightly-colored relief efforts following the natural disasters in Haiti and Japan. Although it was developed and released by Slide in 2008, Superpoke Pets became a Google product in 2010 amid a flurry of excitement about social games like Farmville and Mafia Wars.

Compared to the tremendous scale, user adoption, revenue flow, and cultural impact of Zynga’s properties, Superpoke Pets is an uncontroversial failure. In Slide’s own words, it never “caught on as we originally hoped.” But these are not the metrics used by Superpoke Pets’ devoted players, many of whom are home-bound due to illness or disability:

This is not just a game! The other players are FAMILY!!

The unceremonious “deadpooling” of Superpoke Pets is one more example of a private organization providing space for community and creativity without taking responsibility for the continued stewardship of the public culture that flourishes there. To date, the tragi-heroic efforts of the Archive Team have saved an unknown percentage of digital materials imperiled by the closing of Friendster and Geocities, but these are preservation strategies – they cannot provide a new home for a living community.

Superpoke Pets players will soon be displaced from their preferred platform. Some will reunite on Facebook – perhaps as an outcome of their protest efforts – but many other social bonds will be permanently broken.

Why Us Google?

Despite these unfortunate consequences, this is not a clean-cut case of Google “doing evil.” As the Techcrunch reporting explains, the closure of Superpoke Pets is but one effect of a larger corporate restructuring. Without a technical and bureaucratic infrastructure to support it, there may simply be no servers or employees to keep SPP up and running. Absent the unlikely possibility that the game could be disentangled from Google and run as a non-profit player co-operative, it was inevitable from the start that the game would one day be put to rest. Should players be held responsible for planning accordingly? Were they foolish for choosing to explore, make friends, and commit the fruit of their creative labor to a doomed platform? Should they have closely read Slide’s (lengthy) Terms of Use before creating their accounts?

Alyssa's pet in its habitat

All servers crash, all businesses fold, and all social web services will one day disappear. The character of internet entropy is not “if” but “when.”

At this point, the available examples of services going offline are largely limited to corporations who have gotten it wrong but the ending of MMORPG Tabula Rasa provides an instructive exception.

Running of out money and unable to sustain the game, the development team at Destination Games designed a spectacular final scenario in which the world is destroyed according to its internal narrative logics – evil aliens overwhelm the resistance once and for all. They encouraged players to log in to the game and actively participate in its final moments. This arrangement gave dedicated players an opportunity to role-play up to the very last moment. One character might die valiantly attempting to forestall the inevitable while another hangs back to chat with friends as the carnage unfolds. Those present on the final day reported feeling “strangely moved” by the experience. It was world-appropriate and player-approved.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9yMo7MLbBc

An apocalyptic invasion of killer aliens would be a strange conclusion to the sunny Superpoke Pets, but its dedicated players deserve a meaningful closing ceremony of their own. On a petition to Save Superpoke Pets circulating since June, players emphasize the time and care they’ve invested in the development and decoration of their pets’ habitats. Rather than flip the switch, bringing the world to an abrupt stop, Google should use this information as a starting point for designing a respectful end to the SPP world. How different would players feel if Google offered to host and promote a memorial scrapbook of all the lost pets and habitats on Picasa?

HPA on YouTube

Many of the organizations we discuss on this blog depend on services like YouTube and Facebook for outreach and mobilization. In the moment, these platforms may seem invicible but the experience of Superpoke Pets players highlights their fundamental instability. What will happen when they are no longer profitable, outpaced by newer technologies, or sold to different owners?

Start-up culture, as the name implies, is all about a company’s early stages. There is a lengthy glossary of terms to describe a new service’s first steps – “stealth mode”, “private testing”, “public beta” – but almost nothing is said about their middle-age and retirement. What if equal attention were dedicated to designing meaningful, respectful end-of-life scenarios?

What would happen to the web if users started to demand that services outline a “twilight mode” or “deceleration strategy” before they agreed to sign up?

Comments

  1. Bonnie Mutchler says:

    One of the problems is that this game is populated with older people and young children. this is the first game they ever played and most likely for the older ones, will be the last. i myself have no intention of playing any more on-line games. Number one, most glorify violence and cruelty, and number two i am not going to waste my time and energy on something that is apparently slated to be pulled out from under your feet at any moment, but i will miss my pets, I love them. I also love my real pet and I do have a real life and it doesn’t include being rude and snarky to other people about what they care about. I feel sorry for those guys who commented. They obviously have sad life and no empathy for the elderly and disabled.

  2. “Buy a real pet”?…I have real pets. But I’ve seen plenty of players who have allergies,or cannot afford to care for a real pet. “Spend the $ on charity”? I contribute to charity. “GO outside,& meet people in real life”? MANY players,including my partner,are disabled…some to the point of being housebound. This was a way for them to reach out,form friendships,& forget their own troubles for a bit. How DARE you people make your snotty comments & pass judgements on others! Although it is obviously impossible for you to comprehend,this “game” has been a lifeline and touchstone for thousands of people…many of whom never spent a penny on it.

  3. Catherine Maio says:

    Exactly how are we supposed to get closure on that last day when Google pulls the plug? Are we supposed to bring them to the Google Animal Shelter (obviously *not* a no kill shelter) or bring them the good Dr. Google fo be euthanized? Because other than that, I can’t think of a way they could offer us closure.

    While most of the players are mature adults and understand that business ventures fail all the time, there is a wonderful community of people built up around our pets, and some of us have been playing for three years- we’ve grown attached to our little pixelated critters as the game encourages us to- buy them special items and clothing to fit their ‘personalities.’ For some- the elderly, isolated, depressed and otherwise disabled, their pet and the community around them is the thing that gives them the impetus to get out of bed in the morning because they know there is a little smiling pet there for them to play with, maybe someone to talk to. I think the callousness of some of the comments shows that these people just don’t get it, what this game has become for some people.

    I’ve made friends from all over the world- artists, lawyers, nurses, mothers, servicemen, professionals from every area you could think of. We are not just the “Soccer Moms” so mis-categorized by Max Levchin a few years ago. We are people from every walk of life. What’s happening now is a very sad thing for many people.

  4. Tracey Sheets says:

    I have been a gamer my whole life. I enjoy playing console games like Resident Evil, Dragon Age, The Sims, Final Fantasy and Heavy Rain. I have played traditional tabletop D and D with my husband and zombie and Lovecraft board games. The social games on Facebook introduced me to games like SuperPoke Pets by Slide, Chronicles of Blood by Diviad, and Vampire Wars by Zygna.

    Out of all these, I have spent more real money on SuperPoke Pets. I loved the new coin and gold item releases they used to have.

    I think Google should offer us a downloadable version of SuperPoke Pets at the VERY LEAST! I would be willing to pay a monthly subscription fee to keep the game alive like people pay to play World Of Warcraft.

    I am a 38 year old disabled female. I found the comments by some of the regular TechCrunch contributers to be extremely insensitive.

    In response to the TechCrunch comments……
    – I am not a Farmville or Soccer Mom. I don’t like Farmville very much but I have nothing bad to say about those that do. I enjoyed an old Nintendo game called Harvest Moon for years and Farmville wasn’t as fun to me after playing Harvest Moon.

    -as for the comment about not admitting how much money one had spent on SPP…..I am not ashamed. It was MY choice to spend money on a virtual product. It made me happy to have an animated item. Like a dragon dressed like Indiana Jones sinking into quicksand or a bunny shaped cloud floating in the sky.

    -Even more hurtful is the comment…”I’m glad they killed it. People can stop playing stupid games and focus on more productive work”.
    I am now disabled. I am wheelchair bound and have spinal cord damage, chronic back pain and depression. I CAN’T do the real world activities that I wish I could. I used to run a branch of a Home Health Care Agency and would still be doing that if I was physically and emotionally able.

    -And I do have a real pet. A cat named Whisper (named after a character from the Fable console game). My husband and I contribute to charity every month thru his workplace. We have been doing so for years. And once again, I am limited to meeting people in ‘real life’. My social interactions are mainly done via the internet.

    I do realize that companies come and go. SuperPoke Pets is one of the oldest of the social games. It was mishandled by Slide and is about to be deleted by Google. If technical problems had been addressed this game would not have lost millions of players. Yes, millions. If managed properly this game is a goldmine.

    SuperPoke Pets is a cute, adorable game that is one of the few friendly games. The SPP community consists of both men and women and ages range from young children to the elderly.

    Our game didn’t have to end. I am very sad over this. The SPP Community deserves better.

  5. Amanda Pitchford says:

    I don’t understand Google’s logic either in shutting down a game just when they are building their own gaming platform. I would’ve signed up (or tried to find an invite) for Google+ if they’d kept SPP Pets – I thought maybe that’s what they intended. But now there’s no point. I am not one of those that spent a lot of money on the game – just a few dollars here and there, when something really cool was released. I knew that anything virtual would not be translatable into the real world if something were to happen. But the way they encouraged us to buy stuff right to the end is unconscionable. And shutting down the lovely community off SPP players – which may not be Farmville in size, but is far more friendly and loyal by far – is too much. But there is at least 1 company out there willing to give our pets a new lease on life – let’s hope they succeed in their quest.

  6. I’ve made a lot of friends that would probably run if they saw me in real life -folks that send me friendly messages and critique my attempts at art .
    I have 5 real pets and over 2,000 trophies on my ps3 ,but I like The little fella I named Benedict aka ‘Benny’ .But what can you do ,huh?

  7. Kevin, this is a fascinating blog. The way in which the SuperPoke Pets community is having its platform “pulled out from under their feet” raises questions that are key to a lot of the communities we are interested in: how may commercial platforms shape the actions and interactions that may form on them? what responsibility do / should platforms have towards their users? and who does created content belong to? (this is particularly exacerbated by the fact that SPP users actually invested in their virtual pets).
    It would have been interesting to see Google trying to include a representative of their SPP community in their discussions, to see whether a reasonable solution could have been found (for example a downloadable version of the game as one commenter suggested).
    This is also interesting in thinking about the emerging platform of Pottermore. Pottermore seemed to have taken an approach that involves fans much more in the planning and design stages of the platform. While its demise is still very early to think of (and, to many fans, probably unthinkable) it is a valid question to wonder how a more participatory platform would handle such stages as well.

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