For the tech savvy, virtual money is all the rage. It’s been the subject of a few science fiction/crime mashups by bestselling authors like Neal Stephenson and Charlie Stross. It even provides a thriving trade in various online games, one that has proved to be worth a fair amount of of real-world money. And now, it’s entered the world of class action practice.
The case, Abreu v Slide Inc (ND Cal 2012), involved an internet game (which Google eventually bought) called SuperPoke! Pets. The game allowed users to adopt and care for a virtual pet. By playing with the pets, users earned virtual currency that could be used to buy virtual goods for the pets. But, if the users were willing to spend actual money, they could also buy "gold," which could be used to buy premium goods; they could also buy and sell certain goods on a "robust secondary market." And boy did players spend; in fact, the named plaintiff alleged that she spent more than $1,000 on her virtual pets during the time she played.
So, how does virtual gold translate into a real lawsuit? In June 2011, SuperPoke! Pets announced it was discontinuing its gold, and then in September 2011, it announced it would take the game offline in 2012. So the plaintiff sued in California State Court, alleging that SuperPoke! Pets had violated California’s consumer fraud act, and seeking
to recover the full value of users’ in-game purchases of both money and virtual goods, as well as “other investments” allegedly lost as a result of the game’s termination.
SuperPoke! Pets removed the case to the Northern District of California, where it landed on the docket of blog-favorite Judge William Alsup. As part of its notice of removal, it appended an affidavit showing that users had spent more than $6,116,000 buying gold between October 2010 and June 2011.
The plaintiff moved to remand, arguing that SuperPoke! Pets had not met its burden of showing the amount in controversy because they had not provided business records, and had not covered the entire class period. (The plaintiff also, contrary to the allegations in her complaint, argued that SuperPoke! Pets had not considered any refunds they might have offered.) Judge Alsup was having none of it.
Defendants’ submissions, coupled with the allegations in the complaint, plainly show the amount in controversy exceeds five million dollars. Plaintiff’s complaint seeks to recover the actual value of SPP users’ “investments and property” in “gold” and virtual goods as well as money spent on VIP status subscriptions. The complaint alleges users spent “hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the game." Thus plaintiff has put at issue the full amount of user spending on SPP. The Michalek declaration shows user spending exceeded the jurisdictional amount on just one portion of the game (“gold” purchases), and in just the nine months preceding the game’s termination. According to the complaint, user purchases of “gold” and premium virtual goods began well before October 2010.
Plaintiff faults defendants for failing to produce actual business records to show the amount of damages. Defendants are not required, however, to prove plaintiff’s damages allegations. They need only show that the amount put at issue by plaintiff exceeds the jurisdictional amount.
(Emphasis added, internal citations omitted.)
Virtual gold, but real jurisdiction.