Sunday, May 5, 2013

Passionate About Pet Society

There's a story here, about a unique, beautiful, nonviolent game that can be enjoyed by players no matter what their language.

When the history of online social gaming is written, I hope someone recognizes that Playfish was able to put lightning in a bottle. With simple, nonverbal choices, people of any age from countries around the globe could enjoy an online experience that could have been elevator pitched as "Second Life for Three-Year Olds." Pet Society was a beautiful, relaxing experience that you could share with friends no matter how far away in space or time. No matter what your age, part of you could touch that sweet, direct enjoyment of life that we see in toddlers, and dimly recall within ourselves.

What no one may have banked on is the degree of passion that people came to feel for Pet Society. In the three weeks since Electronic Arts announced that Pet Society would end on June 14, players from around the globe have banded together on Facebook. The largest group, Please Save Pet Society, has nearly 30,000 players from around the world, posting in many languages, with one common message: "EA, don't kill my pet."

What is this lightning in a bottle?  In Pet Society the onscreen arrangement of pixels that constitutes your pet becomes part of your life, like a beloved household pet that greets you every day. Emotionally, shutting down this game is like having animal control come and euthanize your healthy pet in real life.  Through some kind of magic, the pets take on a personality and identity. You can make choices about color and features and gender. The pet seems to have a mind of its own.

Tiny choices in setting up the game ecology created something larger, a love that transcends language.  "Pet Society" in other countries is the equivalent of "Humane Society" in the U.S. The love of pets and desire to help them runs deep in humanity.

Do game companies have any idea who their true market is? Who are their "whales"? (That's apparently the industry term for people like my husband and I, who spend money on games we like, as a vote of confidence.) To announce the closure after a recent promotion offering a discount rate on the "Pet Cash" you use in the game, with no alternative for transferring that money to any other game, left many people feeling burned. This has happened with other games, driving down the number of "whales" who will continue to support the industry.

Do game companies realize that their players are not all teenagers? And that they have memories? How is it profitable to anger and alienate millions of players? Many are vowing to Boycott EA, or simply to never spend money on online gaming again.

How can a company that was worth $300 million be thrown away in less than three years? The brilliant game designers and artists who created this tiny wonderland of Pet Society were given pink slips, when they deserve creative accolades. Work groups around the globe have been laid off. What kind of crazy world is it, where it makes economic sense to chew talent up, then spit them out?

Sadly, last week Electronic Arts refused the request of Pet Society users to keep the game in a grandfathered state. We don't need the quests, the weekly themes, and the constant parade of new swag. We simply want to continue to spend time in this charming and creative place, where you never know quite what is going to happen as you visit your friends. It's been a quiet place to unwind, and to marvel at what your friends' pets have been up to. It's not about the levels, or the "new high score" you achieve.

I hope some other company is able to buy Pet Society. They would rightfully earn the gratitude of over a million active players, and the respect of those players' friends. On pages that monitor stats of active users (, Pet Society ranks 121st in all apps on Facebook, including non-games like Pinterest and Yahoo.  Surely there is some value in a loyal following.

The illustrations in this post were done by Pet Society players around the world, and shared on Facebook. Hope to give proper credits later. Please comment if this is your art, and how you would like to be credited. 

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