Animated adventure looks fun, but doesn’t break new ground for animation
Sam Thornley / Staff Writer
The Secret Life of Pets offers up the entertaining premise of what pets do when their human owners aren’t around. Unfortunately, while there is some fun to be had, the film never fully delivers on the potential it offers to the audience. Starring a voice cast that includes Louis C.K, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, and Jenny Slate, the animated film by Illumination Entertainment was released on July 8, 2016 and is due to hit home media platforms on December 6.
The film centers on a Jack Russel Terrier named Max, whose comfortable life is flipped on its head when his owner buys a mongrel named Duke. When the rivalry between the two causes them to get lost in New York City, they must work together alongside other pets from their neighborhood to return home while avoiding the deranged Snowball, a rabbit who leads an army of stray animals.
If there is one thing that stands above all else in this film, the animation is extremely well done. The fur on the animals pops out and the skyline of New York is very detailed and looks accurate. Additionally, there is a certain energy to the animation that is highlighted during the animals’ interactions with their environment and each other.
The voice cast of the film manages to do fine with the material they are given. Louis C.K. and Stonestreet manage to play off each other very well and are likeable in their performances as Max and Duke, which helps benefit the developing friendship between the dogs. Kevin Hart and Jenny Slate shine as the hyper actively psychotic Snowball and the fiercely determined Gidget, who stops at nothing to find Max and express her feelings for him.
The humor is hit or miss, ranging from being clever to other times juvenile and crude. This is best demonstrated in the animal personalities playing off stereotyped behaviors such as the dogs finding sausage hallucinogenic, or even defying them in the case of Snowball and his violent antics. The mix and match of different behaviors manages to make the animals enjoyable in their shenanigans as they exhibit more common animal behaviors while having the added of humor of talking as they do so.
On the other side of the coin, the biggest pitfall of the film lies with its over reliance on crude humor and slapstick. Several instances of the film revolve around the animals attacking each other or being hyperactive, which causes an excess of energy and eventually gets irritating. Additionally, there are more jokes revolving around animals and their bodily functions than adult would be comfortable with, which ends up making the humor fall flat and seem rather childish.
The Secret Life of Pets also suffers from the pitfall of not doing much to expand on the theme of talking animals that other films have not done in a meaningful manner. While the animals do act like animals, this largely serves the purpose of just being the set up for jokes and the ability to speak is just an added gimmick. Additionally, not much is done to expand on the possibility of humans and animals interacting, as the animals are largely on their own for most of the film.
Finally, the plot of the film is rather basic and is nothing that will surprise the viewer, as the idea of two rivals becoming friends through a journey has been done by many animated and live-action films alike. Therefore, it just comes across as a repeat of what other films have done and feels rather stale with nothing new to offer besides some animal jokes. Not helping matters is that the film brings up a subplot revolving around abandoned pets seeking revenge on humans for neglecting them, but instead treats it as a side joke rather than turning it into a conflict that could flesh out the characters.
Most glaring of all, the film lacks character development for its animal stars with the exception of Max and Duke. The animals don’t get any real challenges to their character and remain pretty similar in personality throughout, lacking any sort of growth or change. Even Duke and Max’s developing friendship is fairly superficial, as it isn’t any more complicated than a typical enemies become friends type of development.
Overall, The Secret Life of Pets has some occasionally good jokes along with good voice actors and animation, but not much substance. Considering animated films have shown they are capable of much more than just being distractions for kids, it feels all the more disappointing. The film will kill some time for an hour and a half, but ultimately there are much better films to spend time watching instead.
Marisa Cardin/Senior Staff Writer
On Nov. 16, students at Western gathered in the auditorium of the Gunnison Arts Center to see both students and community members show off their poetry. This event was held by Wordhorde, Western’s spoken word troupe. They hold one slam per semester, and each slam contains five judges, each of whom score the poets on a scale of one to ten, in order of how much they enjoyed the poem, for its language as well the performance of the poet. Jay Ytell, the vice president of Wordhorde, came in third place, with his poem centering around presidential elections being a real crowd pleaser. Bella Lewis, a senior at Western, placed second. Her poems centered around wonderful performances due to her outside experience as an actress. The winner of the contest, community member Len Germinara, stunned the audience with his final piece about climate change, urging listeners to go as far as to write to the president to urge him to defend our one and only planet.
Top interviewed Jay Ytell and Bella Lewis, asking them both about what inspires them to perform, and what they hope Western students will gain from the experience of the Poetry Slam. Ytell, a junior, said: “The most rewarding part of performing my poetry is making people laugh and enjoy poetry. I hope performing poetry helps western students realize that poetry can be fun and accessible, rather than pretentious.”
Lewis felt similarly to Ytell in his opinions on performing. When Top asked her what her reason behind performing instead of just writing poetry was, she said: “The idea terrified me, so I figured it must be worth doing. I could write up and down about what I’ve been through and be fine with it being read by anyone who happens to find it, but performing those words for strangers and friends who do not know these things about me was a different matter entirely. There is no option to hide behind the page anymore. So, I guess you could say this experience was my way of deciding not to hide anymore,” Lewis admitted. “It’s a kind of honesty that requires a lot of trust and courage, but after you’re through with it, you feel incredibly relieved. I never talk about these things with other people, so performing my poetry was a way of letting go of everything.”
Top also asked Lewis what she hoped Western students would gain from this experience. She said: “I think you can gain a lot from attending a poetry slam. The entire audience connects with what is being performed in a way you don’t get from other kinds of performance. Every one of them is such a unique and bonding experience for everyone involved and I think everyone should try to make it to one at least once while they’re in college.”
The Poetry Slam proved to be a huge success, inspiring performers, and hopefully audience members, to challenge themselves with new opportunities. Come and see Wordhorde’s final Poetry Slam next semester!
Western students get involved in local environmental projects
By Jeremy Wallace
A cool breeze from the West picks up the dry smell of sawdust from dozens of teepee poles being sanded and prepared for raising. College students and other volunteers work tirelessly on their small projects, conversing about upcoming assignments and wondering, just how does one raise a teepee, anyway? It’s a busy day at the Coldharbour Ranch, 332 acres of property East of Gunnison owned by the Coldharbour Institute. The ranch is a center for educating people about sustainable practices and the future site of Coldharbour Institute headquarters. The teepee that is about to be raised will serve as a unique gathering spot for outdoor environmental classes.
“I wanted to raise more awareness about the institute,” said Michela Shultz, an environmental studies major in-part responsible for organizing a group of Western State Colorado University students to volunteer for the project. Shultz and many other students in Western’s Environment and Sustainability program are learning how to organize service projects, and collaborate with institutions such as Coldharbour helping to bring sustainable living practices to the public eye. “I’ve been passionate about the environment and lessening human impact since I was in fourth grade,” said Shultz. “I’ve learned a lot of skills [at Western], from big research projects to environmental policy.”
Service projects such as Shultz’s are a step in the right direction for Coldharbour Institute, a small sustainability-minded organization in the early startup phase.
“There is always more work to do,” says Briant Wiles, Director of Land Management for Coldharbour. “During service days we get a chance to expose more people to the property, and the potential for future engagement while talking about what it means to promote sustainable living practices.” While Coldharbour is still currently in a developmental stage- gaining financial stability and creating a strategic plan for the future- it hopes to soon expand educational programming and form partnerships with organizations in the valley that will foster sustainable living movements and ideas.
As the three initial teepee poles are hoisted up and set in place, the crowd of volunteers look on with the satisfaction of seeing a project completed. Without numerous people helping with small tasks, this process could’ve taken the small staff at Coldharbour multiple days- but many hands made light work, whether raising a teepee or creating sustainable living practices for people in the Gunnison Valley.
The Fall 2016 Mountaineer Athletics Season Recap and Highlights and Winter Starts.
Nicholas A. Fischer / Staff Writer
With temperatures dropping and snow falling, the fall athletic season came to an end, ushing in the winter athletic season. The first half of the 2016-2017 NCAA sports season has not disappointed as it has been full of records, awards, and heartbreak.
During the fall season, Mountaineer’s had success on the football and soccer fields, volleyball court, and running trails.
Western’s football team had their first winning season in over 15 years. They went 7-4 and finished fourth in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference standings. In the Hall of Fame Game Western beat rival Adams State then beat the 23rd ranked Colorado School of Mines for the Homecoming game to start the season 2-2.
Two straight shutouts by the defense had the team hunting for postseason play with three games left. The loss of two of the last three games knocked them out of postseason contention, ending a run that had the fans cheering until the last play of a heartbreaking loss to Colorado State-Pueblo on Oct 29.
The defense was led by juniors Chad Wasser and Carter Wasser, and seniors Kristopher Bass, Austin Yurko, and Rodrick Waters. Leading one of the most impressive offenses in Western history were seniors Austin Eckler, Brett Arrivey, and Kyle Adkins.
Running Back Austin Eckler made Mountaineer football history by breaking the school career records for rushing yards, attempts, touchdowns, and scoring. Eckler is also a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy, the top player in Division II, which will be announced on Dec 16.
While Western’s women soccer team did not have a winning record 6-9-3, they were still able to qualify for their first RMAC tournament. Under new head coach Amy Bell, the Mountaineers began to look like a force to be reckoned with after beating the number three ranked Colorado School of Mines in double overtime on Oct 16.
Even though the experience and play of seniors Izzy Engman, Rachel Sullivan, Courtney Urrea, and Katelynn Mardeusz is sure to be missed, the Mountaineers have many talented players returning for the 2017 season.
Western’s cross country team saw the most success of any of the teams so far this year. At the NCAA Division II Cross Country National Championships, the Mountaineers women’s team finished in 3rd place and men’s team was in 11th.
At the National Championships, Senior Georgia Porter capped off her two-time All-American career with an eighth place finish. Juniors Alicja Konieczek and Sophie Seward placed 11th and 22nd respectively also took home All-American honors.
Senior Keifer Johnson finished his college career with a seventh place finish at the National Championships. Redshirt freshman Preston Cates started his career with a 28th place All-American performance.
Western’s women’s volleyball team had to have the most heartbreaking season. The team had their first winning season in a decade with a record of 14-12. However, they would miss the conference tournament on the last match of the season.
Seniors, Allison Walker, Tori Gaherty, Amanda Maestes, Avery Buckholder, and Molly Hothan along with junior Jordan Eatwell left everything on the court as this year as they made every volley a competition. Maestes holds the school record for digs with 1490, and Gaherty averaged 300 kills a season over her career.
The team lost an emotional last home game for the seniors at Paul Wright Gymnasium to Adams State that knocked them out of RMAC tournament contention. While the seniors did not get to finish their careers with a trip to the conference tournament, the crowd was loud and proud of their career accomplishments and sent them off with an appreciation that they players had for them and Western alike.
One of the greatest achievements for Western Athletics this fall did not come on the court, field, or trail, but from what a campus legend had accomplished through his career. The NCAA Division II Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year Award was named in the honor of Dr. Duane Vandenbusche.
Over Dr. Vandenbusche’s 37 year coaching career, he won 7 coach of the year awards, which he gives all the credit to his athletes. When asked about his thoughts on the coach of year award being named for his career accomplishments Vandenbusche said, “It is a great honor and I really appreciate it, but the honor should go the great athletes I had.”
During Vandenbusche’s coaching career he led 12 teams to national titles and 51 individual titles and had over 300 All-Americans on his teams. Vandenbusche’s dedication to coaching those athletes to success “came from the lessons he learned growing up in St. Nicholas, Michigan, and the Upper Peninsula”
While Dr. Vandenbusche is now retired from his 37 year coaching career of Western’s Cross Country and Track and Field teams he has yet to retire from educating. That goes along with what he says is the key to being a good athlete, “Number one, be a good person; number two, be a good student; and number three, be a good athlete. And in that order.”
Dr. Vandenbusche may not be coaching anymore, but he still can be found in his office writing on his typewriter, or in class teaching students or the public about Gunnison Country and Colorado history. I have also been told he still known to find the time to scramble up the mountains around Crested Butte.
Some of the success seen in the fall is starting to show in the early winter basketball, swimming & diving, wrestling seasons.
Randi Yarnell is starting her season out fast and has already broken more Western school records. On Dec 1 at the A3 Performance CMU Invite, Yarnell broke her previous record time in the 50 free with a time of 23.47. Western’s 400 medley relay team of Yarnell, Ma’alaea Lawrence, Ariel Fitch, and Kate Hewson, set another school record in that meet with a time of 3:55.28.
Swimming and Diving’s next home meet is on Jan 14 12:00pm, versus Colorado School of Mines at Paul Wright Natatorium.
Western’s Men Basketball team has its ups and down to start the season. The Mountaineers have struggled away from Gunnison, but have had some success at home to start the season at 2-4 as of Dec 2. However, the Mountaineers had an historic come from behind win over Colorado Mesa University on Nov 29.
During the game against Colorado Mesa, Western was down for most of the game. After scrapping their way back from 15-point deficit over the last 13 minutes of the game, Brady Supart hit a three-pointer to tie the game with 21 seconds to go. Then Will Duggan hit a just past half-court shot as time expired for the win over rival Colorado Mesa. As the shot went in student section rushed the court to revel in a win that didn’t seem likely 20 minutes prior, making it a game that will go down in the lore of Western basketball history.
Being Will Duggen’s second last second shot to beat a rival team, he hit a baseline three against Adams State last year, he said, “I did my best to contain my excitement and act professional knowing my teammates and I had been in the situation before.”
Western’s Women Basketball team has also struggled to a 1-5 reconrd so far this season as they rebuild under first year coach Lora Westling. However, after receiving the team’s first “lights out” introduction in over a year, in the home opener an excitement could be seen over take the team.
Both basketball teams next play their back-to-back double header games at home in Paul Wright Gym on Dec 9 against Adams State and Dec 10 verses Fort Lewis College. Women’s games start at 5:30pm on Friday and 5:00pm on Saturday. Men’s games are at 7:30pm and 7:00pm respectively.
For Western Wrestling, Brandon Supernaw and Konnor Schmidt each started the season off strong with wins at the University of Nebraska-Kearny Open.
The next home wrestling match is the Tracy Borah duels on Jan 7 with the first events starting at 9:00 am
Thirteen students join the Sioux tribe and water protectors against the DAPL
Roberta Marquette-Strain/Senior Staff Writer
One cannot ask any of the students who traveled to Standing Rock Indian Reservation what the experience was like and expect a simple answer. There isn’t one. “It was a full range of emotions,” said group member Dustin Crowner. “We experienced truly beautiful things as well as terrible things sometimes within an hour. It’s hard to convey a sentence or a simple conversation.”
The 13 students, Crowner, Cody Bontecou, Delaney Adrian, Landan Schaller, Bailey Stewart, Chris Doucet, Uma Costanza, Jodie Howard, Jessica Howard, Madison Manning, Lozen Miller, Jared Allen, and Louissa Rozendaal traveled to the North Dakota reservation November 19-22 to join forces with the Sioux Native American tribe and protesters, who call themselves water protectors, who are standing against the planned construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The DAPL would be built half a mile from Standing Rock, and would require digging up sacred Sioux land and could contaminate the reservation’s water.
The pipeline and the implications it could have for the land are not solely what influenced the group to go. “It’s about all of the people who have been oppressed,” Costanza explained. “All of these people are fighting for others to recognize their worth that we have ignored for years and years. The oppression of these people and oppression of the Earth go hand in hand.” During their time at the reservation, the group saw the oppression first hand, but also encountered beautiful moments of community, love, and trust.
The group did not know exactly what they were going to encounter, but any negative thought passed as soon as they arrived in North Dakota as they were setting up their camp the first night in frigid temperatures. A car drove by and the driver offered for them to stay in their kitchen tent they had set up. “It was the first thing we were really hit with, the generosity,” said Schaller.
Their first night set the tone for the rest of the trip. They were no longer just a group of college students from Colorado. They were members of this community, all gathered together for a larger cause – to stand with their brothers and sisters. The unity was felt across the camp, as Schaller explained. “The love and unity in the camp is kind of like a wave, a giant current that you can resist, but it takes everybody with it.”
The Standing Rock community operates like a “well-functioning commune” as Howard explained it. Everyone took the time to help each other, whether it was watching someone’s children, washing dishes, or doing chores. The students also contributed to the camp by helping them prepare for the winter by chopping wood and building structures. They were also able to donate clothing, firewood, propane, and other supplies some, of which were donated by the Gunnison community.
Their entire trip was not spent completing these responsibilities however. It was only the second night when half the group found themselves in the middle of an extreme protest between the protectors and law enforcement. The two group’s tensions have run high throughout the months of the DAPL protest. This specific event, referred to as Backwater Sunday, is just one of the many clashes the groups have had.
Water cannons were shot off, tear gas was used, and rubber bullets were targeted toward the protectors. Half of the students found themselves in the middle of the group of about 400 protectors. “As soon as we exited the camp and went over the hill, we immediately saw the lights, the water, the chaos,” Crowner said. “As a group, we kept inching up, growing more and more curious and before we knew it we were right within it all.” Bontecou said they inched so close, that they themselves were teargassed. The group documented the event through photos and videos and watched as people around them vomited and passed out from the gas.
Despite the pandemonium, the large community did not falter. The 400-some group worked together as team. They warned people not to run as the tear gas was shot as it would cause more chaos, and those injured were carried out. The community never stopped looking out for their family. “It’s like everyone viewed the people around them more important than themselves and it helps create this unity,” said Costanza.
The unity of the community within the Standing Rock Reservation and its supporters world-wide is ultimately the biggest thing that Schaller has taken from the experience. He believes that the DAPL has stirred many to think more about the importance of the environment, people from all walks of life, and of course, community. “At the end of the day, this battle is going to be won in people’s hearts and minds. Not at the front line. (If the DAPL is approved) everything is stacked against us, but this movement has taken a life of its own. In that sense, we’ve already won.”
For those interested in joining the battle, the group meets Tuesdays and Thursdays in the library’s mural room on the first floor at 5 p.m. They have also created Go Fund Me pages, one Donations to Standing Rock Protest goes directly to the reservation, and the other Send Western to Standing Rock raises money for possible future trips, which has already sent a second group out to North Dakota December 2.
However, the biggest thing one can do to help out the cause according to the group and the Sioux elders, is to educate oneself on the topic, putting one’s heart in the right place, and understand that while anyone is welcome to join the cause, this is the Sioux’s fight and protectors need to do it in their way.
Even though we’ve had a victory recently, we must continue to be vigilant and to support the protectors and stand for Standing Rock.
Volunteers are welcome at the Gunnison Food Pantry.
Stephanie Colton / Staff Writer
With the help of local volunteers, the Gunnison Food Pantry feeds hundreds of people across the Gunnison Valley each year. To prove that any person who needs assistance can find it, the Food Pantry recently gave 101 Thanksgiving dinners to families in need. Approximately 10,000 pounds of food per month are distributed to 250 households on average. This amounts to around 560 people in Gunnison area. It is all made possible by the members of the Food Pantry, the volunteers, and the local donors.
Katie Dix, president of the Board of Directors, moved to Gunnison five years ago and wanted to connect with like-minded people. Through volunteering, she found that she enjoyed surrounding herself with people that wanted to take action and help others. As her last time in a managerial position, Dix wants to promote the Food Pantry and make it known to everyone that they can always be helped when they need it.
The Food Pantry distributes food from their lobby to anyone who sets foot in the door. Dix states that the hardest step in the process for most people is walking through the door for the first time, as they feel discouraged seeking help. The main goal of the Food Pantry is to assist anyone, and there is no shame in asking for help. They also distribute monthly government supplied packages to lower income families that qualify for assistance.
A large portion of the Pantry’s supply is generated from local food drives. Volunteer groups or teams promote the Food Pantry at businesses and organizations in the area and collect donations from generous locals. Volunteers supply shoppers with a suggested shopping list to help fulfill the needs of the Food Pantry. However, there are plenty more ways for community members to assist the Food Pantry. Western student Hannah Twiddy designed the poster outside Gunnison Savings & Loan to promote the annual fund drive. Twiddy has been a long-time donor to organizations such as the food pantry and wanted to use her creative graphic design skills to step up her involvement in the community.
Western students, along with Gunnison community members, are encouraged to take initiative and volunteer at the Food Pantry with a club or group of friends. On the first Wednesday of every month, the Food Pantry receives a shipment from the Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado. Volunteers are welcome to help move the food into the Pantry at 10:30AM. Anyone seeking volunteer hours may work a few hours a week organizing the food inside the building. Any students or community members looking to apply their personal skills to help the Pantry are highly encouraged to share their ideas.There is always work to be done.
The Gunnison Food Pantry is located on 321-C N Main Street, located on the southwest corner of Main and Ohio. To learn more about volunteer opportunities at the Pantry, feel free to email Katie Dix or other members at email@example.com.
Fall Guest of the Contemporary Writer Series
Senior Staff Writer
Last Wednesday, Nov. 30, Beth Paulson visited Western for a poetry reading and a craft talk. Though it had been a number of years since her last visit to the school, she commented that she “was honored to be reading here again.” Paulson spoke to a room full of Western students, faculty, and community members, and read from her new book Immensity, a poetry book about the universe and its vastness. When introducing the concept of her book, she said that she really enjoyed using so many scientific words and terms within her poetry, though she is no scientist herself. “I use the natural world as my canvas, but have stretched it out to include the whole universe,” Paulson said. Her words seemed to be well received by English major and non-English majors alike, all of whom seemed eager to clap after every performance she gave.
Paulson opened the reading with a rather fitting quote by Albert Einstein: “…creating a new theory is not like destroying an old barn and erecting a skyscraper in its place. It is rather like climbing a mountain, gaining new and wider views, discovering unexpected connections between our starting point and its rich environment. But the point from which we started out still exists and can be seen, although it appears smaller and forms a tiny part of our broad view gained by the mastery of the obstacles on our adventurous way up.” Truly, climbing a mountain could be much like writing a poem, especially for Paulson as she described writing about scientific methods she had trouble understanding. She encouraged writers to listen to things they did not know, in order to gain a better understanding of the world around them and the world in which they reside.
Paulson’s poem “All Or Nothing” seemed to be a particular audience pleaser: “Both absence and presence, you are the hole inside the empty bucket, biblical void, wholly ghost, suffused with unknown potential, proof that something comes from nothing. Without you everything would be lost. You are the white paper for my uncertain pen. You are the air I step through above this broken sidewalk.”
Whether this is about the immensity of the universe or the immensity of ourselves is up to the reader to decide. Please join the Contemporary Writer Series next April for our next guest writers!
Marisa Cardin/Senior Staff Writer
For years, Western has been offering a directing class in which students have the opportunity to direct short plays casted by other Western students. It has been extremely helpful to Theatre students trying to gain experience as both actors and directors, hoping to work in theatre companies after graduation.
This year, there were four one-act plays. As an attempt to understand what goes into these individual plays, Top interviewed a senior in the program:
TOP: What has been the most challenging thing as a director for the one acts?
Brittney Pearson, a director of the one act Superheroes Anonymous, explained that “The toughest part (of being a director) is giving your cast the time they need to really find their characters. The time period to develop these plays is relatively short, and there is so much going on because all of us are students,” she said. “As a director, you want each person to really become their character and thrive, but you’re also on a time crunch.” Auditions were held for “The Double Bind” a few weeks before Thanksgiving break, and actors and directors alike have been working hard to make sure that their shows are as perfect as possible.
TOP: What is the most rewarding aspect of directing?
Pearson responded: “The best part is watching other students grow as actors. It’s amazing to go from one rehearsal to the next and see how each person develops. You can see them coming out of their shells and really becoming amazing actors!”
TOP: What, if anything, inspired you to direct instead of act/tech/etc? What made you choose to direct your individual shows?
Pearson said: “Well, to be, honest this is a required course for graduation, but I really think we need it! I am normally in the role of technician, and it is really interesting to change it up. I think it is vital for everyone in theatre to understand the roles of other people in the company. It has really given me a new appreciation for what I’ve seen other directors do in past productions at Western,” she said. “I chose Superheroes Anonymous because it was just too wild not too! The entire premise is wacky, and it really makes me think about what would have happened if my childhood dream of being a superhero actually came true.” Her show centered around old, out-of-work-superheroes just trying to find themselves again. It was one of two comedies presented during “The Double Bind”, the other being Scales, directed by Bella Lewis.
TOP: What do you hope Western students to gain from seeing “The Double Bind”?
“I hope they leave “The Double Bind” thinking: wow, I think I could do that.! “The Double Bind” is done entirely by students, which means with the right training and support, anyone can do it. I hope that by seeing these productions they are inspired to try something new, if not in theater, then in some other avenue of their life,” Pearson said.
Truly, the theatre department of Western had a wonderful time preparing and performing “The Double Bind.” Top can’t wait until their next show!
Why “Pokemon Go” is on decline
On Jul. 6 2016, Niantic, an augmented reality game developer, released “Pokemon Go” into the world. As a lifelong Pokemon fan, I was out of my mind ecstatic about this game and the reception it received from countries all over the world. On one hand, “Pokemon Go” was everything I ever wanted from a Pokemon game. Since I was a child I dreamed of capturing my own Pokemon and training them in the real world (as is the dream of any young Pokemon fan) and in many ways Niantic delivered. Once I got through the rampant server issues, game crashes, incredible battery drain, and dysfunctional tracking system I fell thoroughly in love with the game.
But here we are, four months after the game’s release, and the player base has crashed from a staggering 500 million to only 20 million. If you had asked me two weeks after the release if I thought I’d still be playing the game a year from then, I would have said “absolutely.” But after only 4 short months, my time playing the game has dropped to almost nothing, and it’s Niantic’s fault.
Niantic’s first mistake was how it calculated its expected player base. Niantic did the math on every Pokemon game ever sold and cut that number in half (because of people buying multiple games). They then cross referenced that number with the number of active pokemon players in the world and settled on a number less than a tenth of the size of the number of downloads the game now has. Pokemon has always been a sort of international phenomenon, so it was no surprise when it blew up across the world. Not anticipating a massive player base caused crippling server malfunctions leaving a lot of early players disappointed and frustrated.
Niantic’s second mistake was the tracking system. The original system essentially operated in a way that told you if you were ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ with either one step (closest) two steps or three steps (furthest) in the in game display. This system was difficult and confusing at first, with many different theories and methods to use the tracking system to its best ability. There was zero information from Niantic. Then the tracking system broke, displaying Pokemon that were long gone or no where near your current location. This is when 3rd party tracking apps started popping up. These were apps that data mined the games life information and displayed the exact location of every pokemon in every area. While this does seem a bit cheap and takes some fun out of the game, it was necessary due to the game having no other tracking system. Niantic, instead of doubling their efforts to either fix their tracking system or make a new one, spent time and resources on shutting down every third party tracking system they could find. Granted, they did break Pokemon Go’s terms of service, but the community was finding a solution to a problem, not trying to ruin the game. By this point in the game’s cycle, many people had simply given up on the game’s frustrating user experience.
Niantics third and most fatal mistake, that almost single handedly drove people away from the game, was their lack of communication. Now, Niantic is a small company of less than one-hundred employees and that small of a team managing five hundred million downloads is no easy task. Communicating with such a large player base can sometimes be even more difficult, especially when everyone wants to be happy. However, Niantic could have at least assigned one person, maybe a new employee, to their twitter account. Hundreds of video game developers flock to twitter because of its ability to serve as an instant community news outlet. Live games especially rely on twitter to talk about the frequent updates, patches, game balances, new features, etc. coming to their games. In my many years of gaming, I’ve never seen a company so bad at communicating with their fans. If all the millions of players had at least known that Niantic was trying to fix their broken game, at least some would have stayed. With every popular game there is usually a dedicated community that is willing and loves to contribute to the game. I don’t know how many Pokemon Youtubers with the qualifications to work on a mobile game such as pokemon go were posting daily with all of the things they would change in the game to make it a better experience for everyone. All Niantic had to do was reassure the community everything was going to be okay, and then listen to the feedback.
Pokemon isn’t dead, there are still 20 million daily users and there is still a strong online community, but the game is dying. Niantic is currently on the right path with their Halloween event and other updates to the egg system, the tracking system in beta, etc. Just being on the right path, however, isn’t enough. My ultimate fear for the game is that without a drastic change from the company, “Pokemon Go” will simply be another long lost mobile hit that came and went. For now, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the day that “Pokemon Go” is worthy of a return to the public eye.