Niantic is Ruining Pokemon Go

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.