Since its release several weeks ago, Niantic’s mobile sensation Pokemon Go! has set the world on fire in a way unseen since the franchise first reared its head some 20 years ago. In spite of its apparent success, however, recent events have left a large question mark on the company’s ability to maintain their new found popularity.
Initially Pokemon Go! was plagued with rampant server instability worldwide with many finding themselves unable to either log into the game or maintain a stable connection during the initial rollout across Australia and the US. Hiccups such as this should be no surprise to anyone that has been around online gaming for any length of time however the depths to which Niantic have found themselves unprepared beg the question of how well they can manage themselves in a crisis. Fortunately for the many fans however Niantic was soon to resolve the stability issues with the release of a patch, sadly the problems only seem to have grown from there.
During beta testing, developers toyed with idea of players being able to track their proximity to a Pokemon by displaying the amount of steps between a player and their prey, this was changed for the full release with a slimmed down version based on paw prints. Pokemon very far away would register with 3 paw prints while those at a moderate distance would register with 2 and those very close registering at 1. Despite the basic nature of the tracker the system worked well enough however with the introduction of Niantic’s patch the tracker broke leaving all Pokemon stuck on 3 paw prints and
players lost without a clue.
Though complaints about the trackers lack of functionality were torrential Niantic remained glib about the issue and what they were doing to resolve it, instead releasing subsequent patches to adjust minor issues such as text without any information. In the wake of this silence several enterprising programmers came up with their own solution by taking advantage of several glaring vulnerabilities in the games design to release various Pokemon tracking apps and websites, the most popular of which was Pokevision.
With the Pokemon trackers gaining in popularity many players had found the answers to their qualms however many problems still remained. Glitches in the games in-game store and inventory meant that players were spending real money only to end up with nothing as the game failed to honour their purchase or deleted items without reason. Alongside this hackers had also begun to gain traction as exploits became known allowing players to fake their location and capture both gym and Pokemon without leaving the comfort of their computer desk, perhaps the greatest example of this being in Japan where scores of Chinese hackers captured a plethora of gyms using hacked Pokemon in an act of nationalistic antagonism. Once again Niantic remained silent on the matter, continuing to foster an unprofessional reputation which has followed them since their beginnings with mobile game Ingress.
Players seeking to probe further to find out why Niantic had been ignoring players queries soon found that the developers had been running the game despite lacking a community manager to deal with the flood of complaints and that their mailbox had been left unattended potentially violating both Google and itunes store policies. Around this time it was also announced that many of the now popular pokemon tracking sites would now be forced to shut down due to propriety claims from the games rights holders once again leaving players alone in the dark.
With pressure mounting, Niantic has now decided to disable the tracking feature completely in a recent patch and, despite finally releasing a press release reaffirming the disabling of the tracking device and their role in the takedown of Pokemon tracking sites, the company has done little to garner faith among the player-base.
So to answer the question, can Niantic go the distance, or will they find themselves crushed under the weight of their own sudden success? With rollouts yet to be completed in Brazil among other countries and a growing list of issues yet to be dealt with, it seems as though their endeavour may blow up in their faces. As players, we’re asking a lot of a studio that really should have seen it coming. Can the enduring popularity of Pokemon keep them afloat until they catch their breath? Only time will tell.
Chris Senz is a freelance journalist and contributor to PN2.