By: Isael Vega
Pokémon Go initially began as an April Fool’s joke in 2014. Google presented it as a faux ad for the Google Maps: Pokémon Challenge. Google was looking for applicants for its new job role. “Pokemon masters are the world’s greatest digital explorers, and their passion for exploring will take our maps to the next dimension.” The idea came from Nintendo and The Pokémon Company in collaboration with Google. The trailer showed limited “gameplay” such as exploring the real world and catching Pokémon. These elements would become the core mechanics in Pokémon Go.
Niantic developed and released Pokémon Go in the summer of 2016. Although successful, the game had a rough launch with a multitude of server issues. These issues were due to the sheer amount of players overloading the servers. Regardless, the game continued to steadily grow and reached over 500 million downloads by the end of the year. Pokémon Go hit over 750 million global downloads in 2017. In order to celebrate this milestone (further monetize the millions of players) and the game’s first anniversary, Niantic announced its first real-world event, Pokémon Go Fest.
The Disastrous Pokémon Go Fest of 2017
Niantic announced Pokémon Go Fest Chicago as a real-world event at the Grant Park in downtown Chicago, Illinois. The announcement read, “Join us as we celebrate the Pokémon GO community with a ton of exciting festivities.” The event promised players or “trainers” increased spawns of rare Pokémon, increased rewards, and the first to encounter legendary Pokémon at the park. Meeting challenge requirements would unlock the rewards for trainers worldwide. This became difficult as trainers began to encounter connectivity issues and were unable to login.
The 20,000 trainers in attendance overloaded the cellular networks. Niantic assured trainers that they were working with network carriers to resolve the issue. Niantic CEO, John Hanke, attempted to address the concerns as upset trainers yelled “we can’t play” and “FIX THE GAME!” The game was unplayable in the park while others still waited in line. Due to the outrage, trainers were compensated in the form of a refund for their event ticket and $100 worth of in-game currency. Niantic also extended the event radius outside of the park and all ticket holders received a legendary Pokémon in their game accounts.
Hanke addressed all the issues in the following days on the Niantic blog. He acknowledged the disappointing experience trainers had and even all the boos. Among all the complaints, Hanke spent a great deal of time speaking with attendees and listening to their frustration. He even heard stories about how much the game meant to people. He wrote, “Many shared stories of how important the game was to them. Some talked about losing weight, others about a path to recovery after serious illness and some about repaired relationships with children, siblings and parents.”
The following year Niantic had to settle a $1.5 million class action law suit in order to cover additional costs such as airfare and hotels. Despite the lawsuit and the issues surrounding the event, Niantic moved forward with Pokémon Go Fest 2018. This time, it was a welcomed improvement taking place at Lincoln Park. The game was actually playable and connections were stable with Wi-Fi available throughout the park. New additions included a multi-step quest line to catch a mythical Pokémon and a new legendary Pokémon to battle.
A lot of the connectivity issues at Pokémon Go Fest 2017 reminded people of the game’s launch. These issues are hardly a problem today. Niantic showed how they learned from their mistakes in 2017 and applied those lessons to Pokémon Go fest 2018. For all the hate they get, they do listen to their player base and address issues, even if it takes some time. Niantic still needs to fix bugs affecting gameplay, add much needed quality of life features, and a user interface update would be nice. Pokémon Go is approaching its three year anniversary and it deserves a real celebration.
The game accomplished a lot in 2018 including over 800 million global downloads, crossed $2 billion in revenue, and had the highest player count since launch. Pokémon Go has had its ups and downs but continues to thrive. They make money from the Pokémon name alone with the hardcore fans and still manage to squeeze out millions from the casual crowd. Niantic has not made the perfect Pokémon game, but the Pokémon franchise means a lot to millions of people. Niantic has one of the most popular video game IPs in their hands and they should respect it.
Pokémon Go Fest California 2020?