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Pokémon GO Developer Niantic Explains Recent Changes That Upset Fans


Pokémon GO has had a number of high-profile glitches since the game came out—notably prolonged server outages, Pokémon tracking issues, and freezes—but not all of those issues can be fixed so quickly. So, the developers at Niantic have decided to tackle the one they can fix: the general lack of communication with their players.

The Internet has erupted in frustration over a recent update to the game that removed the visual cue for the broken in-game tracking mechanism altogether, along with changes that shut down 3rd party Pokémon mapping services. In the absence of communication as to why these changes were made and when players can expect new features to take their place, the community assumed the worst, with some even going so far as to ask for refunds for in-app purchases.

The update went live on Saturday, and after two days of anger directed at Niantic, they’ve finally responded on Facebook with an explanation of what’s going on behind-the-scenes. Let’s break it down:


As many of you know, we recently made some changes to Pokémon GO.

– We have removed the ‘3-step’ display in order to improve upon the underlying design. The original feature, although enjoyed by many, was also confusing and did not meet our underlying product goals. We will keep you posted as we strive to improve this feature.”

The good news: Tracking is definitely coming back, and it sounds like they’re trying to find a way to make it clearer than the original 3 pawprint/”3-step” design, which should be good news to a lot of players. The hard part is probably figuring out how to provide more accurate tracking without overloading their servers with calculations on every nearby Pokémon for their estimated 100 million worldwide players.

The bad news: There’s no timeframe given. We have no idea how long it’ll be before such a fix arrives, and tracking has already been broken for weeks—not exactly a great sign. I’d personally hope the fix doesn’t take more than another one or two weeks, but we really have no indication. (Which is probably because they don’t want to promise a timeframe and then miss it, resulting in even more frustration.)

Moving on: “We have limited access by third-party services which were interfering with our ability to maintain quality of service for our users and to bring Pokémon GO to users around the world. The large number of users has made the roll-out of Pokémon GO around the world an… interesting… challenge. And we aren’t done yet! Yes, Brazil, we want to bring the game to you (and many other countries where it is not yet available).”

Those 3rd party mapping services were, indeed, bogging Niantic’s servers down with all the requests they were making for Pokémon mapping data (to the tune of tens of millions of users). The game may be frustrating to the most dedicated Pokémon trainers in its current state, but some areas of the world would rather play that than nothing (so would I), and that extra server traffic was hurting Niantic’s ability to release in new markets.

Not only that, but it was probably making the game’s server issues worse than they had to be for those who were playing it, including those actually using the maps. (Brazil is mentioned specifically due to a hack of Niantic CEO John Hanke’s Twitter account by players in Brazil who were upset that they didn’t have the game yet.)

“We have read your posts and emails and we hear the frustration from folks in places where we haven’t launched yet, and from those of you who miss these features. We want you to know that we have been working crazy hours to keep the game running as we continue to launch globally. If you haven’t heard us Tweeting much it’s because we’ve been heads down working on the game. But we’ll do our best going forward to keep you posted on what’s going on.”

Despite all the insults hurled at them online (I know some players have been politely asking for changes, but the angry dogpile has been huge), the developers are working hard to try to fix the game and make it fun for everyone and probably could not physically be doing it faster. Like their fans, they’d probably prefer if these issues had been fixed already, and they’re doing their best.

As for the lack of communication, whatever the reason was, Niantic had a job posting on their site for a community manager as recently as yesterday, and it has now disappeared, so it’s likely that they’re moving to have someone in place to facilitate that public dialogue in the future and prevent this from happening again. That’s great news, and I hope that those critical of the developer online will similarly take time to analyze whether they were part of the solution or part of the problem.

Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of valid criticisms of this game’s launch, its subsequent issues, and how they were handled. I just think—as someone who’s been on the receiving end of fan backlash in game development—that there are equally valid criticisms for those specific fans who vented their frustrations in entirely unconstructive ways and assumed the worst of the developer in the absence of information. It seems Niantic is trying to learn from this situation, and I hope we all have.

(via 8bit grrl on Twitter, image via screenshot)

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