opinion

Niantic Is Blowing It With Pokémon Go

by Andrew Reiner on Dec 15, 2016 at 06:04 AM

The Internet is partially to blame for Monday's disappointing Pokémon Go update. Data miners got the hype train rolling with tantalizing tidbits from the game's APK file which suggested huge additions were on the way, including 100 new Pokémon and a handful of other notable features. These miners have a successful track record with the game, revealing almost every change made well in advance of Niantic rolling them out.

By now, most people on the Internet know rumors and hacked data should be taken with a grain of salt. I was in the "I'll believe it when I see it" camp until Niantic poured gasoline onto the rumor fire. On December 7, Niantic issued a cryptic tease, saying it will share "details about the first addition of more Pokémon" on December 12. After seeing this tease, and the boldness it projected, I thought the rumors had to be true; 100 new Pokémon were on the way.

People were expecting big things. Niantic had to have known this. The tease before the reveal made it seem like big things were coming to the game. When December 12 rolled around, Niantic revealed new Pokémon were added to the game, but the messaging was again cryptic and weird, not giving us a full picture of what to expect. After a few hours of playing, the collective Pokémon Go fan base deciphered that only seven Pokemon were added, and worse yet, none of them could be caught. These Pokémon can only be hatched in eggs. Adding seven Pokémon into the wild for people to catch would have been a great addition; it would have given us reason to explore the world again. Locking them to eggs, the one element of the game that comes down to chance, was a horrible idea as a standalone update.

The update screams of a money grab, a clear way for Niantic to sell more egg incubators so people can walk multiple eggs at once. The worst part of all of this, however, is Niantic's failure in messaging, which carries a "holier-than-thou" tone in just how little is communicated to fans.

When the rumor of 100 new Pokémon proliferated, Niantic should have come forward with some kind of statement. A simple "Hey, trainers, we know you want more Pokémon, and we're hard at work on adding them to the game, but we're not quite ready to deliver Gen Two fully yet. We are releasing some of them on December 12, and hope to have the rest in the wild in [pick your month]." That would have taken the sting out of the lackluster update, and would have given us a date to look forward to. That's all we needed.

But the company, for whatever reason, hasn't given us any kind of road map for forthcoming content. The launch trailer from September 9 is loaded with content that still isn't in the game. I've been holding dozens of Pokémon for friends solely because the trailer told me I could trade them. We don't know when (or if) that functionality is coming. If Niantic keeps adding new Pokémon to the game, I'll have to start thinning my herd, or I'll be forced to spend real money on a storage upgrade.

Talk to us, Niantic. Give us reasons to get excited about the future of your game. It's a hell of a product – one of my favorite experiences this year – but you're blowing it by not providing information. All you have to do is let us know what you are thinking.

Supercell has done a fantastic job of updating its Clash Royale player base with relevant news each month. We learn about new cards that are on the way (and when), and the company even shares its thoughts on the current state of the game and the tuning it's doing to make it better. Some of the updates are left as mysteries to deliver a nice "surprise" element. The image below is the latest information Supercell shared with its community.

If Niantic has its head in the sand and is not monitoring what the player base is saying, it shouldn't be making a game like Pokémon Go. Just get out now. The lack of clarity over Ditto this summer was particularly troubling. In an article I wrote about people working together to find Ditto, I said "if this particular Pokémon isn't in the game yet, like all of the legendary Pokémon, Niantic should come forward and tell people to stop hunting. The collective time commitment people are putting forth is enormous and we'd hate for all of this effort to be wasted on something that they have no chance of unlocking at this point."

In a September interview with Tech Crunch, Niantic CEO John Hanke made it sound like Ditto was in the game, and people just hadn't figured out how to find him yet. "I can’t tell you how to find Ditto because that wouldn’t be any fun when you did find him. But it will happen for you. I promise.” As we all learned recently, Ditto wasn't in the game. Niantic added him in an update. Misleading people like this is just cruel, especially when you know people are actively looking for him.

Niantic has a fantastic product on its hands, and all we really need is a little transparency into what we can expect next. I don't think I'm asking for too much here. Leaving the future entirely to mystery clearly isn't working for this game. I hope we hear from Niantic soon.