We’ve all heard “the question” one too many times: “People still play that? I thought Pokemon GO was dead?”. And rightfully so: in 2016, Pokemon GO was a global phenomena that took the world by storm, corner to corner, street to street. In 2018, Pokemon GO is a game still enjoyed by many (tens of millions according to Niantic’s recent posts), but the overarching hype machine has collapsed. It begs the question, how is this game still not dead? And by association, how are we still publishing?
Let’s talk about that, like two adults enjoying a serious online discourse. Pour yourself a drink, this will be a long one.
The grand collapse
The Pokemon GO fever officially died with the last days of October, 2016. Niantic was struggling: incredibly understaffed, incredibly tired and committed to keeping the servers alive, the company was in deep problems. From the outside, it seemed like Pokemon GO was a one of hit, as devs scrambled with bad communication, buggy releases and lack of features to keep players engaged. Back in the day, we had only dreams and hopes to hold on to.
If seeing was believing, you wouldn’t be a believer back then, as the game was a rampant mess of bugs, broken promises and misaligned player expectations. I can’t stress this enough. If you fell off the bandwagon in 2016, you had every right to do so. Even I did for a few months, hell I fell even off the Hub bandwagon back then – but that’s a story for another Sunday.
As winter came closer and closer, the majority of the player base was looking for an update and a reason to play, but there were some who were still grinding away. One of them, by the name of Jimmie Pitts (Buffalo, NY), was the first in the world to reach the fabled Level 40. FastPokeMap drama was all the rage back then, trackers were going up and down, the in-game tracker was finally getting re-released and then it all changed.
Turkey, pumpkins and a Christmas Tree
Niantic always understood that Pokemon GO is a social game, and people will always be people. Give us something to look forward to, make it exclusive and limited by time and we’re all yours – which is exactly what they did.
On October 24th, a Halloween themed event was announced, and become one of the biggest events in Pokemon GO history. On November 11 2016, Niantic announced a small Thanksgivings event. On November 23rd, Ditto was released. On December 12th, a special Holiday themed event and Generation II was announced. Admittedly, it was only Generation 2 baby Pokemon that could hatch from eggs, but it was a major step forward in communication and developer trustworthiness.
We finally understood that Niantic is a serious company, whose image and passion was only marred by logistical problems, not by greed or profit seeking. They had enough profit, so that was off the table. After all, Pokemon GO was the #1 top grossing app on the App Store during holiday season in 2017.
And then the game hit another dry patch, from January to mid February 2017, when almost nothing happened and people were falling off the bandwagon again. Fine, makes sense – no content, no players. That’s a simple fact of life, and many games have felt this in the past, World of Warcraft first comes to mind. This was a especially low period for us, with record low readership and page numbers. However, things were about to get a lot, lot better.
Que the trailer.
The search continues
It’s hard to explain how big the Generation 2 update was for Pokemon GO. On February 15 2017, the game was thoroughly reworked, reborn in a way, introducing a metric ton of new Pokemon, new moves, new systems and reigniting the passion all around the world.
Things were changing fast in the Pokemon world, especially for moves: our Moves have changed again: a full list of changes article is a testament to how much things can change in just one Pokemon GO day.
The Pokemon GO engagement, and by extension, our own site stats, exploded, quadrupling the numbers seen in the previous quarter. But Niantic was far from done, announcing that “all new cooperative features” were coming in the coming Spring months. What on earth could those be?
But things were changing on the communication side as well, with Niantic launching a dedicated Twitter support account on April 11, 2017. Named Niantic Support (@NianticHelp), this Twitter account has since become a central place for bugs, outage reports and support related information, creating a safe space for people who just want the plain information, sans the marketing and social media centric posts that often plague the official Pokemon GO account. Niantic Support is now at 115k followers. We’re at 140k, but who’s counting, right?
Again, Niantic did not stop. We had a crazy summer in front of us.
Two is company, three is a raid
And raid we did. Raid Battles, the new cooperative feature had arrived, featuring Pokemon that could be raided and defeated in large player groups. We even did a frame by frame analysis of the legendary raid trailer, published on July 20th 2017. The game went into a complete overdrive mode, releasing raid after raid.
Niantic’s communication has improved so much that they’ve even shared the dates during which various Legendary Birds will be available:
- Articuno (Team Mystic) released on Saturday, July 22 and available through Monday, July 31 2017.
- Moltres (Team Valor) to be released on Monday, July 31 and available through Monday, August 7 2017.
- Zapdos (Team Instinct) to be released on Monday, August 7 and available through Monday, August 14 2017.
However… all of this came after Go Fest, one of the biggest disappointments and blunders in Niantic’s career. Faced with an impossible amount of network traffic, equipped with enough Cell on Wheels (vans with mobile network antennas) to barely provide mobile coverage for a bigger kid’s birthday, Niantic’s first large scale official event was a complete disaster.
The following picture was taken during the aftermath of the disaster, when John Hanke, Niantic’s CEO and a man whose net worth can be measured in golden PokeBalls rather than gold bars, sat down and faced the angry mob face to face. He cared, he grieved with them, but he was powerless. They were not prepared.
Niantic postponed a number of events that were slated for later Summer months, regrouping, recalculating and making sure these events go through without major issues. These event were called Safari Zone events and they sold like hot cookies: Amstelveen and Stockholm Safari Zone tickets sold out in record time: less than a minute!.
Fire on all cylinders
Since that colossal moment, Niantic has held more events we can count, both in-game and in real world. We had two big Pokemon generation releases, four large system releases (weather, trading, friends, field research), dozens of nest migrations, raid rotations and egg shake ups. Even Shiny Pokemon are now a thing in Pokemon GO.
It’s hard to express how much was added to Pokemon GO in the past 12 months. The number of quality of life improvements, content patches and system updates is too big to track and we’re not even going to attempt.
Suffice to say: there (almost) hasn’t been a single day when an in-game special event wasn’t active. Niantic is firing on all cylinders, and they’ve been doing it for a year.
You need this in your life (that’s a shiny Beldum Mystic7 didn’t catch. What a noob, he probably used a Nanab Berry):
Try to guess if it ran..🙄 pic.twitter.com/zOFARffLMw
— MYSTIC7 (@MYSTIC7) October 22, 2018
Pokemon GO is not dead
There’s a reason why we went over the entire history of the game before we decided to write this section. We want you to understand how much the game has changed and, again, by extension, how much everything around it has changed.
Pokemon GO is not dead, it’s just another great game / song that went out of fashion in the mainstream demographic. There are millions of us playing it daily around the globe, but we’re not doing flash mobs anymore. We’re more organized, methodical, educated than ever – the fact you don’t see us in the street zombie (*) walking is a good thing and a thing we’re very proud of.
The game is in a much better shape than when you picked it up last time, regardless of when that is. There is only one feature that we’re still missing, and by the looks of it, we’re getting it soon(ish): PvP.
But hey, who are we to say? Check it out for yourself.
(*) We’re still zombie walking sometimes (video shot today):