We had a chance to talk with Kim Adams, Niantic’s Director of Art and Production, at this year’s GO Fest 2023 London event. The interview took place on the first day of GO Fest, and we were given a 30 minutes sit down with Kim and Tom Glover, Senior Director of Communications EMEA.
As one would expect, we asked Kim quite a lot, covering a lot of ground, so prepare yourself for a lengthy read. We will let you judge the interview on your own, but we must say we were quite impressed with the company’s plans for this year, and we were especially impressed with how kind and down to earth Adams was.
We left the interview slot feeling refreshed, and cautiously optimistic about the next 6-12 months of Pokémon GO’s content roadmap, but alas, here’s what we talked with Kim and Tom.
- There is a slate of blockbuster features for the rest of this year and next year
- There is still something big coming this year, and the product team is very excited about it.
- Niantic has a great relationship with The Pokémon Company and their partners in Tokyo.
- The theme of this year was local communities and local engagement.
- Niantic is very happy with the increased participation in local activities
Hi Kim! Could you introduce yourself for our readers?
I am Kim Adams, director of Art and Production at Niantic. I work with and I oversee both art and production, so all the visual artists, look of the game, and all the exciting things that have to do with the characters and the brand.
And then, there is production on the other side. The producers really are the product owners, and it includes talking to everyone from design to production managers.
In the very beginning, as we’re coming up with the concepts and what exactly are the goals for the future, we start off and then the producers take that and take it from concept all the way to launch. The producers are connective glue that are keeping all the departments in check, talking to everybody to make sure we are on track, and sort of heading up everything.
Those two departments kind of stretch out and they touch everything from, you know, design, production, art, UX and UI, our marketing partners. My role actually stretches out across all of these things really, and my mission is to make sure we are staying focused and to make sure nobody is blocked.
You can talk about great ideas for great features all day long, but in the end it’s about what you can execute, and actually launch, and actually get out there so that people can play with it.
Absolutely agree. So what are the features have you been working on recently? Is it just routes or something more?
Well, we had this huge push, right? So within like a 10 week period, we launched Shadow Raids, and then we followed that up with PokéStop showcases, and then we had the Pokémon Go Plus Plus launch, and then we had Routes. So we’ve had this huge focus on getting features out, into the hands of Trainers, to see what people love!
How happy are you with those?
Features? I’m so thrilled! And you can see there’s a real focus on community this year.
Shadow Raids have really increased in-person raiding to a huge degree. Everybody wanting to get out and raid together has been great. Pokémon Showcases are giving people a way to compare and sort of show off with our friends, which is a whole another thing we’re doing.
And then, Routes is a whole new thing that is kind of setting us up with a whole new value for Trainers to help each other explore, right? So it’s like Trainer to Trainer, like, look at my neighbourhood, look at this. We are really empowering each other and amplifying the whole exploration part of our goal and our mission. So that’s been super exciting.
And then there is Campfire, at the heart of Campfire is community, bringing people together to find each other to go play together. All of those things have been our, our focus this year: social and community aspects of the game.
And is it working? Are we seeing an uplift in local community activations?
Yes, for sure. That number’s increasing. I don’t have the exact number.
Are we allowed to talk about KPIs (*) Niantic cares about? Like which metrics and goals are important to the company at the moment?
I think that main KPI for us was to get people playing together more, to get people outside again. The initial goal of Raids was to get people out exploring the world together. Shadow Raids definitely amplifies that.
And every feature has a different set of KPIs. Some of them [features] are not always about revenue. They’re about delight and fun, because that’s gonna drive everything, right? If you have a feature that people love, your KPIs are done.
I don’t like having meetings with artists where we’re talking about KPIs. They shouldn’t even be thinking about KPIs, right? They should just be thinking about creating things that they would love to do.
A lot of this comes from our employees actually. All of our employees are players, and so they’re one of the most passionate people. We’re also our own worst critics because we’re always playing when we’re not working. So most of the time we’re either working, or playing, and people are constantly saying, “Hey, look at this”, or “That’s not working”, or “How can we make this better?”.
It’s super collaborative and driven by our own player base, as well as all the user research that we’re doing, and the panels, and the focus groups we organise.
(*) KPI stands for key performance indicator, a quantifiable measure of performance over time for a specific objective. KPIs provide targets for teams to shoot for, milestones to gauge progress, and insights that help people across the organization make better decisions.
Do you really mostly on UX and Focus groups to make decisions?
We use a combination of data points, the UX research, focus groups, and analytics to make a decision. It’s all slices of a pie, right? We are always trying to strike a balance between how we can make the current features better, and which new things we want to introduce to the platform.
We work in an agile way, we do a lot of testing and prototyping, just to make sure that the mechanics we’re thinking of are gonna be fund in the end. And we’re constantly trying to learn more from our players. Some ideas that we have are really great in concept and then in execution, maybe not so much.
So talking about product feedback, is there like an open channel where the product team gets player feedback, or is it filtered through some layers of the company?
We have a ton of feedback channels that we listen to, and people always think we are not listening. That is not correct. We just have so many aspects we’re trying to cover from hardcore players, to onboarding new players, to players who are making the transition from less to more dedicated players.
Social media is one place where people give feedback, but there are also in person events, local meetups, the questionnaires we send out. We are looking at the whole picture.
Which new feature is your favourite?
<laugh> I don’t know if I have a favourite, but I will say I have a soft spot for Routes because it’s offering this new way for players to inform each other. It’s also super long awaited, and it’s very exciting as our, as our first UGC feature. It’s very exciting.
So, there was a lot of talk about like 24 or 48 hours of Route review time to get them live. I don’t think that’s a thing anymore with all the layoffs, right?
I don’t think that is possible anymore, I mean we commented already on that. It was a very optimistic goal.
Overall we’re just, we’re thrilled at the response to Routes, and the fact that everybody wants to create new Routes. We’re working super hard to get as many approved as possible quickly.
Let’s switch gears for a second. How is it working with The Pokémon Company?
We have a great relationship with the TPC and our partners in Tokyo, they were just here, we’re gonna go there in a couple of months. We’re very aligned with them in terms of strategy and where we want to take the game.
One of the things I was helping when I’ve come onboard was to facilitate sort of a smoother, quicker processes across all teams and TPC.
We’ve worked hard to improve everything from the most basic things to the most complicated processes, so that things like translation, decision making, art approval and everything else works smoothly. The good thing is that we all have the same goals, and we all wanna be great partners.
Is there anything you want, or can, share about the vision for the game? What’s the vision for next year?
We have this sort of slate of blockbuster features for the rest of this year and next year. There’s something exciting still to come for this year that I think people are really gonna love. It’s pretty big.
And then we’re designing some really exciting things already for next year. We have our roadmap planned out already. So, yeah, I’m so excited about it and I wish I could share it <laughs>, but you will have to be surprised.
Are there any plans to improve Raids, the core mechanics there?
I wouldn’t be able to comment on that. <laugh>
I would say that we’re taking a look at what are we gonna make better that already exists, and what are we gonna introduce that’s new. We’re always weighing those two things together.
Were you affected by the layoffs, the teams you manage?
Yes… the whole company was affected, unfortunately. I think our official messaging there was pretty honest, so I would suggest reading the official post for that.
Thank you for your time Kim!