Quick PSA About Pokemon GO Server Issues from Former Game Developer

We came across an amazing write up on the server issues from a former game developer on reddit, and decided to relay it here completely. It doesn’t really matter if you’re salty with Niantic or not, this PSA is a good read and reality check for everyone.


Quick PSA About PGO Issues from Former Game Developer

I’ve been reading all the rage posts today about the servers being down because of the Canadian release, and believe me, I am just as eager to get back into the game and continue playing as the rest of you, but I wanted to inject a little perspective into the matter.

I recently left a job in game development, so I know a bit about what it’s like to work on an app like this, certainly not of this scale, but game dev culture is pretty similar no matter where you go, and I promise you that right now the Niantic dev team is on fucking fire. They are on fire, and they probably have been since the release. If you think the Niantic team is sitting back, laughing at the server issues while money rolls in, you couldn’t be farther from the truth.

I know it’s easy to call out Niantic and accuse them of being shitty and that they don’t care about their players, even though they’re raking in the money, etc, but there are a few other things to consider here.

  • The Niantic Team is definitely working their asses off, and has been for a long time.
  • We don’t know how much money Niantic is making, what kind of cut they share with Nintendo (it could honestly be pretty small), and even so, the people doing the hard work in fixing the bugs are probably not rolling in huge bonuses.
  • The people making this game are probably just as hyped as we are about it; it’s been their baby through the development phase, and they probably see all the Niantic bashing that is going on on the internet, but can’t respond to it.
  • A lot of the top-level decisions might be out of their hands (like whether to divert energy to server issues or world-wide release). Further I guarantee you that someone at the high level of Nintendo is pressing down the knife hard to get the game in world-wide release, regardless of bugs because of how much money it’s making.

The dev team right now probably haven’t gone home since the release, have barely slept, haven’t seen their families, and eat when they get 1 minute of breathing room. I’m not trying to use hyperbole here either. This is what it’s like to work in the game industry. This is what is was like for my team. When something goes live with bugs, obviously upper management is not pleased, so Producers are urged to crack the whip hard/do whatever it takes to get it fixed. This means no one go homes until it’s fixed. Your kid has a play tonight you were hoping to make it to? Too bad, this bug has to get fixed and shipped.

Further, they’re not purposely trying to release more bugs with new updates, this is just the nature of things when there’s huge pressure on a development team and quick turn-arounds are expected. Things get rushed through an already stressed, over-tired programmer, get pushed to QA, who also go through it as fast as they can since they are given a deadline, and flagged issues get fixed as quickly as possible and OH LOOK WE’RE PUSHING IT LIVE, OH GOD.

Fixing bugs without re-introducing new ones takes a certain amount of time, it’s not just one programmer opening up the code-base and making a quick one-line change. It has to go through this entire funnel, and I promise you, the faster it goes through this funnel, the more things get missed, and go live broken.

Also, they can’t just magically hire more programmers to get the bugs fixed faster. A normal hiring process is usually at least a month in length, with multiple interviews. I’m sure Niantic is under super heavy security clauses because of their involvement with Pokemon, so that’s going to restrict their ability to hire even further. A new hire needs to be properly vetted, and even after you get them in the door, you can’t just throw a programmer into a brand new code-base and expect them to understand and start fixing bugs immediately. They have to take time to understand how the code was written so they can contribute meaningfully without introducing more bugs. Should they have foreseen this and hired more developers ahead of time? Probably, but also it probably wasn’t in their budget for a game that they had no idea how well it would do. I don’t think they could have expected the explosion of excitement it generated.

Game developers sacrifice a lot to make these games, even when it was in development I’m sure they experienced lots of crunch (working late for a continuous period day after day with no extra pay) to hit their milestones and get the game out on time. Because of this they probably feel a strong link with their company (Niantic) and the game they made, and a lot of them take it personally when people start throwing accusations like “Niantic doesn’t care about their players, they’re just getting rich off of us,” around. Since they’re working with/under these mammoth companies (Nintendo/Google) there is probably a very strict policy on how they communicate with the public. They see what we’re all saying, but they probably are not allowed to respond.

So let’s be the awesome community we have been so far (helping people, sticking up for other players, picking up trash, etc,) and inject a little bit of kindness into our hopes for the game issues and long-term health of the game!

TL;DR: The servers will be back up soon, take a breath, and remember that a very dedicated group of people behind the scenes sacrificed a lot to make this game for us, that has brought us so much joy. A lot of this things we are seeing either take time to fix, or are probably out of their hands. They might need a little encouragement right now; hug a game dev today.

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Zeroghan started the Hub in July 2016 and hasn't had much sleep since. A lover of all things Pokémon, web development, and writing.

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