Pokemon Go is the most succesful app of the year, and will go down as one of the marquee releases of 2016 with millions of players happily catching Pokemon all around the world.
It's also a total mess.
Ever since launch the game has had major server issues which have stopped players from connecting, on top of smaller but no less frustrating in game errors. Everything from the game locking up during simple tasks like catching a Pokemon to log in issues and important mechanics which simply don't run. And throughout it all, developer Niantic has been curiously silent.
Games and apps ship with bugs, this is a known fact, and the first versions of Pokemon Go were still often in a beta stage. Bugs can be struggled through, but it's much harder without any feedback from the people behind the problem. If your users don't have any information on when something might be fixed, or even a notion that the developer cares about the problem, they're going to get vocal very quickly, and that will eventually lead to backlash and - more importantly for Niantic - players leaving the game.
And so it has come to pass- there are legions of fans who are signing petitions to have the game fixed, or even shut down, and now folks are looking for full refunds for any real world money they've spent in the otherwise free app. It turns out Niantic is honouring those requests right now according to this Reddit thread, though they're also getting swamped which will further slow down development fixes.
The latest backlash comes in the wake of Niantic axing the tracking mechanic in the game entirely, making it all but impossible to locate specific Pokemon. In addition, they're shutting down external sites which help people find the ones they're looking for, meaning that there's no help out there for curious trainers.
It's one of the worst mishandling of a launch we've seen in quite a while, especially for a product that has so much potential and actually, in many ways, works quite well. And many of the issues stem from the lack of understanding on how popular the game was going to be, and also how poor the level of communication has been from Niantic.
The company is in desperate need of a Community Manager, a conduit between the official internal channels and the wider world of fans. It's an ideal way to control the flow of information and keep users onside. Even if there isn't much to report, a community manager can work wonders weeding out positive sentiment such as fan art and keeping the conversation upbeat while the busywork of fixing and pushing out updates happens.
It's a vital part of the organisation, especially for something as supposedly community focussed as Pokemon Go. and it's pretty alarming that the company didn't think of recruiting one ahead of time. The odd update from people who make it very clear that they've got more important things to be doing than talking to their users isn't going to solve the problems that the app faces with user fall off in the months ahead.
There are some fine examples out there from similarly small work forces, see how the folks behind The Witcher 3 handled every aspect of their launch with the help of community manager fella Marcin Momot. Both positive and negative stories were addressed, update roadmaps were laid out and any rumours were quickly quelled.
The two products are quite different but the lessons are still applicable to the experience of the last few weeks- Niantic remains a mystery with little real sense of their future plans for the game. It seems like they were just hoping to launch the app and now they're spending every waking minute stopping it from falling over. As folks level up and head towards the current cap of 40, they're soon going to run out of meaningful things to do inside this augmented reality world, and the numbers will start to decline even further.
If Niantic has something big on the horizon, they need to start teasing it now to keep players engaged. And they really need to start looking for a community manager, though their jobs page currently doesn't list one. Failing that, not shutting down external sites which are are just trying to bring in features that you failed to deliver on would be a good start.
Are you still playing Pokemon Go?