Bad Move, Niantic.

On 31 July 2016, NianticLabs released an update version of Pokemon Go – their incredibly famous game that successfully gained lots of money right after its release. Along with the cosmetic updates (such as new badges’ art, customizing trainer profile, new animations, etc.) they also brought terrible updates that resulted in user rage. A huge rage that resulted in purchases refunds along the way. Their subreddit post also went rough, from “We love Pokémon Go” to “Fuck Niantic!”.

I don’t think they see this coming, since they did not put any word to their community and did not respond to their complain, yet. All they did was released a new updates on 1 August 2016 which mentioned by reddit users LCBlaze as “Could be to reset the reviews” – referring on massive negative reviews on both App Store and Play Store. That’s harsh, but since NianticLabs does not provide any information regarding to the ongoing issue, they kinda deserve it.

At least, we can learn a lot from this incident. Well, I learn a lot from this.

Let me put the update details in order:

New Badges Art & Animation

Previously, all badges were represented by Pokéball icon varies with colors (bronze, silver and gold) and stars count. With the new updates, several badges already has its own icon. Along with this, they also change the Pokéball asset and its animation.

I understand this is NianticLabs way to make Pokémon Go more beautiful since art style is an essential element to make people love it more. These are cosmetic updates that makes people say, “Oh, looks nice”. Unfortunately, regarding to the entire updates, no one gives a fuck whether it changes or not.

Customizing Trainer Profile

“Wow, we can customize our trainer profile now!”

This has to be a good news.. IF we can see nearby trainers in our scanner. Or at least search for a user profile and take a look at its profile and badges. Since none of that meets the criteria, this new feature is just a silent “yeay!” that will be forgotten in minutes.

The current customization option is limited. Shirts, pants, shoes variation are not that much. But I think this is where Niantic plan to sell the good ones with Pokécoins. Big companies can offer accessories freebies (shirt, pant, hat, etc) as an advertisement – just like in The Sims FreePlay.

New Balancing

Yea, most game will have balance adjustment. Especially when a character or skill is over power (OP), vice versa. It’s meant to make sure that certain character/player will not always win and can be defeated.

Unfortunately, NianticLabs made such changes without any announcement. This is not a good move. They should learn from Supercell about this. Seriously.

Throw & Pokémon Spawn

Previously, we get extra rewards for Excellent, Great and Nice Throw. Those extra EXP points help a lot to level up faster. Unfortunately, those extra are not there anymore. Curves ball still provide extra 10 EXP, but they change the algorithm to land the curves ball. Now it’s harder.

In addition, the Pokémon spawn location has changed. It’s not always Doduo, Weedle and Pidgey anymore. BUT NianticLabs still cause a bigger problem by  increasing the broke-free and runaway rates of a Pokémon. What are they expecting? People buy more lures and Pokéballs? With such rate, users most likely to quit-rage rather than buy more lures. Why bother to buy lure if it’s hard to catch 10 CP Pokémon? They should implement this changes when they have a solid item to increase the catch-rate. Uh wait, what? Raspberry? Yeah, I spent 10+ Raspberry and 10+ UltraBall to catch 600 CP Pokémon. If NianticLabs stick to their Raspberry item to increase the catch-rate, they should fix the Raspberry algorithm as well.

Missing Footstep Feature

This is the missing feature that triggered the community rage. Actually, this feature already dead before the updates coming. But at least, users know it’s there. User will need to wait for the feature to works regarding to its “bug”. But I think their product team did not think thoroughly. They may just think “Let’s remove the footstep since its 3-steps means nothing for now and may mislead new users in the meantime”. Actually, it’s okay and reasonable.. IF they made an announcement and let old-users know.

By removing the footstep, it leads user to think that this feature will be gone for good.. forever. NianticLabs need to make an announcement whether this is just a temporary changes or no. And if this feature will be gone forever, they need to come up with new solution to help users find new Pokémon.

But, any words? NO.

———————————————————————–

I understand that NianticLabs is still looking for a Community Manager for Pokémon Go, but that’s not an excuse to stay quiet. I may say Pokémon Go is pretty straight forward to tell user that they need to invest money in this game, so they really need to have a good support in this matter.

What I learn from this incident:

  1. You really need to keep close to your community. Inform them about any changes, no matter how small it is and give a reason why you have to take such action. Your user are not bunch of imbecile who whines all the time, they can think and tolerate your “bug” as long as you continually bring new bug fixes and updates. Supercell did a great job in this matter.
  2. Listen to your community! This is the biggest mistake NianticLabs has with Pokémon Go. They already have a huge Pokémon trainers cult, but it feels like NianticLabs shuts them down. Users will always complaints about things – good or bad. NianticLabs did a good job in this matter with Ingress. They valued the community, respond to their email and Google+ mention/comment, etc. But now? Nah.
  3. Put yourself in a user perspective before release any apps and updates. If you can’t do it, take a fresh eye to look at it. It will help to prepare yourself and your team from the worst case that may happen and you can handle it immediately. Developer and Product team will not be able to have a clear perspective since they have to live with it everyday.

To me, this is a very nice lesson for all Game Developer around the world. Do not mess with your user, build a good community! I do understand that we cannot please everyone, but of course you can have the most reasonable act that people will agree on.

“If you’re there with the community, they’ll be there for you when things go south. Bugs can be fixed, but regaining people’s faith is hard.” – @brianrose, Former Community/Outreach for NianticLabs.

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