Opinions and Stories

[Updated] 6 Years: As Niantic cuts 8% of its workforce, communication reaches a new low

Despite $6 billion in six years, Pokémon GO has seen more unannounced, unpopular changes, more bugs, and now the disappearance of promised developer diary entries.

Update: The “June” Dev Diaries entry was released on the 8th of July, a few days after this article was published. No acknowledgement of the delay was given, and it was more of a feature summary than giving developer insights.

It’s only been a little more than three months since our last article on Niantic’s recent changes in Pokémon GO. While most concerns have not been resolved, new ones have arisen.

Firstly is a news report from Bloomberg that Niantic have made staff cuts to 8% of its workforce (85 to 90 jobs).

In an email to staff reviewed by Bloomberg, Niantic Chief Executive Officer John Hanke wrote that the company was “facing a time of economic turmoil” and had already been “reducing costs in a variety of areas.” But Hanke said Niantic needs to “further streamline our operations in order to best position the company to weather any economic storms that may lie ahead.”

This is a significant fraction of staff given Niantic’s all-time revenue across six years has surpassed $6 billion USD. Four projects (Heavy Metal [Transformers], Hamlet, Blue Sky, and Snowball) have been canned, although last week an NBA All World game was announced on the Niantic Labs website.

Next is the missing sighting of a developer diary from Niantic staff on the Pokémon GO app. As summarised by JRESeawolf on The Silph Road subreddit, despite promises following the PR disaster that was the decision to reduce the interaction distance within the game, Niantic have not released a new entry to their own schedule.

Starting in October, we will begin publishing a developer diary every other month to share the latest priorities, events, and features for the game.

The last entry was in April, with no mention on when we can expect the next entry. The above claim was part of a commitment to communicate and engage more with Trainers following the fall-out from the interaction distance nerf. However, as noted by JRESeawolf in their summary of the diary entries, what entries were given didn’t truly open communication between Niantic and GO players on changes that would enhance gameplay.

In truth, communication has been constantly lacking, and not just on issues raised in the first quarter of the year. There has been no indication of an apology or make-up to numerous players who were affected by e.g. Incense issues during June’s GO Fest event. One acknowledgement that was given instead was just on the Shiny rates, where Dot Esports stated the following:

“We understand that for some Trainers, the biggest way they judge the quality of a Pokémon Go event is how many shiny Pokémon they catch,” Steranka said. “We heard from trainers who shared how lucky they were this year in terms of shiny Pokémon caught, while others shared how their experience was the opposite. If shiny Pokémon are too prevalent, it degrades the game in the long term. But we’ve heard a lot of feedback about this area and we’re taking that into account for future events.”

This mismatch between player expectations and Niantic’s supposed worry about “degrading the game” would not be an issue in the first place if Niantic would clearly state the specific Shiny rates for such events. We note that expecting a Shiny rate in line with previous GO Fest events, including February’s Johto Fest event, is not at all unreasonable from the playerbase. Evidently, degrading the game with higher Shiny rates was not a concern in the Adventure Week event a week later, which featured high (~1/10) Shiny rates for Fossil Pokémon from Field Research tasks (to their credit, a warmly received event). Furthermore, it was noted by the article on GO Fest that “Niantic did not respond to comments about those other areas of community feedback“. A survey was run via email, but no further news regarding it has yet been announced. Instead, Niantic stated that they were grateful for a successful event.

Another significant change with no prior warning was twofold. First, the cost of three Remote Raid Passes was increased from 250 to 300 Coins without warning, the same price as buying individually. No announcement of this was made. Second, the Weekly 1 Coin Box saw the Remote Raid Pass removed. The general trend of these Boxes have been less and less useful items – take the latest version and the feedback it received as an example. Other unpopular changes to the in-game store have also been made since March, such as the unannounced new versions of boxes in the in-game store, largely regarded as significantly worse to before, and at odds with Niantic’s continued statements to encourage players to “explore the world and interact with other people out there”.

This has to be a joke, right? 40 balls and berries for 280 coins, and you call that an “Ultra Box”?

Am I the only one that finds it odd that REMOTE Raid passes are in the ADVENTURE box?

What I dislike about this is, every time there is a box switch up, it is done quietly with no prior warning or timer counting down at all. That way nobody can plan ahead if they wish to stock up after running out of items.

Quite often, details about events need to be found out from third party sites, or YouTuber/Twitter accounts from sponsored players, rather than in-game. One example is on whether the reward for the Collection Challenge this weekend, a Pansear, could be Shiny for players outside of the Berlin GO Fest event. This was only announced on the Japanese Niantic Help Twitter account – hardly an accessible news source to many players. Meanwhile, major issues and bugs continue to be experienced by players, particularly in New Zealand and other nearby timezones (72 bugs and counting), with only some resulting in make-up events for affected players.

On the topic of Shiny Pokémon, Shiny Axew has not been found in the wild, Eggs or Raids since the Global GO Fest event ended, about one month later. As documented by /u/blackmetro, this is not the first time this has happened for a Pokémon species. In fact, it is the 20th time a Shiny Pokémon or set of Pokémon has been disabled after an event, or enabled too early. Whenever these issues are eventually fixed, which is only after players point it out, Niantic rarely begins to acknowledge their mistake. It shows that they do pay attention to these reports once enough noise is made (eventually), but acknowledgement of such mistakes goes a long way, and is commonplace in other mobile titles and often accompanied with in-game compensation.

One more example came up related to the recent soft launch of Niantic Campfire, a social network for Niantic players. The issue was the deletion of the entire Friends List of a Pokémon GO player who uninstalled the Campfire app. To their credit, an official Niantic account on Reddit, NianticGeorge, assisted. Good, right?

The concerning aspect is that prior to that event, NianticGeorge had not posted in response to any complaint, question, or query on any Niantic-related subreddit in three years. The other account, NianticIndigo, has one post in the last year.

Communication may have been something that Niantic had promised to improve on, but ten months on from their last promise, players are still largely left in the dark and seemingly unheard.

Edited by Sheep.
Thanks to /u/blackmetro for highlighting an issue about Shiny Axew.