Niantic CEO Discusses For-Profit Cheating and Production Delays in Pokémon Go's First Year

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One year ago this week, Pokémon Go began appearing on the App Store in the United States and around the world. Following the announcement of various in-game and real life events celebrating the anniversary, Niantic CEO John Hanke recently sat down with The Verge to talk about the game's first year, including for-profit cheaters, a six-month development delay due to the huge success of the game, and more.

Concerning the current state of certain fan-requested updates (player-versus-player battles and Pokémon trading), Hanke said that those features have been delayed because of Pokémon Go's unpredictably huge launch. In total, Niantic lost as much as six months on its production schedule due to the team needing to shift to "rebuilding and rewiring infrastructure" to keep the game running, taking precedence over substantial new updates.

Pokémon Go when it launched July 2016

We lost probably six months on our schedule because of the success of the game. Really all the way through November and December, from launch onward we were rebuilding and rewiring infrastructure just to keep the game running at the scale that we were running at.

We were fortunate to have a massive launch, a massive success, and many, many more users than we had planned for. But we had to redirect a substantial portion of the engineering team to [work on] infrastructure versus new features. That switched off things like extending gyms, it pushed out things we still want to have, like player-versus-player and trading. I’d say we’re about six months behind where we thought we would be.

Hanke admitted that if the team had known it would face such huge delays on its schedule, "maybe we wouldn't have talked so much about" PvP and trading updates so early on. The CEO went on to explain that Niantic's communication with fans has "become much more open over time," following an initial lack of consensus with the developer's partners (The Pokémon Company and Nintendo) over how to handle vocal communities on Reddit, Twitter, and other social media sites.

In terms of cheating, Hanke talked about how there are now "actual commercial entities" that advertise ways to level up players' profiles and advance in the game, which received enough interest and revenue from Pokémon Go players to become "real businesses." Hanke said that Niantic faced similar experiences, albeit on a smaller scale, with its previous game Ingress.

To keep the game fair for everyone, there are now dedicated resources inside Niantic cracking down on these cheating businesses.

Because of the scale [of Pokémon Go], there are actual commercial entities that sprung up that were offering services to level up your account or do various other things, and were real businesses. Therefore they’re able to invest significant resources in these things. We didn’t really anticipate that scale of commercial-funded cheating, which is a challenge to keep the game fair for everyone.

We dedicate resources to it for sure. There are people working on that that could be working on features, but they’re not. It’s a fraction of the team. It’s not as if half of the team is working on that. It’s significantly less than that. But there is a chunk of resources that we devote to that.

Hanke still doesn't make it clear when exactly PvP and Pokémon trading will be making it to Pokémon Go. Recently, Niantic updated the game with a revamped Gym system and announced co-op raid battles, while Hanke talked about his excitement for Apple's ARKit developer platform and what it will do for Pokémon Go, stating, "I don’t think anyone should bet against Apple."

Check out The Verge's full interview with John Hanke here.

Top Rated Comments

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41 months ago

Ultimately though, that failed promise of PvP and trading (seen in the trailer) led to a lot of disappointment. Couple that with server issues, bugs, and huge battery life consumption, it's not a surprise that Pokémon Go lost a lot of its player base very quickly.

It's also a shallow game, there's little to do apart from gyms, catching Pokémon, or raids.

Did you even read the article?
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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41 months ago
I stopped playing this in late August last year, but with the recent news about huge updates I decided to try it again last week, and I have to say it's still a lot of fun!
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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41 months ago
Before anyone says ‘Does anyone still play this?’... yes, people still play this. The REAL Pokémon Fans stayed.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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41 months ago
Hate it or not, I really do miss the success of this game when it first released. Yes people were like walking zombies roaming the streets looking at their phone. Still, I can't recall the last time seeing so many people outdoor during the summer. It was just nice to see massive of random people gathering around for a common amusement.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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41 months ago

If you are seeing the same Pokemon, try visiting more places, and especially places that have different geographical features, e.g. find a lake. It seems to me that the different classes of pokemon tend to be assigned to areas that match with their type.

Also, Pokemon is a numbers game, sometimes the only way to get to what you want is by wading through tons of what you don't want. If you only get on once in a while you probably are not going to find a rare pokemon just by pure luck.

I did try in various places in Southern California, South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. I think my problem is that I was not in heavily urbanized areas in any of these places. So far the suburbs aren't that lucrative in my experience. And the countryside is a big dead zone. Which is a shame because they're great places to walk. I love to walk but not the places where the Pokémon seem to be.

I'm not a city girl. I hate the city, having grown up just outside the worst parts of D.C. When my grandparents in Amish country offered to foster parent me, I so badly wanted to go and hated declining. Now I live in a suburb that's among cows and chickens and I'm so happy.

I definitely found more than I could catch walking around Washington DC. in the spring. However I don't like going there if I can help it.

Though I was surprised I was at a tourist spot in South Carolina built smack dab on a lake and didn't find that many Pokémon. I'd walk for hours and have few pop up. In Maryland there's a similar shopping and entertainment hub with a lake and its chock full of Pokémon. I rarely go there because traffic is so bad.

In California I was hiking and staying at a hotel in a suburb so there wasn't much to see. I don't think I even had cell service for most of my hike.

I did used to see a lot pop up along the highway that links our semi rural neighborhood to the nearest city. But there's no easy way to walk to these spawning points and now that you can't play while a passenger, I don't know how you'd get the Pokémon if they are still popping up there. It makes no sense that there were so many Pokémon along the highway anyway, it isn't as if you can stop to walk around. All that was around was fields and a few private golf courses.

All that's around my house are bug Pokémon and Ratata and of course Pidgey. Always Pidgey.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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41 months ago

I stopped playing this in late August last year, but with the recent news about huge updates I decided to try it again last week, and I have to say it's still a lot of fun!

I play it from time to time. Whenever I'm out and about, I get curious as to whether any good Pokémon are around.

I don't often do well in gym battles. I don't have enough Pokémon candy to level up my Pokémon to the levels I see at gyms. I'm mostly into collecting them. It's getting frustrating because I keep seeing the same Pokémon all over the place.

I pretty much went through the same play cycle, stopping late last summer and recently getting back into it as I traveled around this summer. But I also have the same problem with gyms and being under-leveled, so I stick with collecting. Good thing about not playing for almost a year has been noticing a bunch of new pokemon showing up:)
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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