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.
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.