Pokémon (Don’t) Go: Four communication lessons to be learned from Niantic

Image credit: pcmag.com

Image credit: pcmag.com

By Molly Olten

How does one of the biggest game releases in the history of mobile downloads become a passing fad in a matter of two months?

Pokémon Go, a free, augmented reality game, based on the ‘90s kid show, Pokémon, hit app stores in America on July 6, 2016. The release went far from unnoticed. It seemed that everyone had heard of it, from your five-year-old nephew to your 78-year-old great aunt. Even media outlets swarmed the game. To many, Pokémon Go was seen as a social and gaming revolution. Even social media giants started to sweat when the game’s active user base topped 45 million in the early stages of release.

But now that number is barely reaching 30 million.

Engagement and time spent on the game is also declining.

As the old adage goes, all good things must come to an end, but most people hoped the end wouldn’t come so soon. So why were users hanging up their trainer hats? Aside from media negativity and game play issues, the communication, or lack thereof from Niantic, the development company behind Pokémon Go, was the most detrimental mistake to Pokémon Go.

Niantic provides a perfect example of the value of proper communication. Pokémon Go may not have suffered such losses if Niantic had simply communicated decisions made and explained the situation. Niantic’s poor communication with its audiences frustrated players and, in some cases, even prevented them from liking the game.

People simply wanted to understand and enjoy the game, and it seemed as if Niantic did nothing to encourage that.

Be vocal

"Over 1,000 people showed up for the Pokémon Go Event and... Servers are down." - Reddit user kidbranz

“Over 1,000 people showed up for the Pokémon Go Event and… Servers are down.” – Reddit user kidbranz

One of the major game issues Niantic faced with Pokémon Go was server overload. So many people were trying to log into the game in the first weeks of its release, it was almost impossible to play. Instead of letting players know that they were aware of the issue, Niantic continued to expand the availability of the game in other geographic areas, adding further strain to the servers.

Another strike against the company came when it changed an integral part of the game without warning or explanation.  Not a single tweet, post or announcement was made. The only information users got in the update was “Minor Text Fixes.” When making major changes, silence is the wrong answer.

Keeping quiet on an issue and not opening up a dialogue about it is the easiest way to lose your audience’s trust.

Focus on your audience

Speaking of audience, it is also necessary to give them the attention they deserve. At one point during the start of all Niantic’s communication issues, instead of posting information about how they are fixing problems or working on an update, Niantic tweeted out at Soulja Boy.

Image credit: twitter.com

Image credit: twitter.com

This was a major oversight. After virtually zero communication and an abundance of issues, Niantic chose to break the silence with a celebrity shout out instead of taking a few minutes to acknowledge players’ concerns.

Make it easy for audiences to like your brand

An enormous amount of people wanted to like Pokémon Go (and many still do). However, the magic it held for a few brief moments this summer is lost, mostly due to the fact that Niantic was unresponsive.

Niantic’s blog was updated just once during the launch in July, with the next “update” coming Aug. 4. Both posts fail to acknowledge the issues or updates made to the game. Organizations should make it easy for an engaged, enthusiastic community like Trainers to feel listened to and respected.

Invest in communicators

Image credit: twitter.com

Image credit: twitter.com

The bottom line? Invest in people that will help your brand grow. The former Niantic Global Community Manager, Brian Rose, perfectly summed up Niantic’s future problem: “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.” Moving forward, Niantic needs to make some major changes in its communication habits.

Maybe part of this rant is coming from a bitter Team Instinct player, but the massive losses and wilting potential of Niantic’s Pokémon Go is something gaming companies should take a note from.

How do you think Niantic has handled Pokémon Go so far? Let us know in the comments below, and remember to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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