(updated on 3 October 2016)
To the dismay of the millions of Pokemon GO addicts, Nintendo-Niantic confirmed on July 16, that the servers for the game that’s taking the world by storm were indeed down. Gamer community group Pokemon GO News reported a few hours later that Nintendo’s servers were up and running, though service might be sluggish for some users.
A communication crisis was suddenly in progress as users where lost in their battle to understand what was happening!
A hacking group claimed responsibility for taking down the Pokémon Go servers using a DDOS attack. This problem, however, involved not just the players but also the many marketing initiatives built around the game.
You probably know that Pokemon GO is a simple, attractive game that is creating addiction. Worse than Candy Crush! Pokémon GO has been installed hundreds of millions of times since launch in early July and is played in more than 100 countries around the world.
It basically consists in a free App that requires you to walk around looking at the world through your smartphone until you see a Pokemon, and then you try to catch it. You create an avatar that moves around by following your phone’s GPS coordinates, allowing you to see where you are like you would on a Google Map.
The growing popularity immediately had economic consequences. The game became part of social media, as it now includes a very simple chat option. It is also being exploited for marketing purposes. Here is a great example: The Houston Zoo uses Pokemon Go to get visitors in the gates at the zoo by posting on their Facebook page the number of Pokéstops available at the zoo. Several hotels pretend to host Pokemons…
A portable device called the Pokémon GO Plus enables Pokémon GO players to enjoy the game even while they’re not looking at their smartphones. The device connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth and notifies the player about events in the game—such as the appearance of a Pokémon nearby—using LED and vibration.
News media is contributing to this phenomenon by mainly reporting on the associated risks. Many people have had accidents because being distracted by the game, or entered prohibited areas. “Death by Pokemon is coming,” as people use the program while walking, biking, driving, etc.”
Business is business and – as long as the game remains popular, you may think about using it to help your PR campaign…
But you can do it only if you trust the reliability of the game. Gamers are used to outages. But Nintendo-Niantic was clearly unprepared to deal with the outage in a timely manner.
An article in Lore Hound noted: “Now that it’s happened everyone, players, analysts and some casually interested parties, are wondering what’s going on? How is Pokemon Go going to continue its trajectory? Why wouldn’t a business discuss this, you ask? There’s two likely reasons. First, the company may not be well versed in your average crisis management. After all, Niantic Labs spun off of Google as one of its more adventurous endeavors, never a core line of business. Let’s not kid ourselves, this is nothing short of a crisis. Continued server problems, especially while roll outs persist, piss off current players and kill engagement for newcomers. Both horrendous outcomes to the game and its bottom line. Second, Niantic Labs currently lacks the resources to get ahead of the problem, server and communication wise. “
It was only with a blog post, dated 29 September, that Niantic fully explained what happened:
“The Cloud Datastore service that we were utilizing was soon running at more than fifty times our original projections. Player demand ultimately spiked by more than an order of magnitude, ten times our most aggressive estimates, requiring hot fixes and ongoing game changes against a backdrop of massive growth in players.
With Google Cloud product and engineering teams at our side as consultative partners, Niantic was able to overcome the rush of millions of enthusiastic Trainers and stabilize the service. Engineering teams from both companies began working hand-in-hand around the clock the moment it became clear that the game’s popularity would exceed our wildest estimates. More than a dozen teams across Cloud Platform and other core Google products rallied to support us as we pushed live improvements to the game for our players. In parallel, Google’s infrastructure teams worked to tune systems, ensuring sufficient capacity for us to keep up with the game’s skyrocketing popularity.”
Next time they will do better…