pokemon-go
Pokemon Go may be a certified hit, but can it keep players happy?


Josh Miller/CNET

Good news, Leslie Jones: The internet has found something to seethe about other than your role in “Ghostbusters.”

And it has nothing to do with the presidential campaign.

Instead, people are in a snit about a change made to Pokemon Go, the hottest mobile game since — ever.

To recap: Pokemon Go, released July 6 in the US, encourages you to walk around in the real world with your phone and find mythical creatures called Pokemon. When you do, they leap onto your screen, where they appear to be sitting on a stoop or standing in the middle of the street in the real world. Just swipe on the screen to throw a ball to “catch” and collect them all.

How much do people love playing Pokemon Go? Well, in less than a month, Pokemon Go has shattered download records, been used more than Twitter or Facebook and been pegged as the next techie trend. Pokemon Go has become a hit on a scale not seen since FarmVille, Candy Crush Saga or Angry Birds.

It’s now been released in other places including Japan, England, Hong Kong and Australia, making it official that Pokemon Go fever has spread across the globe.

But then last weekend and with no warning, Pokemon Go developer Niantic removed a key feature that helps you track how close Pokemon are to your location. As if that wasn’t enough of a burn to people who liked getting the help, Niantic reportedly told other app makers to shut down apps designed to help people identify Pokemon in their neighborhood. (Niantic was staying mum on whether it did this). That’s apps like Poke Radar, which help you more easily find special monsters hanging out near you in your quest to “catch ’em all.”

To say people are ticked off is an understatement.

It’s an odd turn of events for one of the most successful mobile games in history. As fast as Pokemon Go has climbed the charts, it’s now pissing off players even faster. People left more than 9,000 negative reviews in just the last day on Apple’s App Store. That’s more than 85 percent of all the reviews for the game so far.

This is the change: The feet in the old version used to indicate how close or far away a Pokemon was.


Jason Parker/CNET

Some people, let’s call them the polite ones, say the decision to shut out the location apps is “inexcusable.” Other people claim they’re giving up on the game altogether. Many more are just plain furious.

In Japan, Pokemon Go has dropped to second place among free apps in the App Store, according to App Annie. For now, it’s still at the top on the App Store in the US.

To be successful, Niantic needs to keep people coming back to the game. In the course of playing, some people choose to pay money for extra in-game items to help them collect more Pokemon. That’s how Niantic makes money off its otherwise free app.

To convince people to keep coming back, Niantic must ensure that the game works flawlessly. This means making it easy to access at any time, which isn’t happening. This also means fine-tuning gameplay so it’s easy and fun enough to keep you going but still a challenge to master, another aspect Pokemon Go been criticized for. In video game parlance, this is known as Bushnell’s Law, named after the father of modern video games, Nolan Bushnell.

Pokemon Go hasn’t mastered any of these core tenets, said Michael Pachter, a longtime games analyst at Wedbush Securities. “Every day since this game launched, there’s been something wrong,” he said.

In the beginning, players couldn’t actually use the game — the company couldn’t keep up with demand. That’s a sign Niantic wasn’t prepared for its popularity. The company has also missed key launch dates in new countries, and now there’s angst among players over changes to the game.

“Anything you do to encourage people to leave is bad and anything you do to keep people coming back is good,” Pachter said. “To have staying power, they have to execute flawlessly.”

Exacerbating it all has been Niantic’s response — or rather its lack of response. The company’s Pokemon Go Twitter account, followed by more than 1.5 million people, has so far been silent about the criticism. A Niantic representative declined to comment. Then several hours later, the company put out a statement on Facebook explaining the changes and saying it’s listening to players’ requests.

Those players aren’t happy.

“Their ‘response’ has been no response at all,” wrote iTunes user HowDisappointedAmI. Another, named Hakureiken, summed it up this way: “How could Niantic screw up this badly?”

Update at 8:29 a.m. PT: To include comment from Niantic, posted on Facebook several hours after the company declined to comment.

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