An Open Letter to John Hanke & Niantic
I write this not as one of the creators of Pokevision nor as player who has gone through the past few turbulent days in Pokemon Go; instead, I write this as a fan of Pokemon ever since I was 8 years old.
My family and I moved to the U.S. in 1998, when I was in the first grade. I didn’t know much back then, and even less about popular culture. When my friends introduced their Gameboys and Pokemon Red/Blue to me, I couldn’t help but feel envious. I begged and begged my parents to buy me a Gameboy and Pokemon Yellow. I remember that when I finally convinced them to buy me a Gameboy for $70, they also found out that they had to buy the actual game too for $30. This was foreign to them, and I got yelled at a little. $100 was a lot back then, I believe it was almost 10% of our family’s income at the time. While this may seem irrelevant, even today, this amount of money is still not insignificant to many families in the US, not to mention the rest of the world.
So I got my game, and I played along with my friends for hundreds and hundreds of hours — trying to figure out all the puzzles in the game, like how to get to Articuno; battling our favorite Pokemon to see who’s stronger, train, repeat; and just trying to “catch em all.” I’ve spent countless hours in that video game with my friends, and it became my fondest memory of that time in my life. Pokemon is so ingrained within me, and I can’t imagine myself being the only one. I’m not the only one that vividly remembers how you beat the Elite Four, then go to the dungeons above Cerulean City and find Mewtwo for the first time, right?
Fast forward almost 20 years. I’ve barely touched anything Pokemon-related since then. I still have my Pokemon cards, as I’m sure many others do; but I haven’t bothered to take a look at them for quite a while now. Pokemon is something I’ll probably remember forever, but it’s not something that’s actively in my life — because it just doesn’t fit. On top of work, friends, family, etc, there’s just simply no time for Pokemon. It doesn’t mesh with life any more as well as it used to when I was 8. You can’t just bring up the topic of Pokemon and expect people to not give you an odd stare.
Enter Pokemon Go — 2016.
Admittedly, I was never too excited about Pokemon Go. With that said, I did not have many expectations for it. Pokemon is important to me, but I — like many others — have stuffed it in our little box of childhood things and never looked back.
But when I opened Pokemon Go for the first time, as cheesy as it sounds, it all came back to me. The nostalgia, the good feelings, and the happiness that Pokemon has always brought.
The “Hi, I’m Professor Willow,” “Pick your starter: Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle,” everything.
And now I can catch them in real life? At first, I was dubious, but this became the most amazing, yet simple thing I’ve seen in gaming. On social media, I saw that my friends and practically the whole world was talking about Pokemon Go, and the first thing I did was go out for a drive trying to “be the best.”
One of the best parts? Apart from having to own a smartphone, the game was free. No $70, no $30, free. This opened up Pokemon to essentially everyone in the world. Pokemon now can be shared with anyone.
As the days unfolded, the world became captivated by Pokemon Go. People absolutely fell in love. We saw stories of elderly learning about Pikachu for the first time. My parents that could care less beyond who the yellow mouse looking thing was 20 years ago, started asking what the other Pokemon were. It was phenomenal.
We saw investment bankers asking their kids how to play Pokemon Go so that they can better connect with their younger clients. We saw the elderly become more fascinated in the world of Pokemon. We saw kids going out more, exercising, and being active in general just because of Pokemon Go. And most importantly, Justin Bieber finally got to feel what it’s like to not be mobbed because everyone else was too busy trying to find a Gyarados to notice him.
Local stores integrated Pokemon Go in their services within days of the game’s release. Hospitals started praising the health benefits of having Pokemon Go around its patients. People traveled hundreds and thousands of miles just to play it. Players explored parts of their cities that they never knew existed, and befriended strangers on their hunt for Pokemon. These stories of triumph were solely because of Pokemon Go. Pokemon was no longer just a game, it was part of a lifestyle.These stories shouldn’t surprise any of us, we’ve all been there to watch it unfold.
You’ve simply captured all of our hearts with Pokemon Go, Niantic.
But then, you broke it all too quickly.
When the game broke every few hours or so and wasted our lucky eggs, we stood patiently, excusing the huge growth and thus, strain on servers, as the cause. We were happy to wait it out with our fellow trainers knowing that it’s worth waiting for. No one got mad.
When the in-game tracking “broke,” we all stood idly by, patiently, waiting for the game to update and fix.
Along came Pokevision. We made Pokevision not to “cheat.” We made it so that we can have a temporary relief to the in-game tracker that we were told was broken. John, at SDCC, you said that you guys were working on “fixing the in-game tracker.” This made everyone believe that this was coming sometime soon. We saw Pokevision as a stop gap to this — and we had every intention in closing it down the minute that Pokemon Go’s own tracker restored functionality.
As we waited more than 2 and a half weeks, the tracker was still not fixed. We noticed more and more of our friends leave the game; the only way I — and I know experiences vary here — could convince them to play was show them Pokevision, and say that “Hey, here’s a temporary remedy to the tracking issue — we’re still optimistic that Pokemon Go’s tracker will be fixed soon!”
Nobody heralded Pokevision as a permanent, end-all solution; in fact, all the media coverage of Pokevision was littered with comments such as: “Pokevision is okay, but when the tracker is fixed in game, I’m going to stop using this.”
For the past 4 weeks. Every single one of your 80+ million players had so much faith. Take a look at Reddit, take a look at all these journalists who don’t even play games (calling out Ryan Mac of Forbes), who became obsessed with Pokemon GO.
All of us were so eager for Pokemon Go to be “fixed” so that we can return to sharing Pokemon Go with our loved ones and friends. Remember when I said that before Pokemon Go came about, mentioning Pokemon Go would land you an odd stare? Pokemon Go reversed that — Pokemon Go became the conversation starter, the topic that everyone bonded over, the topic that guys used to pick up chicks with and not felt like a geeky nerd. That, and so much more, were solely because of Pokemon Go.
As almost 3 weeks have passed by, the in-game tracker is broken. People had a temporary solution in Pokevision, but we knew, and everyone else knew, this wouldn’t be permanent. We didn’t make Pokevision to spite you, Niantic — we made it so that we can keep everyone playing while we wait patiently. We want to keep sharing our Pokemon stories with everyone else. How many people in the world have gotten the chance to have a serious conversation about POKEMON with their parents for the first time? How many of us got to talk about Pokemon like it was socially acceptable in any context? It’s captured all of our hearts and imaginations, I cannot stress that enough.
After 3 weeks though, we started seeing that you guys seemed to not want to talk to us (the players). Pokevision, at this time has grown to almost 50M unique users, and 11 million daily.
Let that sink in for a second.
Half of the player base of Pokemon Go stopped by — and they didn’t do so to “cheat.” The game was simply too unbearable to play in its current state for many (note: many, not all). The main attraction wasn’t that they got to have an advantage with Pokevision, the main attraction was that it allowed them to play Pokemon Go more. This is what everyone wants — to play Pokemon Go more.
When we closed Pokevision out of respect for your wishes, and at your requests— one of which came directly from you, John — we trusted you guys fully in allowing the community to grow. I literally cannot express this more — we just want to play the game. We can handle the bugs every now and then, but please at least tell us you guys care. Yes, Pokevision does give some advantages that may be TOO much; but is it all that bad? Pokemon has survived 20 years — even grown, I would say. And Pokemon Go made it even bigger. If the argument is that “well, if you catch a Snorlax you weren’t supposed to find, but you found it on Pokevision, it might make you play less.” If that was your argument, I’d have to disagree! I’ll still catch a damn Snorlax even if I have 20 of them. Just like how millions of us have caught probably over 100 pidgey’s or zubat’s each.
Pokemon is everlasting. The same 151 Pokemon have been around for 20 years. If 80M people downloaded and played Pokemon Go within a week (before it even released in multiple major countries) isn’t an indication that no one can be sick of Pokemon, I don’t know what is.
After disabling the in-game tracker and Pokevision, the ratings on iOs and Android Google Play store went from 4.0 stars to 1.0–1.5. I am only one person, I admit that my sole opinion is not important, but what about the countless players begging for the game to be restored to its former state? I may be biased in saying that Pokevision being down had an impact on the amount of negative ratings, refund requests and outcry on social media — but could it be true? Nothing has changed between the time the in-game tracker broke and Pokevision went down. Could it just be possible that the tracker — no matter if Pokevision made it, or Niantic made it, is something that players desperately NEED — not want, but NEED — in order to play the game? Could it be possible that this is the very core fundamental feature that drives most players? I understand that there are some that want to walk around and stumble on a random Pokemon — to each their own. But, 50M unique users and 11M daily and the ratings on your App (with no significant change in itself) are big indicators of this desire. Are customers always right? Especially if over half of them are looking for an outside fix just so they can enjoy something they love? People are naturally inquisitive, and in this case, they just want to play more and more, so they sought out something that helps them do so.
Pokemon Go is a social game. Its enjoyment depends on the players and their environment. If you take away the environment part (tracking) but keep the social part (players and their friends) intact, sure, people will still play; but would you not rather it be at its fullest potential?
Everyone in the world wants to play Pokemon Go. It’s been a huge part of everyone’s lives already if it has not been clear enough. Look at the fans from Brazil — they aren’t spamming social media because they want to cause harm — they just want to play the game. Just as I saw my friends play Pokemon many years ago, and wanted to be a part of it — these guys are doing the same.
They just want to be with the rest of the world. Sadly, by the time they join, Pokemon Go may not be the game it was weeks ago.
Lastly, if money is an issue for you, Niantic, I must ask — why? You’ve captivated the world and introduced Pokemon to people that would have never touched it had it not been for Pokemon Go. To me, that’s priceless.
You won’t be remembered for the profits you made, you’ll be remembered for the world you changed through Pokemon and all of the lives you made better. Just look at all the stories — there’s plenty. So when millions of players are expressing their feedback to changes, is it not worth it to listen to what they have to say?
In its first few weeks, Pokemon Go has already enhanced millions of lives in unimaginable ways. It has so much potential to continue changing the world. Wouldn’t you, Niantic, want to see just how much good you can do with Pokemon Go — is that not more valuable than anything else? I sure think so.