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Behind the Line: Pokemon Go Festival Troubles

Pokemon Go Festival, eh? Looks like Gaming has its own version of the Fyre festival, but NOWHERE NEAR that bad. Fair or not, this is a neat little microcosm of what Pokemon Go is in general.

The Event

Pokemon Go is a worldwide phenomenon. The developer, Niantic, would naturally want to do something to help nurture and grow the community. The game is about getting out and interacting in the world, so a convention would be a good idea. Let’s bring players from all over together.

The event promised debut legendary Pokemon, new challenges, an in app medal, meet and greets and such. It sounded like a good time for devoted players. Reportedly over 20,000 people were there.

 

The Problems

Unfortunately, just like the game, the festival was too popular to support itself properly. The game can now hold itself up just fine. However, thousands of players in the same area, all trying to play at once, is different. They were using up data bandwidth, caused the whole cellular network to choke out, and blocked attendees from being able to play. This puts a pretty big damper on the fun.

If the event planners were expecting the local networks to support that data traffic, they were sorely mistaken. Depending on your location and service provider, mobile data is noticeably spottier during rush hour. People are getting off of work and checking their phones, watching videos (hopefully not while driving), catching up on news, and so forth. This consumes the available network bandwidth. Them cell towers can only process so much, there’s always a limit.

Twenty thousand players all in one place gave those cell towers something like a case of the 3 Stooges syndrome. Hopefully this didn’t choke out essential services as well, as their internal communications run on reserved bandwidths, but it is possible that access to them got limited. Hopefully access by the general public was kept clear.

This is an example of the kinds of unintended consequences that need to be carefully scoped out for events, and especially large events.

 

How This Could Have Been Avoided

If you’re doing this, you need to realize that your infrastructure is what you live and die on. (Hello there, Fyre festival) This game needs data to run? You set yourself up a private portable WiFi network for the players so they can connect through that rather than their mobile data. Make sure this network has enough bandwidth to serve 25,000 concurrent connections of your game. Hell, you could even configure that WiFi network to throttle down anything other than Pokemon Go traffic to ensure that someone isn’t using it to download 600 gigs of pirated movies or something.

A lot of this is apparent. Most of these points are already outlined in the comments below many of the articles covering this event. That goes to show how avoidable this should have been. Ignore the infrastructure at your peril.

The Community Shines Through

Plenty of players were quite justifiably upset. Chanting “We Can’t Play” at speakers, and occasionally throwing stuff at the stage (I get it but that’s still not cool). Even then, there are still stories coming out of this that reaffirm what’s special about the Pokemon Go community. Realizing they couldn’t play, plenty of players spent the time talking with each other, focusing on what they could still do to celebrate their hobby.

Niantic, for their part, offered refunds, in game currency, and automatic legendary Pokemon for the attendees. For an event where people travelled in from other countries, there’s plenty of room to argue that they should do more for at least the most affected attendees, but we should also give them credit for doing this so quickly.

Conclusion

There are a lot of comments around saying that Pokemon Go is in decline. To that I would say that where it was shortly after launch is simply unsustainable, so expecting that to continue is unreasonable. This event drawing so many people is proof that the game has devoted players, and the game as a service does have legs so it won’t be going away any time soon. Niantic will probably be feeling some familiar bruises after this. I expect they’ll be learning some hard earned lessons, and try another event again some time that will be a bit smaller, but much more stable and successful.

Upset attendees are right to be so. Niantic has to work hard to make it right for them. Niantic also has to work hard to get past the impression that this event leaves on the public. They’ve done it before with a rough launch, and I believe they can do it again. Remember, an important element to these problems was too much success.

At least when the games industry screws up big, it’s not as bad as Fyre! We just get vaporware and some dubious kickstarters.

 


Kynetyk is a veteran of the games industry.  Behind the Line is to help improve understanding of what goes on in the game development process and the business behind it.  From “What’s taking this game so long to release”, to “why are there bugs”, to “Why is this free to play” or anything else, if there is a topic that you would like to see covered, please write in to kynetyk@enthusiacs.com or follow on twitter @kynetykknows

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