Pokemon Go isn't a flash in the pan, says its creators
Mike Quigley, chief marketing officer of game creator Niantic, says this past summer's crazy success was just the beginning.
Katie CollinsSenior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Pokemon Go was without doubt the big tech success story of summer 2016.
The game was installed 500 million times two months after its July launch. And it dominated headlines and conversations around the world, with the app and its creator earning kudos for showing how augmented reality can create fun and interesting experiences for anyone with a phone.
"It was a crazy summer," Mike Quigley, chief marketing officer for the game's maker, Niantic, said at Web Summit in Lisbon on Thursday. "We were very humbled by fan reactions."
Then came the drop off. Tales of Pokemon Go players abandoning the game as quickly as they arrived spread across the internet and were also backed up by analysts. There were also technical glitches in running such a popular app.
But Niantic says it isn't worried, and says the early success is just the beginning for the game. "We view Pokemon Go as something that will be around for years," said Quigley.
Even so, Quigley is the first to admit Pokemon Go had teething problems. The Niantic team had been quietly plugging away for four years building the game, and were as surprised as the rest of the world when it went stratospheric.
"We were off by orders of magnitude," Quigley said, on predicting what uptake would be.
The original rollout plan was abandoned while the company struggled to stabilize the servers, a process that lasted in total around six to eight weeks. As a result, it took longer to launch Pokemon Go in some countries than Niantic had originally anticipated, but this only seemed to increase the hype around the game.
As the weeks went by though, some players seemed to lose interest. Quigley shied away from giving any recent statistics about user figures, only saying, "We're pleased with where we are now, and we have a product roadmap."
We've already seen evidence of the roadmap, first with the introduction of buddies in September and then with daily bonuses last week. There were also the special bonuses laid on around Halloween, which according to Quigley were highly successful.
Soon the updated version of the "nearby" feature, which was removed back in August, will roll out to users beyond San Francisco, where it's currently being tested. Quigley hinted at more in-game events after the success of the first and even real-world events. He stressed that the company is focused on ensuring that it keeps iterating for all players -- those who prefer battling and those who prefer capturing.
There are also rumors of 100 new creatures hatching imminently, though Quigley didn't comment on that.
Going beyond Pokemon
Niantic says its close relationship with the Pokemon company, from which it's separate, keeps the game on track. "They make sure we're doing things that are good for the brand," Quigley said.
But staying true to the original mission means the company needs to also think beyond Pokemon Go.
When Niantic was founded five years ago, the plan wasn't for it to become a publisher, but a platform. Ingress, the forerunner to Pokemon Go and still widely popular in its own right, was the test bed for this, and according to Quigley, "that is still part of the company's long-term plan."
"We were fortunate that we had the runway we had with Ingress," he said. "It really was an important project, and we learned a lot of lessons there."
In theory, the Niantic strategy, which relies on a combination of geospatial, communication and AR technologies, could be licensed by any number of brands to build a community-based, MMO-style mobile game (MMO, btw, stands for massively multiplayer online game).
Could anything have the potent pull of Pokemon though? The success of the game, said Quigley, "is testament to the IP of Pokemon." As for new Pokemon Go-style games with alternative premises, it could be awhile until we actually see any from Niantic.
"I think first and foremost, it's a marathon not a sprint for us," said Quigley.
First published November 10 at 6:40 p.m. PT. Update, November 18 at 9:07 a.m. PT: This story originally stated that Halloween bonuses earned Niantic $200 million. A company spokesman clarified that this figure was joked about, but was not confirmed and is not accurate.