The story of how software development company Niantic Labs let vaunted golden egg Pokemon GO crash and burn into the ground will be told in business textbooks and case studies years down the line. While Niantic still has time to build back the trust of their user base, the important thing for us is to learn and ensure the same mistakes the Pokemon GO team made are not repeated by our own ventures.
Niantic looked like they hit it out of the park with the release of the much anticipated augmented reality mobile game. Sales were rumored to be in the millions in the first day and downloads have surpassed 100 million within the last several of weeks.
However, many fans and former players of Niantic’s previous game Ingress warned of Niantic’s lack of communication, inability to build rapport with their audiences, and general absence when it came to building a community. Of course, everyone was willing to give Niantic a chance given how amazing augmented reality Pokemon catching sounded.
Now, after a disastrous update removing a wounded key feature allowing players to track Pokemon, stealth updating the game to make even basic Pokemon incredibly hard to catch (presumably to force more micro-transactions), systematic removal of 3rd party programs that served as a bandaid for the broken Pokemon tracking feature, and not a single word of communication to players on their frustrations, the community is almost in full revolt.
Ratings on iOS dropped from 4 stars to almost 1 star in a single day. Fans are rushing for refunds, and pressing Nintendo and Google for answers. Niantic’s CEO had his Twitter hacked (not that he was using it to communicate to his fans anyways), adding insult to injury.
So what can we learn from Niantic’s mishaps?
1. Never forget customers are your boss
Customers are smart. They know better than you what they want. It doesn’t matter how much technical knowledge or market research you have in your hands – customers are the ultimate decider of what will or won’t impact your bottom line. Players from day one were insistent on providing feedback, sending all sorts of impressive suggestions to improve game play. How much was implemented or even acknowledged? Nothing.
Never, ever forget that your biggest supporters have everything to gain from improving your product or service. Sometimes it takes a bit of humbleness to accept the fact that your customers may know your business better than you, but listen to your customers and you’ll only have rewards to gain.
2. Silence is not a virtue
Your relationship with customers is like a marriage. You owe it to your customers to keep them in the loop – especially if there are issues that may have a huge effect on their experience. Niantic has always taken a “respond when we want, how we want” approach, which has now backfired in a big way. A simple “We are sorry about the tracking issues and intend on fixing it in the near future” tweet would have prevented this huge fiasco for the most part.
Many supporters argued that Niantic is in fact recruiting a communications manager, but that does not excuse the lack of any sort of social media engagement or official press releases. CEO John Hanke should have taken the lead in addressing the game’s issues. Instead, his response was to criticize third party developers who created work arounds using Pokemon GO’s API.
Well done John.
3. Relationship building takes time
It’s almost impossible to build trust in a few days with customers. It takes a mixture of authenticity, willingness to connect, and superior customer service to win and keep customers these days, which means lots of time investment.
Building a great relationship over time gives companies leeway when it comes to mistakes, which are impossible to completely avoid. The big difference is that it’s easy to say sorry when your customers love you, and pretty damn hard to apologize when you have never given them attention to begin with.
It’s ok to screw up. It’s even ok to not respond sometimes. But consistently not communicating with customers and listening to their feedback is death.
Only time will see if Pokemon GO will be a 3 week wonder or an epic success story saved by massive organizational change and attitude shifts over at Niantic.
Just don’t hold your breath.