Massively on the Go: Pokemon Go’s Niantic does damage control as player spending weakens


Last week was a rough week for Pokemon Go and Niantic. The company tried to sweep the release and reversal of viewable pokemon’s distance under the rug by more globally releasing the problematic Campfire app with a new feature, it sent POGO Director Michael Steranka out for an apology interview that hasn’t gone over well, and then it laid off 230 employees while shuttering two games and a whole studio.

And yet, it seems like the company has learned nothing. Even worse, part of the damage control isn’t just the usual misleading statements and PR spin we’re used to but outright untruths, to the point of throwing POGO’s own influencers under the bus. In today’s Massively on the Go , we’ll be discussing a few of those lies, but also note a silver lining: that many of Niantic’s problems are a result of players wisely spending less money.

Let’s step back first to discuss the recent increased view radius in POGO. On June 26th, Niantic reps confirmed to several POGO personalities that the unannounced radius increase was not a bug, which those influencers then communicated to the playerbase. Shortly after that, though, Niantic support publicly stated it was a bug, a patch for which was released within hours.

Set aside for the moment the fact that Niantic fixed a helpful “bug” so quickly while other more serious bugs remain to this day: The company basically threw its top influencers under a bus with this tweet, and the situation led to harassment for those influencers to boot, leading many of them to delete their tweets and go silent about what Niantic originally said. What we have seen is multiple reports of Niantic’s failings. For example, one influencer noted that the radius increase was listed under a “Quality of Life Update” header.

Another noted that Niantic not only claimed that the confirmation of the “feature” was made in error but went back to delete the evidence:

And then we have an interesting image reposted by PvP analyst JRE:

The above screenshot is taken from Campfire, Niantic’s Discord-esque social app that you should probably avoid if you value your privacy. Where once there were channels that would allow Niantic community managers to engage with the community, now there is yet another place for Niantic to shout at the masses without listening to them. I’d understand doing this on Twitter where a company has less control, but suppressing its own platform makes sense only when you remember that Niantic prefers not to pay for work someone else will do for free.

All the bad press seems to have been the reason that Game Director Michael Steranka was sent out for the interview.

But as we noted, it’s not going over well. Steranka has a reputation in the POGO community as a developer whose words can’t be trusted, and this interview includes exactly the type of confusion and fibs that have built that reputation. Let’s consider the example of Niantic’s claim that the increased visual radius was a bug. Let’s take that at face value and presume the company is telling the truth. But during this interview, Steranka claims that Go+ devices were unable to catch anything in new, extended radius, which is a bug.

But if the extended visual range were a bug, the Go+ not catching anything would be functioning as normal. I’ve frequently been able to see pokemon that the Go+ wouldn’t catch. I’ve always noticed a distance limitation to the devices. On the other hand, if Steranka fibbed or was mistaken initially about the visual radius, and it was intended, then it would simply mean that Niantic had forgotten to increase the Go+ catch radius, which isn’t a bug, just incompetence. This is why the interview lacks fundamental credibility; no matter how you look at it, we’re being given incorrect, misleading, and internally inconsistent information.

A company simply cannot keep sending out representatives to do this without damaging trust – and now it’s to the point that interviews with Niantic employees are being ignored by hardcore players.

This comes from the top, though. In John Hanke’s June 29th letter announcing the company reorient and layoffs, he claims the company is focusing on “first party games.” The problem is that he then goes on to list Pokemon GO, Pikmin Bloom, Monster Hunter Now, and Peridot. Of those titles, Niantic owns only Peridot. The others belong to other companies, making them second-party games where Niantic is the second-party developer for the IP holder. Traditionally speaking, first-party games are made by their IP holders as exclusives. As Nintendo and The Pokemon Company have invested in Niantic, it is, at best, a second-party dev on those titles, while Capcom isn’t known to have put money into the company, making the upcoming MH title a third-party game.

While the spin about how the market is tougher than before isn’t unexpected, it’s still gross. To note, at this time last year, Niantic laid off about 85 employees and killed off four games. This latest round shed nearly three times as many employees. Niantic tracker Killed By Niantic notes that in addition to the now dead NBA game and cancelled Marvel one, two other titles, Lucky Charms Cereal-based Journey to the Magic Gems and Ingress-based NFT “game” Trading Post, had also been cancelled this year prior to the most recent announcement.

For those keeping score at home, that means Niantic has shuttered the same number of games this year as last year, except that one was a live product, plus it lost nearly triple its employee base and closed a whole studio (which was recently hiring to tackle the long-standing idea that Niantic simply doesn’t test its games, which is exactly how it got into the visual radius situation in the first place).

What also tracks is the loss of revenue. As noted by, Niantic is down several million dollars when compared to last year, despite spin attempts and pushing out the most powerful pokemon into a weekend of paid raids for May 2023.

It should come as no surprise that as Niantic has become more hostile to accessibility and criticism, its profits have gone down. It’s hard to say that it’s player actions alone, but readers may remember that the 2022 announcement came several months after Niantic began nerfing COVID/accessibility features, including Community Day hours and incense spawn rates. Further profit losses after what’s arguably been its worst PR year shouldn’t be surprising, especially as #HearUsNiantic continues to trend on social media, reminding players that this really isn’t a company you want to give money to.

Just take me as an example: Since the remote raid nerf, Niantic has been losing at least $120 a month that I would generate personally when inviting remote raiders. I’d largely already cut out spending on the game aside from event coverage back in 2021, largely because of how poorly Niantic handled the stalking situation, but I would toss it a bit when it did something good for the community overall. But in terms of community, I know other players have outright walked away or contributed to that decline in spending or sending data, including some of our readers.

If there is one silver lining to all this, it may be that Niantic is becoming the poster-child for “voting with your wallet.” While Hanke may claim that Niantic’s priority is on bolstering the POGO community, the reality is that it’s throwing influencers under the bus, lying to players, and firing Community Managers we trusted, none of which is going to help increase player spending habits. Increasingly aggressive marketing is turning people off. More direct management from the higher-ups who put this company/game in this position seems like a mistake – not a solution.

Massively OP’s Andrew Ross is an admitted Pokemon geek and expert ARG-watcher. Nobody knows Niantic and Nintendo like he does! His Massively on the Go column covers Pokemon Go as well as other mobile MMOs and augmented reality titles!
Pokemon Go studio Niantic is considered a controversial gaming company owing to multiple scandals and deceptions, starting with the Wi-Spy privacy scandal; over the years, it’s repeatedly failed to secure player data, endangered players during the pandemic, and refused to address documented stalking in POGO. It also rolled back popular accessibility features to incentivize data collection, faked data, and lied about event results. Following 2021’s community-driven Pokemon No boycott, Niantic vowed transparency and communication; it has not delivered.
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