Niantic, the 9 billion dollar company with a heavy-handed squeeze on the AR mobile game market, has recently announced a new project: Monster Hunter Now. Their collaboration with Capcom on this IP isn’t totally shocking; Niantic has been stringing together lucrative deals for a while now, priming multiple new games to release onto the market.
I think they’re biting off more than they can chew.
To understand why this might be a massive miscalculation for the company’s future, first, we have to look into their past. See, Niantic may have exploded onto the scene with Pokémon Go in 2016, but the pocket monster IP wasn’t their first go at making an augmented-reality mobile game.
Instead, the “Niantic Labs” team spun out of Google, an internal startup put together in 2010. The first game they released, Ingress, became publicly available in October 2013. Ingress pitted players against one another in a global game of espionage, flipping key points of the map to gain ground for their “team.”
It was – and still remains – a successful endeavor, but people seemed more interested in what more could be done with this tech rather than with Ingress itself. Many of the mechanics of the Ingress game laid the groundwork for what Pokémon Go would become… but even still, the game lives in Pokémon Go’s shadow.
That’s because Pokémon Go was a massive success! I mean, it was really one of those games where the hype was palpable, and you could basically feel the excitement around the game hanging in the air in the run-up to its release. There were memes about how this mobile game was going to solve global conflicts and bring people together. Hillary Clinton, bless her decrepit old heart, told people to “Pokémon Go to the polls.” Very hip!
But now we’re about to run headfirst into one of Niantic’s cardinal sins: they bungled the fuckin’ launch.
Oh yeah, they messed it up big time. I vividly remember wincing the first time I read Forbes call the move an “unmitigated disaster.” Harsh! And in addition to an unstable user experience, Pokémon Go launched with… well, very little to do.
The gameplay loop in the early days of the game consisted of spinning PokéStops, collecting Pokéballs, and tossing them at a bunch of Pidgey (because only Generation 1 Pokemon were in the game, and realistically, every spawn around you was that damn bird).
It was not a compelling game, which was reflected in the player dropoff – the week Pokémon Go launched, there were 28.5 million daily active users. A year later, that number sat at 5 million daily active users. Granted, this is still a gargantuan player base, and Niantic did pick up the slack with new content down the line, reinvigorating the app.
But at the end of the day, this first mistake set the stage for how Niantic would handle the game during its most crucial moments. The elephant in the room is the current state of Pokémon Go.
After the novel coronavirus broke the world in 2020, there were more ways to play Pokémon Go than ever before. It was a social game where players were meant to move around. Niantic had to adapt to large swathes of their player base being locked down at home.
Remote raid passes were introduced, allowing players to participate in raids worldwide. Community days were doubled to a six-hour timeframe. PokéStops were able to be spun from even further away. All of these things were added to deal with the pandemic… but became fan-favorite features.
See, these additions felt like genuine QoL changes – fixes to things that were “issues” with the game previously. Moreover, for the first time ever, a new community of disabled gamers could get their hands on Pokémon Go. The game wasn’t the best at offering accessibility options, but being able to play a little from home drew in an entirely new player base.
Gaming boomed during the pandemic, and Niantic had miraculously found a way to ride that wave. Now, they’re burning all that goodwill to the ground.
As Niantic gears up to launch new IPs like Monster Hunter Now, they show how little they care about maintaining old games with Pokémon Go. Remote raid passes have nearly doubled in cost. Trainers can only use five remote raid passes a day. Monthly community days have been cut back down to three hours again.
Niantic has consistently hurt their players, making it harder for people who live in rural areas, disabled people, people with severe social anxiety, and even people who work night shifts at work to play their game.
This is a company in disarray. They do not have all their ducks in a row. If Niantic is willing to turn their backs on the player base of the game that made them, then I’d offer a stern warning to anyone excited about a new Niantic game.
If Niantic is willing to screw up with Pokémon, how can a Monster Hunter fan trust them to get it right?
If you’re a Pokémon fan (or a Niantic critic) such as myself, stick around here on Couch Soup, where we have more great pocket monsters content and even greater shitting-on-Niantic content to come.