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Three Things We Can Learn from Pokémon GO and Niantic Labs

Last month, Pokémon GO launched throughout the world to much fanfare. As the app became available in more countries, people of all ages from across the world anxiously downloaded the app on their quest to catch ‘em all. Eyes glued to the augmented reality game on their phone screens, players have been getting out to walk more, falling off cliffs and even crossing country borders in search of the fictional monsters.    

If you (somehow) missed the excitement, it’s not over yet. On the surface the game seemed unstoppable — but plagued with server problems and lackluster communications with players, Niantic, creator of the game, is finding itself in the middle of a PR storm. Game enthusiasts-turned-disgruntled fans are taking to social media and demanding refunds after Niantic made a number of changes to the game with little explanation.

Here are a few things we can learn from Niantic’s current situation:
 

1. Manage your message
 

This week the gaming company made changes to the game, most notably the removal of the Pokémon tracking system, which fans argue is crucial to the game’s success. Niantic has offered relatively no explanation and its social channels have been notoriously quiet.

Niantic has rarely acknowledged problems within the game and its updates to the app have been vague, not addressing concerns or complaints voiced worldwide. Nintendo and the Pokémon Company have offered relatively little support with community management despite the fact they are both tied to the brand and are larger, with more resources. Niantic could alleviate tensions among disgruntled fans with more regular, transparent communications.
 

2. Manage your community
 

In today’s world of 24/7 support, audiences expect clear and regular communication. And if they don’t hear from you directly, they often take it upon themselves to keep the conversation going. Being engaged with your audience and providing regular updates can keep negativity at bay. A short statement released by Niantic yesterday offered relatively little information and unclear rationale, and has so far generated over 4,600 comments, many seeking more answers. The official @PokemonGo Twitter page has only 24 tweets.
 

3. Use partners to your advantage
 

As Pokémon GO gained success, third-party companies produced maps, apps and websites designed to support players in their quest for Pokémon. This week, Niantic began shutting down third-party websites, stating that they were interfering with their ability to maintain quality of service for users and to bring Pokémon GO to users around the world.

While Pokémon GO has been plagued with issues from the start, many fans believed partner sites and apps supported the game as it continued to develop. During this tense time, supporting partners could build a bridge between Niantic and its audience — instead, shutting partners down reinforces for many fans that Niantic is not listening.

Time will tell if Niantic and Pokémon GO can recover, but with a history of poor communications, Pokémon GO’s popularity might be short lived unless Niantic begins to strengthen its relationship with its fan base.