Pokemon GO was indisputably the most popular mobile game of 2016, but the large player base initially caught developer Niantic off guard, leading to widespread server issues. Now, a Niantic employee has revealed that the game only had two engineers working on it at launch and said the player response was 50 times greater than what the devs were expecting.
This insight was provided by Niantic technical artist/designer David Hollin during a panel at the Animation on Display convention in Santa Clara last weekend. The panel was titled “Origins of Pokemon GO” and Hollin provided fans with plenty of additional information on the game.
Hollin, who has worked on Pokemon GO since its inception, first noted that the game actually started as an April Fool’s joke by Google in 2014. Niantic’s CEO saw Google’s experiment and thought it would be fun as a real game, so he contacted The Pokemon Company. As fate would have it, the CEO of The Pokemon Company was already a big fan of Niantic’s previous game, Ingress and the wheels were set in motion.
Before settling on AR, Niantic initially wanted to use Google Earth images that it would superimpose Pokemon on top of. While the nod to the Google April Fool’s Day joke would have been a nice touch, it would have required players to download huge images which did not seem practical. Hollin helped the project transition to AR after playing around with his phone camera in his backyard, showing the results to his coworkers.
Niantic’s main goal with the title was to get people to walk around outside, which put the project under a bit of a time crunch because they wanted to release it during the summer when the weather would be good. At launch, Niantic’s two server engineers worked 24/7 in shifts to patch issues with the game. The team has obviously expanded since then, and today, Niantic keeps tabs on Pokemon GO subreddits to help it track various bugs as they pop up.
As far as the future goes, Hollin said trading is still being worked on, but Niantic intends to take its “sweet time” to release the feature, as it could open a Pandora’s Box of potential issues. Niantic is also aware that while “battling is not the worst thing in the world,” it’s “the worst thing in Pokemon GO” at the moment.
Hollin added that he’d like to one day see weather-related spawns show up in-game and disclosed that Niantic is currently working with Apple to see if they can come up with a way to count steps indoors while exercising. He wasn’t able to reveal all, however, as he simply said “No comment” when a fan asked about Shiny Pokemon coming to the game.
Pokemon GO is out now on iOS and Android.