Today, Niantic and The Pokemon Company announced they would be organizing Pokemon GO Fest 2018 in Chicago this July to celebrate the game’s 2nd anniversary.
The first Pokemon GO Fest held in 2017 was compounded with many problems, from long lines of people trying to enter the event to connectivity issues. This led to Niantic providing full refunds for tickets, a way of apologizing to participants at the event.
Niantic CEO John Hanke spoke to IGN today, sharing how Niantic has learned their mistakes from the past and apply them to ensure Pokemon GO Fest 2018 is a success.
First, Hanke admitted Pokemon GO Fest 2017 was one of the “most challenging days” of his career.
Go Fest was a challenge for us, there’s no doubt. As the person who stood up on stage and directly faced the consequences of having the technical challenges, nobody felt it more strongly than I did. Particularly with all of you in the press there to witness that with us, and all of my board members, all of our partners…It was one of the most challenging days of my professional career.
After GO Fest, Niantic changed the way they planned the Pokemon GO events at Yokohama’s Pikachu Outbreak.
Shortly after Chicago, we got to work on Yokohama, which was already scheduled and there was no dodging that. So we just had to make sure that we didn’t screw up Yokohama. We dove much, much deeper with the cellular network partners over there and really figured out how to talk to them and explain to them the technical requirements of an event like ours. We made some changes to the way we plan the event. We organized it so that everybody wasn’t concentrated in the same place all the time, and, you know, we made it. There were some close calls that week. There were some times when the network slowed down, but it never went offline, and it was a huge success.
Hanke explains how the company will apply their lessons learned from last year to reduce server strain and high crowd levels at Pokemon GO Fest 2018.
That was a learning directly from Yokohama last year. A large portion of that event was a walking course that was set up along the waterfront in Yokohama, and it worked really well. It was super fun. People were moving and not standing still, which is actually more in line with our mission. At an event where people are kind of all clumped together in a group, there’s less room to move around.
We didn’t really know that the first time through. There wasn’t really a model for how do you do a mobile gaming event for 30,000 people. The company we worked with had put on lots of big music shows, and I think their thinking was more like, ‘Hey, how does Lollapalooza work?’ There was a stage, there was a fence, there were concessions and things like that, but it was kind of drawing its inspiration from a music festival, and I think that’s not really quite the right model.
We will be lining up things across the city of Chicago as well as what’s happening in Lincoln Park to encourage that kind of flow that we resorted to at the end of the day last year as we were trying to figure out how to make a diving catch there in the afternoon. The evening [after last year’s Go Fest] in Chicago, despite the fact that the day had been so trying, was kind of a golden hour there. As people were out across the city, the weather kind of let up on us. There was a bit of rain a lot of the day, but a lot of the evening, it was nice and kind of cool, and people were out on the streets of Chicago having fun playing Pokemon Go. That’s the part of last year that we want to try to recapture this year.
In general, if you create the right game incentives, it really shapes where people are playing and where they’re headed and where they’re flowing to. So the fallback is simply to closely monitor what’s happening in Lincoln Park itself and then to dial up the attractiveness of other areas if for some reason there’s a problem there.
Niantic is also working closely with major carriers to ensure coverage is high throughout the city.
All of the major carriers are deploying COWs (Cells on Wheels), so there will be mobile network hotspots from all the major carriers set up in such a way that we believe we will have full coverage, efficient coverage, for everybody throughout the park. And again, our understanding and our ability to communicate with our partners exactly what the network traffic looks like, and really technically profiling it and communicating it on a technical level, we’re much better at that than we were a year ago, so that’s been the formula that we used last year in Yokohama and Tottori and other places, to really work closely with those network providers.
There are going to be themed areas for the different Pokemon types, so we think we’re going to create a really fun, interesting environment for people to move through, and to really experience the full breadth of that park. It’s kind of a long, narrow park, which we’re taking advantage of, so I’m excited about what that on-the-ground experience is going to be there. But we do think that as people have moved through that, then there will be an intention for people to dissipate at the end and go off and explore other parts of Chicago.