Pokemon Go is the first AR game to go mainstream. But are their data center capacity issues exposing a need for better planning to meet demand?
The Server Capacity Problem of Pokémon GO
Niantic continues to expand its global Pokémon GO footprint, amid reports of declining numbers of users, user engagement, time spent, and downloads, reports Bloomberg.1 One analyst opined that Pokémon GO is “starting to lose the battle for mobile mindshare.”
He went on to suggest, citing Google Trends data, that this trend may be the death knell for augmented reality (AR): “If these declines prove enduring, this would cast aspersion not only on the viability and popularity of Pokémon GO, but augmented reality gaming at large.”2
But Pokémon GO’s declining numbers have less to do with the death of AR and more to do with Niantic’s admitted problems with server capacity.
The numbers bear this out.
Pokémon GO’s daily active user numbers peaked around July 18 when it registered nearly 45 million people. One month later, 15 million users—fully one-third—had bailed on the game.3
Why? Niantic’s server problems were well known to players, who often commented that the game was always broken. And as the rollout continued, server problems persisted.
High demand is likely the cause, as servers will crash because they can’t deal with a high volume of simultaneous requests. So the game slows to a crawl or stops entirely. Authentication errors are another issue that keeps players from even accessing the game.
The solution, of course, is to add more servers—something that Niantic is already doing. But it wasn’t fast enough to keep up with its aggressive rollout plan or the unexpected numbers of users.
In fact, on July 18—the day it reported its highest number of daily active users—there were also nearly 40,000 reports of login or server connection errors which continued throughout the day and thereafter.4 There were also reports of a DDoS attack which would have effectively shut down access to the servers.
Niantic responded by removing some features and shutting down third-party apps and services. This move reduced the strain on Niantic’s servers and allowed them to continue to roll out the game globally, but it also angered already frustrated players. In its statement, the company said:
“We have limited access by third-party services which were interfering with our ability to maintain quality of service for our users and to bring Pokémon GO to users around the world. The large number of users has made the roll-out of Pokémon GO around the world an…interesting…challenge…”5
But reports of server failures continued to dominate the news, often overshadowing Niantic’s quest for global dominance.
In fact, server capacity was such a problem that Niantic couldn’t even launch Pokémon GO in its own country until July 22—well after the initial July 6 launch in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand and the European launch after that. “At present, the server capacity in Japan is not powerful enough,” said Niantic CEO John Hanke. “We are working hard with our partners in Japan to enable the servers to keep up with demand once the game goes online there.” He later issued an apology for the server issues, saying “we weren’t provisioned for what happened.”7
In truth, AR is a technology that’s in search of a suitable use. Pokémon GO began to show us, on a global scale, how information could be accessed in an unconventional and visual way. The industry just needs to work out some old-fashioned capacity issues.
1“These Charts Show That Pokemon Go Is Already in Decline,” Bloomberg.com, 08/23/16.
2“These Charts Show That Pokemon Go Is Already in Decline,” Bloomberg.com, 08/23/16.
3“Pokemon GO loses 15 million active players in a month,” DigitalTrends.com, 08/23/2016.
5“Niantic finally issues a response to angry Pokémon GO players,” TechInsider.io, 08/02/2016.
6“Server capacity delayed Japanese ‘Pokémon Go’ launch,” EnGadget.com, 07/18/2016.