From the sound of things, the inaugural Pokémon Go Fest was a total disaster, leaving fans of the game unable to use the very app the festival was supposed to celebrate. Maybe this should have been expected; despite the success of the app, it has been plagued by issues since it launched last year, including a spell where the app had a scary amount of access to your personal information.
But the company's response to the fuckery in Chicago might be more perplexing than the screwed-up festival itself. In a lengthy statement about the festival, Niantic CEO John Hanke appeared to turn his ire in one direction—at cell phone companies.
"On the pure network access issue, we provided detailed estimates on attendance and required data throughput per user to our event partner who worked with the major carriers to allow them to plan for adequate coverage," he said. "Some carriers deployed Cellular on Wheels (COWs) to extend their capacity. In other cases the providers deemed them unnecessary based on other infrastructure already in place at the site. Users reported different levels of success with these providers."
In normal-person speak, this reads like, "When our setup didn't work, we decided to blame someone else." Hanke goes on to single out Sprint specifically—they were an "official partner," per his statement—as a network that allegedly held up well. This makes the assertion about what other networks didn't provide look a lot more cynical; Hanke is happy to protect their sponsor, but everyone else was responsible for the "different levels of success."
This was not some rinky-dink carnival stopping through town for a few days, but a festival in a major city co-opting the name of a major brand in gaming. People flew and drove in from hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles away to get to the event, and users from all backgrounds let Niantic know how they felt about the problem.
Their sheer incompetence has resulted in Go fest being, predictably, an absolute disaster.— OMRE (@omre_) July 22, 2017
Niantic be like: pic.twitter.com/ubKIuF3aH6— Alex Hanich (@alexhanich13) July 22, 2017
Although it's difficult to account for network congestion at festivals, it can be done, and it must be done at an event that centers around using a data-intensive app. Even music festivals have begun to do a better job at pre-loading data into their apps in order to avoid this sort of problem, and the success of their events have little to do with cell phone service.
Niantic did offer some refunds and in-app credits to those impacted by outages and delays in front of the festival, but given the amount of money they've made through the app, it's not good enough to pass the buck here. If they needed more coverage, they should have demanded it, because the success of their company relies on it.