It didn’t take long after its early July launch for Pokémon Go to become a phenomenon – and even less time after that for players to totally overload the game’s servers, causing the game’s developer Niantic Labs to pause international rollout.
“A few hours into the launch we had blown through our machine quota,” John Hanke, CEO of Pokémon Go developer Niantic, said at Tuesday’s TechCrunch Disrupt event. “We knew at that point we were in trouble.”
They had planned for lots of players, sure, Hanke says.
But they were still caught flat-footed as players flocked to Pokémon Go – beyond the game’s first Super Bowl commercial, there was no marketing around the game. And so, amid the mad rush to the game, Hanke had to ask for help just to keep up.
“We put in an emergency email to [Google CEO] Sundar [Pichai] and said ‘please send reinforcements,'” Hanke says.
A cry for help
Pokémon Go is hosted with the Google Cloud Platform, the search giant’s scalable cloud computing platform that provides access to vast supercomputing power on demand. It’s not surprising that Niantic chose Google over competitors like Microsoft and Amazon, given that it started as a division of Google before spinning out in late 2015.
Following that call for help, Niantic and the Google Cloud team collaborated on fixing the servers. He describes the Google Cloud team as “super great,” and now everything is hunky-dory “more or less, with a couple of small issues along the way.”
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A common criticism of Niantic among Pokémon Go fans is that they should have anticipated the massive swell of enthusiasm for the game and built their servers accordingly. Hanke says that even if Niantic knew it would get 500 million downloads in two months, they couldn’t have gathered the necessary capacity in time.
“If we had told anyone that was our plan, we would have sounded insane, that would have been an irrational thing to do,” Hanke says. “We just kind of played catch-up.”
Hanke says while it’s true that some players have left the game, there are still lots of people playing Pokémon Go. Many of those who left the game behind were replaced by new players, he says. That means that the game is still successful, but without the massive spikes in popularity that necessitated Pichai’s intervention.
“Things are kind of now at the normal level of an app or a game,” Hanke says. “We’re quite happy for now.”