Last week provided a case study in how to #EpicFail at a product launch. The vendor in question took a fresh look at the market and then created a completely new offering, built on a trusted brand, but stretching in a new and intriguing direction. And then, it completely failed in its first days in market.
The product (and service) is Pokemon Go, but there are several lessons that a lot of vendors can appreciate. As a disclaimer, when I am not preaching about Data Protection or Scouting, I can often be found with a game controller in my hand. And in one of my past lives, I was a columnist for Xbox.com (archived on XboxDad.com) and was also a product manager for the Microsoft management tools used for Xbox Live, back when Call of Duty and Halo release dates would wreak havoc during week one matchmaking events.
Here are five things that the Pokemon Go folks could learn (and maybe some of us, too):
- Plan for scalability to accommodate success. Especially when you are using a cloud-service, which is presumably elastic as one of the benefits of being a cloud service, there is no excuse for authentication or user-creation or user-login issues. Quite simply, people couldn’t log on fast enough – and the pokemon.com site couldn’t handle it. Any as-a-Service vendor would kill to have Pokemon Go’s initial sign-up rates, but the game systems weren’t prepared and left a horrible first impression for days.
- Don’t confuse folks with your branding. Ask most folks, where Pokemon comes from, they'll answer “Nintendo.” But if you go to the AppStore, you’ll find a game from Niantic. In a world where malware is everywhere, cautious users might shy away or at least reconsider this as a knock-off from someone trying to sneak in. In this case, the splash screen (after you’ve installed it and whatever dubious hidden gems are there) shows “Niantic, a Pokemon Company.” There have to be better ways to build on brand recognition and assure credibility without creating new company names.
- Whatever 1.0 is functionality wise, it has to work (everytime). It’s okay to not be feature-rich, or hold new capabilities for version 1.1 or 2.0. But whatever functions are there have to work. Either Niantic didn’t do enough QA testing, or they didn’t run enough of a beta program, or they just don’t care — but there are a lot of folks out there who are habitually rebooting the app. Some of it is likely tied to the failing to connect to the backend server farm, but still — it is broken as often as it is running. For anything besides a treasured game franchase, those customers will never come back or try again.
- Ensure your initial users’ success if you want them to evangelize for you. Part of ensuring users’ success is telling them how your stuff should be operated. Provide a help file, some tutorial material, a few friendly videos, something! Even the most avid fans will be left with blank stares in this new application, with the community coming to the vendor’s rescue with fan-made materials. A short ‘system requirements’ set of info so that folks don’t install it, but then find it doesn’t work, would also be helpful.
- Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself, but respect what made you originally successful. This game is very different than anything you’ve played on a GameBoy, DS, or a console. It plays on your smartphone, uses your GPS, and expects you to get up and walk around. If you want to “Catch ‘em All” then you are going to have to get off that couch and start walking (a lot). In that regard, Pokemon Go actually deserves kudos for challenging the gamer stereotype and encouraging fitness, while extending a coveted brand and a few decades of avid fans.
In the case of Pokemon Go, there really are decades of fans out there who will begrudgingly forgive the catastrophic missteps that would have killed similar projects in the real world, and those folks will keep trying until the overwhelmed developers and system admins at Niantic figure out how to make it better. And they likely will figure it out, because (based on the huge initial attempts) they know that they have a potential hit on their hands, so they’ll (hopefully) devote the extra effort to fixing it.
To be fair, with Nintendo having seen billions in increased valuation after the launch, the company, the Pokemon empire, and (eventually) the game will be fine — but for the rest of us, that won't happen.
For the rest of us, your stuff has to work at launch, don't make it hard to trust you or try your stuff, and you can’t be timid to the point that you can't handle success (especially if it is cloud-based). If you don’t have a plan for what happens when you find success, then you very likely never will.