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Former Niantic Employee Reveals What it’s Like to Work at Niantic, Got Punished by Echoing Pokemon Go Players’ Complaints

A former Niantic employee told his story and what it’s like to work for such a company.

He explained that he had worked as an engineer on the platform for more than a year and that during that time he realized that Niantic did not accept negative comments.

He added that he was once punished for listening to the complaints of the players and wanted everyone to know about the reported problems/bugs etc and to meet the needs of the players.

Check out his story here:

I worked at Niantic full-time for more than a year

Pros

  • Competitive initial compensation compared to large tech companies like Google if you believe in their options’ value.
  • The interview process is easier than large tech companies with similar pay.
  • 10-year exercise window for the options, so no fear to leave any time after the first vesting.
  • Good work-life balance (at least for the platform teams). Playing Niantic games during work hours is somewhat encouraged.
  • Most people are friendly.

Cons

  • They claim to have an open culture but don’t accept negative comments even when things suck. As a platform engineer who just wanted the game/company to be better, I got punished by echoing Pokemon Go players’ complaints which had been there for more than a year. E.g. players with close to 200 friends have to spend 20 minutes every day just to send gifts, which is repetitive and produces no value to the company; exclusive moves make the same pokemon caught/evolved earlier useless, even if it was a Mewtwo caught one year ago by spending money. (They’re fixing some of those issues, but much later.) If people don’t agree something is negative, how can anyone start fixing it and making it positive?
  • Sometimes even constructive suggestions are not acceptable. I suggested a reusable dataflow (map-reduce) to fix multiple player-facing issues like the missing shiny Entei/Suicune for the initial 22 hours (Sep 2, 2019), missing Psystrike for ~10 minutes after UltraUnlock week 3 (Sep 23, 2019), and missing Shadow Ball from EX raids during New Taipei City safari zone (Oct 5, 2019). Based on my estimation this would only require a couple of eng days of one-time initial work and one eng hour for each individual fix. But an executive basically asked me to shut up and said: “It isn’t helping to suggest solutions only.” (I had volunteered to help on 2 other larger Pokemon Go tasks and was willing to help this one as well, but at the very least I need permissions.)
  • Heavy politics in the calibration process. My manager is the same level as me and cannot join my calibration meeting. My performance score of 2019 was reduced from 4.0 (Strongly Exceeds Expectation) to 2.5 (Inconsistent Performance, 3.0 is Meets Expectation), mainly because of the aforementioned executive’s complaint on my “behavior”. No one else in the calibration meeting had worked with me closely or had 1:1 with me before that, so I had basically no way to affect my final score. The person who could but didn’t consider any of my positive “behavior” during the calibration meeting was later “shocked” when I wanted to leave and spent more than an hour trying to convince me to stay. What gives? You gave me a 2.5 when my skill is worth 4.0, of course, I will leave. Why did I have to shut up for 2 months until I got some vested options and a job offer just to discuss this issue equally? Why did you want to keep someone who missed your expectation anyway?
  • Though most employees play it, few people on the Pokemon Go team really know the game well (or the people who know always have other “high priority” stuff to worry about instead of the actual player issues). Before the mass clock blocking of central/mountain time zones’ EX passes on Apr 10, 2019, Silphroad (Reddit) already had a post predicting that with 200+ upvotes. But no one on the team did anything. So after that, I had to notify them proactively to avoid similar issues twice, including the conflict with Regigigas ticketed event on Nov 2, 2019. (It was simple to postpone the invites before they were sent, but no one else did anything until I warned them in the last hour.) There were other cases where I was able to improve things simply because I understand both the game and some of their tech stack. (My suggestion resulted in the first and simple way to monitor shiny pokemon caught by players, to help prevent missing shiny. I’m glad that they did accept some of my suggestions.)
  • Poor prioritization of new features vs. fixing existing issues/bugs. AR buddy multi-player took a lot of engineering effort but do players really use it? Why did some long-lasting issues only get prioritized and fixed 2+ years later? To what extent do they consider the players’ voices to be large enough? Why did the non-spawn issue on Salamis island get prioritized immediately after some press coverage, but other posts with 1K+ upvotes just got ignored?
  • The poor feature design process which changes spec a lot, costs additional engineering effort and introduces unnecessary issues. The 20-minute gifting issue was because the friendship level was supposed to be asymmetrical initially, so a proper fix requires a lot of changes.
  • Mediocre engineers. Because the interviews are simpler, the average engineers are not as good as big tech companies’ engineers (Google or Facebook). Engineers’ levels also tend to be inflated. Some “Senior Software Engineers” struggled with designing small systems. Some “Staff Software Engineers” didn’t know much about database transactions even after using them for a while. The same scalability issue on database indexes fixed one week after the Pokemon Go launch (and covered in tech talk) happened again after the recent AR buddy launch. If you play Niantic games, you probably experienced enough issues which could be avoided by better engineers. (There are great engineers at Niantic, but far from enough.)
  • Though there wasn’t another formal valuation/funding round, the real value of the company probably went down because Harry Potter Wizards Unite is far below expectations. IMO WB is the main one to blame, but some people started losing hope of the company as well.
  • Check blind. I’ve said a lot, check what other Niantic employees said on blind, especially after Jun 2019 (Harry Potter Wizards Unite launch).

Advice to Management

  • Either stop the false advertisement of the open culture or start accepting negative comments made by people who just want the company to be better. If something sucks, constructive suggestions alone can not let everyone notice the real severity.
  • Stop politics and spend more resources on improving players’ trust. Do you really need a strong competitor to start worrying about losing players? (Dragon Quest Walk is already strong enough in Japan).
  • Have you really done enough to keep good engineers?

NOTE: His story is from last year, and as one fan said, it may be old, but it’s worth being reminded of it since Liz George, the Pokemon Go Community Manager quit her role. You can read more about it here.

So what are your thoughts about this? Who’s the one forcing them to do this?


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Dejan Kacurov

Hi, gamers! You can call me Mr. DComplex. I'm a gamer, a hardcore gamer. My favorite genres are Action RPG and MMORPG. At the moment I'm using my PC as my only gaming platform, but soon I might get a new PS4 from Angel. Update - Angel did get me a PS4, oh wait, it's the PS4 PRO 1TB!!! Much love bro!

28 Comments

  1. If you had any amount of fun at this job, you screwed up. You just described every job that exists and will exist.

    1. Pessimism isn’t needed here. Good jobs exist, you just need a positive enough attitude to actually get them or even see that they’re good. The problem with pessimism is that it’s lazy…it’s easy to write everything off as horrible and terrible. Seeing the good in things is difficult, but a more rewarding way to live life.

  2. We were busy and had more important things to worry about then you crying every and all day go be someone else’s big baby.

  3. As an HR Manager I know how dangerous it is to hear only one side of the story, especially when an Employee is clearly frustrated (after only one year working there? Where’s people resilience these days? ) and make sure to publicly share that frustration. Of course ‘if there is smoke, there is a fire’, but I’m curious about the Company’s point of view of all this, as well.

    1. If you play pokemon go, you know the only relevant part of your post is “if there is smoke, there is a fire”. Literally everything he said applies and pretty much everyone who plays the game and is on reddit knows it. Most issues are fruit of bad design process and should not even be in the game in the first place. After 2 years of complaints of pretty much everyone who plays the game, they’re still there. I’ve played a fair share of games in my life (world of warcraft, starcraft, hots, dota and even tibia) and none of them fails so miserably at being a game as pokemon go does. They simply don’t care about players or about their game and the only thing they do is suck out the pokemon franchise while they can. Also, who cares about taking pictures of your pokemon? That’s clearly a marketing decision to get traction on social media, and has nothing to do with making the game enjoyable or good.

    2. “after only one year of working there??” – Ok, Boomer. Welcome to the new era; you don’t have to stay at a job that’s crap for no reason.

      1. “Evie says:
        May 19, 2020 at 10:53 AM
        “after only one year of working there??” – Ok, Boomer. Welcome to the new era; you don’t have to stay at a job that’s crap for no reason.”

        Typical millennial. If you only knew how life is without the government literally paying you to stay at home, you might understand the value of having a job in the first place.

        1. Thank you. Wait until you experience these job hopping fools in health care. If you get sick, they are heartless, self centered, anxious whiners and super lazy. Oh did I mention helpless?

        2. ? We don’t stay at crap companies because we can get hired at better companies. Niantic’s in SF with a lot of tech companies. Good tech talent is always in demand so its easy to move around – not so we can stay at home and cry because the world sucks and live off tax payer dollars.

          SF is expensive as fk to not have a job. Great way to tell everyone you’re out of touch without telling everyone you’re out of touch.

  4. I have played this game since day one and it always has problems we are having yes all of Niantic cares about in the Money . I don’t really don’t listen to The Main UTube guys either. One day no one will be playing if they don’t start listening to the players because we are the ones to keep them in the money.

  5. BEWARE THEY STEAL FROM YOUR CHILDREN AND DON’T CARE. I’ve wasted hours running around with the nearly non-existant customer service of Pokemon GO. They either ignore you or make it impossible to have a conversation. My 11 year old child spent all his money ($20) in preparation for a special “raid” and received nothing. After hours spent trying to interact with their customer service there decision basically amounted to, “sucks to be you.” Please be careful before you spend your money.

    1. Sometimes it takes more than one raid to get a raid boss. But let me tell you something NOTHING on pokeemon go cost 20 dollars. Expecally one raid. Your kid spend his 20 dollars on coins to play with on pogo and now is telling you that one raid costs 20.00 sorry to tell you this but your kid is lieing to you.

    2. “My 11 year old child spent all his money ($20) in preparation for a special “raid” and received nothing.”

      Probably should have used his phones in built ability to require adult authorisation before allowing money to be spent. Whether Apple or Android, you can disable his ability to spend money.

      You chose not to do that, and now you’re complaining at Niantic because of your failure as a parent.

      Typical self entitled pos.

  6. Unfortunately you had a bad experience! I wish u could have stayed long enough to impact the current culture at Niantic°! Today, they are still failing to acknowledge the wishes of the players. I’ve been a level 50 since March 1, 2021. Niantic continues to take away covid benefits although thousands petitioned to keep. I dont even wanna explain how much I spend each month on POGO, but I am prepared to save that $500+ and put it towards retirement. I play this game to excess, but it will be easy to stop if not caring about the players continues to be the attitude. Yes, you can call me a big fish getting prepared to swim upstream. LOL

  7. Niantic is just like every other company in the world. Greedy and bitter. Nothing new here just saying lol.

  8. I worked in the games industry for over thirteen years, and yeah, this is the status quo: vicious office politics, incompetent management, nepotism, and an utter unwillingness to listen to the people who know what the heII they’re talking about. Way more so than any other tech based industry, by a mile.

    I’m not at all surprised that this is the attitude over there, and I don’t expect niantic will listen to us on this asinine rollback of the quarantine perks, either. They won’t even listen when the game inevitably starts losing millions as players finally get fed up and leave the game. They’ll just sit there, looking at their dismal quarterly projections, and go “I just don’t understand, what happened?” While a horde of disgruntled former players are right there voicing their frustration at being ignored and disrespected.

  9. This is, unfortunately, the culture of nearly all major software development companies, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. Comments and feedback are cheap and free. What gets them to listen is sales numbers. The only thing that they listen to is money and stock holders. Stop buying their products or hit them via mainstream media…that is how you get them to change. Period.

  10. Thank you for posting this. Very informative. I am a daily player & constantly run into issues or thoughts to better improve the game. Lately it is becoming more tasking than it is fun. I hope Niantic opens up to the player base more & listens to what we need & want.

  11. I think he missed the point of the game for the company is to make as much money as possible while it is still popular. People are obviously still playing through their complaints.

  12. For those of you who dont know, “calibration” is when management comes together with human resources and grades all their employees against each other after annual performance reviews are done. For example, Joe had 5 employees and rated them all “exceeds expextations”. Sally has 5 employees and has 1 exceeds, 3 meets, and 1 needs improvement. Sally however, really grades her employees well and accurately. Joe just gives “exceeds” to everyone cause he is lazy. So during calibration, 4 of Joe’s employees drop down to “meets expectations” and Sally’s stay the same. Now annual raises based on performance can be applied fairly. Without calibration, all of Joe’s employees would be getting large raises they dont deserve.

  13. I interviewed for a role at Niantic in 2017. During my interview, we spoke about my passion for PoGo and I shared my ideas for the future as a way to build rapport. The interviewers seemed genuinely concerned that I wouldn’t be one to make “difficult decisions” since I was invested in the game. The way they said it, they were definitely not looking for true fans that could contribute to building a legacy title, they were looking for yes men to maximise KPIs. The interview process was very toxic on the whole. Although, I was invited to the next round, I didn’t see a fit and moved onto better pastures. I can empathise with this person but cannot begin to truly unpack how much worse it must have actually been as an employee.

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