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Things Are Looking Bad For Pokémon Go Dev

"Pokémon Go" set the standard for location-based augmented reality games with its immense success. Generating over $200 million in its first month alone, it kicked off a craze other AR location-based games have failed to replicate, including Niantic itself. Earlier this year, the company closed its "Harry Potter: Wizards Unite" AR roleplaying game despite it performing modestly well. As evident in the gameplay for "Wizards Unite", Warner Bros. Games and Niantic took several cues from "GO." The game conjured about $12 million in player-spending in its first month: a far cry from what "Pokémon Go" made upon its debut (per Sensor Tower). Now, financial problems since the release of "Wizards Unite" have prompted Niantic to pull four projects and lay off dozens of employees.

Bloomberg shared details from an email from Niantic CEO John Hanke, in which he referenced a number of in-development projects that the company has decided to shut down due to "economic turmoil." The news arrived only days removed from Niantic's announcement of an NBA partnership to produce a new game, which Niantic has elected to continue working on.

Four projects to GO

As Bloomberg reported, the "Transformers" game "Heavy Metal" was one of those canceled projects. Niantic talked up "Heavy Metal" and its partnership with Hasbro via blog post in June 2021, calling it "a no-brainer" series to bring to life through AR. Unfortunately for fans, very little information on the title cropped up afterwards. Bloomberg also broke the news of cancellations for projects codenamed "Blue Sky," "Snowball," and "Hamlet." The first two projects were never formally announced, but Punchdrunk announced its intentions to produce the game codenamed "Hamlet" in a partnership with Niantic in late June 2020. Like "Blue Sky" and "Snowball," no details were ever released concerning how "Hamlet" would have played.

Niantic retained 800 employees as recently as December (per The Verge). A representative gave Bloomberg further information on the company's decision to release 8% of that total, which the company hopes will enable it to shift focus to its "key priorities." The representative thanked the released staff for their work and offered support as they moved on from Niantic.

Onlookers have reacted on social media largely with a lack of surprise. Responding to a Twitter post by Bloomberg's Jason Schreier, user @DSDark11 described Niantic failing "to understand that Pokémon Go's success is because of Pokémon," rather than Niantic's specific gameplay style. Others, like @animefanatic781, have argued that "Transformers" didn't have the brand recognition of "Pokemon," which may explain why it was canned.