Niantic lays off 8% of staff, cancels four projects as it struggles to recapture the success of Pokémon Go

Recap: Many memorable things happened in 2016: Donald Trump won the US election race, David Bowie and Prince died, and Pokémon Go became a global phenomenon. But the company behind the mobile AR game, Niantic, hasn’t been able to repeat that success, leading to layoffs and canceled projects.

Bloomberg writes that Niantic Chief Executive Officer John Hanke told staff in an email that the company was “facing a time of economic turmoil” and had already been “reducing costs in a variety of areas.”

San Francisco-based Niantic has reportedly canceled four projects: a Transformers spin-off announced last year called Heavy Metal; Hamlet, which would have been a collaboration with Punchdrunk, the theatrical company behind the interactive play Sleep No More; and two other projects called Blue Sky and Snowball, though they may have been codenames.

Niantic is also said to have laid off 85 to 90 people, or about 8% of its total staff, but that might not be the end of the cuts as Hanke said the company needs to “further streamline our operations in order to best position the company to weather any economic storms that may lie ahead.”

To say Pokémon Go had a huge cultural impact would be an understatement. It set a new record for the number of downloads in its first week, with people spending more time on the app than Facebook. It had hit a billion downloads by 2019 and at one point was generating $1 billion per year in revenue.

There were also stories of criminals using Pokémon Go to lure and rob people at gunpoint, users trashing neighbourhoods and beaches, the disastrous festival, and a reported $2 billion to $7.3 billion in vehicle damage—along with two deaths—linked to the game during its first 148 days

But Niantic has failed to find similar success with its other titles. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, a game that copied the Pokémon Go format, was closed down earlier this year. There was also Pikmin Bloom and Catan, neither of which have come close to matching the popularity of Pikachu and co.

Niantic confirmed the layoffs to Kotaku. “We recently decided to stop production on some projects and reduce our workforce by about eight percent to focus on our key priorities,” said a spokesperson. “We are grateful for the contributions of those leaving Niantic, and we are supporting them through this difficult transition.” It added that the cutbacks will allow it to focus on “new experiences” and the company will “continue investing in the future of AR.”

One of the games Niantic will continue working on is NBA All-World, a just-announced game created in partnership with the NBA in which players “can find, challenge, and compete against today’s NBA ballers in their neighborhoods.”

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