#PRFAIL: “DisasterGO” Fest 2017

I don’t play games on my phone… but that didn’t stop me from hearing about the craze that happened last summer in the form of PokémonGo.

You might have seen, shockingly maybe, kids walking down the streets in droves pointing their phones at bushes or sidewalks and jumping for joy when something good happened.

This game was all the buzz last summer and by the middle of July it became the biggest mobile game in US history… beating out Draw Something and Candy Crush with 21 million active users.1 This even rose the stock of Nintendo even though they didn’t develop the app and simply allowed Niantic (the game’s developer) to use the copyright for Pokémon.

It pulls in 60 million users a month, has been downloaded over 755 million times and has grossed 1.2 billion in its first year. 2

If you aren’t sure what PokémonGo is, let me explain:

PokémonGo is an interactive video game that uses augmented reality outside to play. Simply put, you go outside, your phone vibrates when a Pokémon (little creatures from a popular cartoon and video game) is close. You open the app and then the app uses the camera on your phone to show the outdoors and puts a creature on the screen like it’s really there. You then throw balls at it to catch it to add to your collection.

An idea so simple that it spread like wildfire. Just check out this video from last August of what happened when a rare Pokémon appeared for a short time in Central Park.

PokemonGo has even become a marketing tool that has helped local businesses. Businesses would drop “Lures” at their locations that would attract rare Pokémon to their area and promote it so players would come visit their locations. Smart businesses were using this app to market to these players:  a clothing store asking people to come in and catch Pokémon and grab a shirt to play in style or a museum in Arkansas that placed them around parts of their museum to have people come in. 3

Some were not happy about this game and stated that this kind of app, while bringing people out on to the streets, was putting money into big companies’ pockets like Nintendo and not into local businesses like the diner or bowling alley 4—  not to mention all the weird stories surrounding PokémonGo like two men falling off a cliff when they were trying to catch a Pokémon or, more positively, two men apprehending an attempted murder while playing.5

Now, this is the #PRFAIL section. So where does the shoe drop?

Server issues for PokemonGo have been a problem since the inception of the game and most times when mass amounts of people are playing at one time—they crash. This is a complete flop when it comes to an entertainment platform that is run on this technology.

These server issues led to a massive FAIL.

In late July, PokémonGo put on “PokémonGo Fest” in Chicago. It was the first annual event for the game intended to celebrate the first year of the game and award players with the chance to catch exclusive “legendary” Pokémon by everyone working together. I’m told that die-hard players were drooling over this idea.

People flew in from different states and countries to celebrate their fandom and partake in activities on the app that could only happen there.

Despite having tickets sell out in advance in less than an hour, all the money this app has made, (and rocky servers to begin with) Niantic didn’t put in the proper time to ensure that everything would work during the event.

What ended up happening was chaos.6

  • 2 hour waits to get into the event. It’s hot in Chicago in the summer.
  • The app didn’t work. Servers crashed. Leaving tons of people who spent money on this event standing around waiting for the app to work. Some even flew in from around the country and world.
  • The CEO of Niantic was booed when he addressed the crowd. Other times the crowd chanted, “Fix the game.”
  • Ultimately the event was cancelled by the afternoon and tickets promised to be refunded.
  • Additionally, Niantic gave out $100 worth of in-game product to all 20,000 in attendance.
  • People took to the internet to compare it to the Fyre Festival.
  • As of July 27th, Niantic is now being sued with a class-action lawsuit.


A large event for people is a PR stunt. PR stunts are powerful tools that are very profitable and, if the media are proactively informed, could lead to a ton of good press and publicity for your company – with large amounts of exposure. The frenzy of popularity can skyrocket for a product or service.

But there is a caveat. These events are also just as dangerous. They tend to become a major failure if not planned correctly and in total detail to ensure that the buzz is handled well and with ease. You have to plan for the numbers it can generate. When you do, business booms. But if you don’t, it can kill customers’ trust and a company’s goodwill, something businesses need to stay in business.


1 B. Lovelace Jr. “PokemonGo Is Now the Biggest Mobile Game is US History” nbcnews.com July 13, 2017, Web July 26, 2017
2. K. Bhasin “PokemonGo Never Went Away-And Neither Did Its Technical Woes” bloombergtech.com July 24 2017, Web July 26 2017
3. J. Evangello “How ‘PokemonGO’ Can Lure More Customers to Your Local Business” forbes.com July 9 2017, Web. July 26 2017
4 T. Lee “PokemonGo Is Everything That is Wrong with Late Capitalism” cnbc.com July 12 2017, Web. July 26, 2017
5. J. Smith “19 Ridiculous Pokemon Go Stories” gottabemobile.com August 8 2016, Web. July 27, 2017
6 A. Newcomb “PokemonGo Festival Turns Into a Tech Nightmare” nbcnews.com July 24, 2017, Web July 26, 2017

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