Q&A: Niantic CTO Phil Keslin looks back at one year of Pokemon Go

Q&A: Niantic CTO Phil Keslin looks back at one year of Pokemon Go 894 575 C-Suite Network
Niantic Chief Technology Officer Phil Keslin poses with a wall of fan created Pokemon cards at their office in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, July 10, 2017. Keslin is one of the creators of Pokemon Go. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)
Niantic Chief Technology Officer Phil Keslin poses with a wall of fan created Pokemon cards at their office in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, July 10, 2017. Keslin is one of the creators of Pokemon Go. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

SAN FRANCISCO — For much of the first three weeks of Pokemon Go mania last summer, Niantic chief technology officer Phil Keslin was trapped in the office with his engineers, tirelessly trying to keep its servers from crashing.

They faced one of their biggest challenges preparing for a community-formed “Pokemon Go Crawl” in San Francisco. More than 8,500 people signed up for the afternoon gathering, and Niantic scrambled after its servers crashed earlier that morning. If they crashed again amid the crawl, Keslin joked, there would have been “torches in our offices” from angry Pokemon Go fans.

But the servers held. The crawl moved without a hitch. The success allowed Keslin and his team to leave their San Francisco office to get some fresh air and catch the tail end of the mass event.

“For a team that has been bottled up inside, it was moving to see and motivated everyone on the team,” Keslin said.

That seems like light years ago for Keslin and Pokemon Go, which in February became the fastest mobile game to reach $1 billion in revenue, according to app analytics firm Sensor Tower. Niantic on Saturday planned to celebrate Pokemon Go’s one year anniversary with a festival in Chicago. Up to 20,000 people were expected to show up, catch Pokemon and play against each other.

Keslin, a Texas native, sat down with this news organization recently to talk about how his rural upbringing influenced the augmented reality mobile game and what lies ahead for Pokemon Go, which at its peak was played by 50 million users every day. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: What do you do as CTO of Niantic? What does that job entail?

A: I manage the engineering team. I look for future technology that can enhance the games we produce. One of our company’s missions is “adventure on foot with others.” Building experience that can motivate people to go outside and have adventures and do that with others are the things we are going to build.

Q: Why is outdoors such a big component to Niantic’s mission?

A: For me, when I was growing up as a kid, I was kicked out of the house every day. I got out of bed, and mom kicked us out and told us not to come back until dinner. We just enjoyed playing outside. My mother’s family grew up on the farm so running through the trees and the forest was like entering a different world. Giving that to my kids is something I really wanted to do.

Q: When did you first encounter Pokemon?

A:I have three kids. My son,…

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