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Pokémon Go was over capacity less than two hours after it launched

It exceeded expected world-wide traffic estimates in the first territory it was released in

Pokémon Go: A photo of a phone showing a Pidgey on screen Michael McWhertor/Polygon
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Remember how much of a pain it was to play Pokémon Go at launch? We finally know why: The game was over capacity less than two hours after it launched.

In a presentation at the Game Developers Conference, Ed Wu, director of software engineering at Niantic and the man who leads the engineering team for Pokémon Go, revealed some of the internal numbers behind the game’s meteoric rise. Before launch, he and his team sat down to look at the player base and the growth curve for other, popular mobile games. Then they came up with an estimate of the kind of network traffic they expected, along with a “ludicrous” estimate of five times that number.

Wu personally handed those figures over to Google, their hosting provider, in order to prepare them for the launch. Then, the team pushed the button and sent the game live in Australia and New Zealand on July 6.

In those first few hours that the game was live, in those two countries alone, developer Niantic exceeded its network traffic estimates for the entire world.

“We knew that we had something special on our hands,” Wu said, “when we nearly exceeded our peak worldwide capacity — the expected number — in a couple of hours and were trending well on the way towards that five times, ‘ludicrous’ number on what we thought would be less than five percent of our total world-wide ... install base in. That was the point at which I called in the cavalry ... at Google.”

Over the next month, they would have to scale their game exponentially in order to launch in the United States, Europe, Japan and seven more international markets. Their peak traffic, Wu said, was somewhere near 50 times more than they had initially estimated.

The fact that the game remained relatively stable during the rocket-like launch, he said, was a testament to their scalable codebase and the efforts of Google to keep putting servers online to meet demand.

To date, the game, which is still active and adding features like new Pokémon, has exceeded 650 million downloads.