Goodbye of a Vanguard
After almost three years of being a vanguard, with a heavy heart I need to say: I'm stepping down. Three years ago this journey started with the hope that with the vanguard program we could change things for the better in Ingress and for quite some time it seemed to be going in that direction but in the last year the communication has gone steeply downhill. With my last letter as a vanguard I also want to use the opportunity to explain some of the reasons why I'm stepping down now.
Reason 1: Communication
I mentioned it already in my first open letter to Niantic but I need to do it again. The communication needs to be better. With the pandemic going on a good communication strategy would have been needed anyway, but especially around all the events that were already planned. It's okay to communicate that you can not commit to a date at the moment, but it would help agents to see where you are and that you care. There was some good communication in the last year but, there were also decisions made that I personally would have never made, especially in the times we are experiencing right now. What also needs to have an explanation of changes to the game for example why do you think portal scans are the next great thing for Ingress? Some decisions just come out of the blue and nobody is able to understand the path of how this decision was made. The AMA’s from Andrew Krug were a way for players to talk directly about things they wanted to know but since Andrew is gone, this communication line has died as well. Ingress agents are not dumb, they are well connected all over the world and they are also well connected to Niantic employees. They are highly educated and work in IT, politics, science, etc. So don’t underestimate your player base and their abilities!
Reason 2: Events
Niantic still doesn’t understand how much heart, passion and time people put into the events that they schedule. Having an Ingress event in your city is still an honor for most of the community and no matter what Niantic announces, the agents will talk and ask questions to the local community, like: where should I stay, how is the public transportation, where will the playbox be etc. POCs and Orgateams put in hours and hours into the organization of the event, even taking vacations the week before the anomaly to be there for the agents 24/7. As a former anomaly POC I can say that I had two full time jobs over the six months that we had to prepare for the anomaly. Part of the process is also that an anomaly is a game of numbers, so both factions try to make the event as attractive as possible for the players so they are willing to pay for transportation and hotels in the city to participate in the event. Anomaly and Mission Days would have never been such a great success if it were not for the people that do the groundwork, planning meet-ups and events like city-tours, fames, etc. Events no matter how big they are, are used for socializing and meeting people from other areas that you know only from online interactions for years and then finally get to meet in person. A lot of friendships are founded by interaction at a previous Ingress event and those events are a good excuse to see your friends again. When else do you have the opportunity to see people from all over the world that you meet through Ingress if not for an Ingress event.
For some time it looked like events were doing well in Ingress. 2017/2018 were my favorite event years: Almost every weekend I could pick a new destination for a Mission Day or an Anomaly, everywhere I went I met people from all over the world. And then 2019 happened, after an amazing Mission Day 2018 season, 2019 started with the realization that there would not be a lot of Mission Days at all, dripping into only Mission Days when there was an Anomaly in the city. This decision was a slap in the face of every community that was already in the process of hosting a Mission Day and just waiting for a date. Then the unbelievable Umbra Decision happened and it drove away even more people from being willing to attend events. The decision to only play one anomaly in the first half of 2020 in Munich was for a lot of people the final push to stop even considering going to events. Yes right now, events can not happen because of the pandemic and planning new events under those conditions is hard, but that doesn’t mean that there is nothing that can not be communicated, planned or developed in this area. Even the new developed events are not serving the needs of the complete community. Hexathlon is moving from the whole team game idea into single player mode and the Tesselation Game has only a really small group inside of the player base excited. This idea of single player events work well in the lives of Pokemon Go and Harry Potter because that is how it was started with them, Ingress is vastly different and more people are connected with each other and involves more team play then the other two games.
The decision to no longer work with POCs for events is one of the decisions that is unintelligible. Yes POCs can be a tough audience but they know their city and if you want to plan an anomaly in the city you need to have the local knowledge. POCs won’t go away just because you don’t want to work with them anymore. There will always be POCs and orgateams from both factions for an anomaly, because an anomaly is even more of a team game in Ingress than the day-to-day play. Cutting the direct link between the local community and Niantic just will bring more frustration for the agents that want to come to the anomaly and maybe even spend money for swag or badges.
Reason 3: Making money with Ingress
I understand that you want Ingress to be financially viable as Niantic, you are a company, this is not a hobby project for you. You need to be economically sound. But also Niantic, you seem to forget constantly that all your games and the games in the future will be based on the map that started to get built by Ingress players. A rough guess is that there are approximately twelve million portals in the portal network right now. If Niantic would take 50 cents per portal that they export to a new game as a one time base fee, that would push millions of dollars into the funding of Ingress. But there are also other ways to make money, some examples are:
Niantic missed the opportunity to build a strong swag collection that is available everywhere. The swag store was a good idea but the variation and availability does not serve the needs of the customer. Also the shop was several years too late. In the beginning there wasn’t even international shipping. Also cutting the physical swag like badge code cards was, from my point of view, the wrong decision. I know a lot of agents that bought at least a couple of rare packages each anomaly they attended to support Niantic. But with discontinuing the badge code cards they stopped buying swag packages, because they loved the physical aspect of the swag.
From my personal experience I know that business owners always ended up in a dead end when they asked for licences from Niantic to produce swag. Two German businesses tried to contact Niantic and asked for licences and both were sent in circles from one person to another until they gave up. With providing licenses you could also leverage the community to publicize and provide avenues to support your product through merchandising alongside the sale of official swag.
- In-game sales
In-game sales are a great way to make money, but it needs to fit the player base. You can not and you should not re-educate the player base to pay for an item that they can go hack for free from a portal. Niantic asked publicly multiple times for ideas on how to make money with Ingress and there were some amazing ideas. Why not sell the possibility to design your own badge for an event you organize? Similar to the process that is working really well for groundspeak aka geocaching.com with their geocoins. Why not make shards available as an item so people can play shards in their city or area? The community has a strong point of view when it comes to pay-to-win items and you should respect that and not push those ideas in anyway.
Reason 4: Appreciation of the vanguard program
The vanguard program was a great idea three years ago to start better communication between Niantic and the player base. But it never was meant to be a group of cheerleaders that say yes to everything. We were asked to say our honest opinions and I always did so. Even if sometimes the opinion was not the most popular one or even a painful opinion. If you want to grow and do better in the future you can not learn if people always say yes to your proposals. I never gave my feedback just to be negative, I gave my feedback to make Ingress better to see this game that I'm passionate about to be successful and survive in the long run. But lately it seems that this honest opinion is not valued as much as it once was and if it's not positive feedback it is simply ignored and tossed to the side. I tried my best to support Niantic as a vanguard and to help them grow, I gave positive and negative feedback, I raised and brought out concerns. With the start of the vanguard program we have had some great things established, like portal resets, trusted reporters and link resets. It felt like the fight against spoofers and cheaters reached a new level and over the time we could see results. Also the first 1.5 years it felt like vanguards were part of the team, i had meetings with different people from Niantic and we came together working as co-equal partners together for the same goal: keeping Ingress fun! But then a lot of changes happened in the leadership positions inside of Niantic and that changed some things. I supported this company for more than 2.5 years with all my passion for this game, to now look back and see that we had 1.5 good years and for the last year it has been downhill again. I hope Niantic is going to use the vanguard program better in the future, but if they want a cheerleading squad it might be better to stop the program. Looking into other gaming companies you can see that they also try to involve their player base in moving forward, for example: Fortnite - they changed recently a lot in the game because of their community feedback. They listened to the negative feedback and are now improving and the player base is excited about it.
Reason 5: Not understanding the evolution of Ingress
Ingress was a successful game not only because of the game itself, but mostly because of what the players made out of the game.The game has not evolved since 2012, so the players created their own emergent gameplay. The players started to network and build their communities, they started to connect not only portals next to each other, they connected portals worldwide. From Operations like the Enlighten’s Green Marble to the Resistance's United players built amazing fields but more than that they have built networks over the years in Ingress which needed a lot of coordination, preparation and sometimes last minute trips to portals on stormy islands in the middle of the night. Until now, I feel that Niantic has not understood how much passion people put into the game, how much time and effort they use for operations and how much money they pay sometimes to capture just ONE portal. The saying “Ingress is the most expensive free game in the world” is true.
In almost eight years there also was no progression on the intel map. All these amazing operations that Niantic is sharing and celebrating need planning and coordination but with the existing tools provided by Niantic they are mostly not possible. Planning multilayer fields on the normal intel map is not possible. Until 2015 there was no possibility to draw a link or a field on the normal intel map. Agents started to work on ways to make the planning easier for everybody, but instead of adopting pieces of those functions, Niantic has forced players to walk the thin line between breaking the TOS by using the iitc or using the intel map as is.
Also since missions became available in ingress there has been no development of the mission authoring tool. People love to do mission banners but to build them in the tool people go through a heavy and annoying process to submit them. Even finding mission banners is painful in the scanner or on the intel map. Again agents stepped up and built a tool to make it easier for the community to find and see mission banners, but instead of Niantic using the hype of missions and building a tool to make it easier to submit them and find them they have just let the old tool remain. And the fight against spoofers and harassment is stuck on a level that it is just painful to watch.
This summarizes most of the reasons why I'm stepping down. I feel the connection between Niantic and the vanguards has fallen flat in the last year. The vanguard program is not getting involved that much anymore and it kind of feels like talking to a wall all the time. I want to thank Scot, Andrew, Pooja, Eugene, Casey, Fumi and Chiaki for working with me in the vanguard program. It was always a pleasure to talk with you all and even better that I could meet some of you afterwards for a beer.