Ingress: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Hi, all. I've been playing Ingress for about a year now, and I thought I’d do a quick write-up of my impression of the game. I’m going to share what I see are the good bits, the bad bits, and the ugly bits.

The Good: Ingress is a fun game. A good game. But more importantly, it’s brilliant. What do I mean by that? A brilliant game is one that has simple rules, but the strategy and tactics are deep and complex.

The game itself can be described in two words. Make triangles. But for anybody who plays, you know there is so much more to it. You meet new people. Travel to new places. You must know when to capture a portal. When to let it decay. When to throw a link. When to make a field. And on and on and on. I am a year in, and still learning new aspects of the game. It takes a moment to learn, and years to master.

This game is so good, so brilliant, and so compelling, that I spend at least a couple hundred dollars a month playing it. That includes gas, hiking equipment, entrance fees, a second phone line (for those hard to reach places), and car repairs. Yes, car repairs. If there is a portal at the end of the journey, sometimes I don’t know when to stop.

In short, Ingress is a game unlike any I’ve ever played. *chef's *****

The Bad: I know what you’re thinking. “Spoofing! Cheating! That’s the bad!" Spoofing and cheating are bad, but it’s not the bad I want to talk about. Cheating and spoofing will never go away, but there are ways to minimize it. I don’t think spoofing is Niantic’s biggest issue—more on that below.

Here is the “bad,” at least from Ingress’s point of view; remember that $200 dollars a month I’m spending to play their game? None of it is going to them. I’ve purchased key lockers from the store, and that’s it.

This is bad not just for Niantic, but for us as well. If Niantic can’t monetize the game, then the game may go away. I personally believe there are many things they could charge for without upsetting game balance. Things I would happily pay a few dollars for here and there. I’m sure Niantic is working on this, and I hope they figure it out.

The Ugly: No, I’m not going to talk about cheating and spoofing here either. Here is the single biggest problem of the game.

It’s broken.

“But wait,” you say. “You just said the game is brilliant!” I did. Because it is. It’s also broken.

What do I mean by broken? Any good game will have balance built into it. Think of Monopoly. One person gets ahead and it’s basically game over. You’re just going through the motions to finish the game. Outside of blind luck, there is nothing you can do to catch up.

Video games have the same problems, especially the complex ones. If you have thousands of players playing the game, trying to win, they’re going to find the shortest path to victory. If there is only one path, and that path is easily exploitable, then suddenly the game is no longer fun. Everybody plays this one strategy, and the rest of the game is forgotten.

The good news is that fixing a broken game is relatively easy. MUCH easier than eliminating spoofing. You fix a broken game by tweaking the rules. If you notice everybody is only playing one strategy, then you reduce the “reward” for that strategy, and you increase the reward for other aspects of the game. Let’s take a look at just a few examples.

Right now, you get MU based on population. It can be pretty easy to capture a million MU by throwing huge fields. Because of this, it’s now the standard way to “win.” Throw huge fields to portals that are difficult or impossible to access, and let the MU roll in.

What if you had diminishing returns on MU? What if after 10k, or 100k MU, you then didn’t get as much? What if throwing a 60-mile field didn’t get you significantly more than a 5-mile field? Suddenly we see more fields, not less. We see more opportunity for the other team to respond, not less.

Or what if portals captured under a field gave you MU? What if the portals captured under an enemy field gave you more MU than enemy portals? And what if the bigger the field, the more MU it gave? In other words, if a team throws a gigantic field, the other team can respond by capturing more portals. Again, the result is more fielding, not less. More playing, not less. More strategy, not less.

Again, the good news is that Niantic can make all of these changes right now. And they can make them over and over again, continuously tweaking them so that gameplay remains fresh. How exciting would it be if every month the point system changed? It would become a race to optimize under the current ruleset. You might find new ways to win, and new ways to play. And then it changes again the next month. All Niantic has to do on their end is tweak formulas.

Almost all of the popular massively multiplayer games do this. Blizzard is constantly changing the way characters play in Overwatch to keep the game fresh. A new patch brings new playstyles, and it’s why people are still playing the game years after its initial release.

Of all the things I hope Niantic is exploring, it’s this balancing of the game. Little tweaks here and there would drastically change tactics and strategy, and breathe excitement into the game.

That’s all I got. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

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Comments

  • 1valdis1valdis ✭✭✭✭✭

    That is a very well-thought article, sir. I appreciate your thoughts as you're apparently never got your hands on Redacted (previous Ingress app), so you have a "cleaner" view of the game in it's current shape (Prime). Ingress is indeed a brilliant game. But it looks like Niantic barely knows what to do with it now. Concepts like MU-based scoring are outdated and need rethinking. Changing targets and tweaking rules once a month or two is a great idea! Hopefully Niantic figures stuff out and we'll get things back on track after the pandemic ends and when live events are possible again.

  • You are right, but I think nothing is going to change. Niantic is involved in making Catan and if they now made Ingress more attractive to it, it would diminish interest in Catan. I have read a lot of Catan discussions and view videos of it. It clearly does not make the same mistakes as Ingress. No one can stop others from playing and spoofers shouldn’t do as much harm.

  • PerringaidenPerringaiden ✭✭✭✭✭

    PoGo and Ingress have proven that you don't lose players by having more entry games. People aren't playing "Ingress OR PoGo and no overlap".

  • 1valdis1valdis ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2020

    Imagine whining to the point the event gets canceled, but still surpassing the needed goals so people still could have badges. Now that hurts even more than before. Hopefully Niantic has learned from the mistake (which was cancelling the challenge).

  • The problem (at least for me) was that the medals were based in personal achievements, the faction based thing was only for some rewards. In my case, my neighbourhood was in lockdown with 3 active ENL players and less than 40 portals for all of us.

    Thank you, Brian, for sharing the info, nonetheless.

  • grendelwulfgrendelwulf ✭✭✭✭✭

    I've always wondered why Apex weren't Balenced so that using one to get Double AP also meant all actions (aside from recharging) required double normal XM to complete.

  • Thank you for your response. I'm really glad to hear that Eos increased participation, and particularly glad you see Ingress as a living, evolving game. I think that will help both retain interest in the game, as well as generate more interest.

    Since you asked for a suggestion, I'll give you just one. I wonder if a small, temporary tweak would give Niantic an idea of how small changes like this would be accepted by the community, and if they would generate more activity in the game. Here is a relatively simple suggestion you might consider implementing temporarily.

    For any given field, the first 10k MU is worth full points. The second 10k is worth 90% MU. The third is worth 80%, and so on. So a big field that is normally 100k, would instead be 55k. And a bigger field would still only be worth 55k.

    If one team put up a massive field that covered a whole city, they would get 55k. Let's say they kept that field up for ten checkpoints. That's 550k MU.

    The other team could drop that field, and put up ten smaller fields, and within one checkpoint they would be back in the game because they would have the same amount of MU. In other words, one team couldn't run away with the score by putting up a massive field. If the original team wanted to keep up, they'd either need to put back up the large field and try to keep it up, or start to attack the smaller fields, and put up smaller fields of their own.

    I think the gameplay, just by that one temporary rules adjustment, would lead to a vastly different playstyle. Would it be better? Worse? Would more people play? Less?

    I don't know, but I think it would be really fun to see.

  • grendelwulfgrendelwulf ✭✭✭✭✭

    Nah, man, that takes all the fun out of big fields.

  • I think people would find any way to leave their homes for what was 4x AP with an apex. And people were going out of their way to do these things.

    I personally didn't like that Eos was encouraging people to leave their homes and go further than they would ordinarily to maximise AP

  • ZeroHecksGivenZeroHecksGiven ✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2020

    I don’t see the point in changing any of the thrown MU values. If anything, changing how they’re recharged, decay rate and or MU value (MU decay) over time makes more sense. Say a field is worth 120k when thrown, each checkpoint it goes down in value 5-10%. I would worry this might just make the other team lazy and just wait out fields, but it could introduce new tactics in defending. if anything, it might just require agents to use up flip cards unnecessarily.

    just rambling thoughts, carry on...

  • Gets full amount for each layer for personal badges but checkpoint counts differently

  • HosetteHosette ✭✭✭✭✭

    @TooLegitToExist I would actually like to see a structural change to checkpoints. Rather than doing a static snapshot and only scoring fields that exist at that specific moment, measure MU-minutes since the last checkpoint. A field that's up for four hours and 59 minutes should count almost as much as one that's up for five hours and one minute, but if the first one doesn't include the moment of checkpoint then it has no cell score value.

  • The fact that you have ingress installed on your phone and check once a day when the permafield placed between the islands disappears is not ingress gaming. Pogo players are actually playing. Ingres players are just waiting to get to play or charge their own fields that prevent others from playing. There is a huge difference here.

    I argue that when Catan is released Ingress will lose more ACTIVE players if the game mechanics are not changed. At least the number of active Ingress players will not increase as the range of games expands. Ingress is just a POI map...

  • Awesome game and the number of active players is decreasing. Why?

    For a person living inside an permafield, the game is a boring collecting game. Collect items and throw them in the trash when the invetory is full.

  • mortuusmortuus ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2020

    We need virtual event challenges that awards a badge, im still sad the eos event which people went out anyways to play we dont get a badge, cant all active players get a badge retroactive for the eos event one phase 3 ends or something? since we cant have real physical events game feels dead if not even virtual challenges dont award a badge.

    I have yet to see anyone deploy a battle beacon in my region, it feels like this will be part of First Saturdays when they will stop be virtual seems like a good place to deploy some in a xfac gathering perhaps. Why cant we have a drone badge atleast? or new versons of drone and do a challange based on that and engage the community, safe to play from home by everyone. If we are going to wait until things are back to normal it can be along wait ....

    What also is a problem that drives away many players are spoofers and multi accounters. Nothing worse when your plans are destroyed by a spoofer sitting in their home.

    And with the pandemic things got even more harder, who knows when this will come back to normal? it could be another year or two before it will look like before who knows... until then where will ingress go ?

  • All new players in mobile games are aged 7-12. Location based games for players a little bit older, aged 10-15. When one tries Ingres for the first time under a permafield, how long can he play? 10minutes? 1hour? one afternoon? Where is the activity? Where is the strategy? Active play ends the same day and Ingress is only left as Pogo and HPWU POI map.

    Then this child grows up, comes to the age that he can buy a car or a boat. Would be able to take over difficult portals. But the memory of the game is still bad, collecting items and throwing them away when the invetory fills up. He prefers to play games familiar from childhood that guys and others of the same age play.

    It is now a little over four years since Pogo was released. Then those who started playing Pogo are now at the age that it would be possible to play ingres, but do not start. At the same time, old Ingress players just charge their fields and play other games.

  • HosetteHosette ✭✭✭✭✭

    @JukkaJuu I think you'll find that the vast majority of PoGo players started playing as adults.

  • True. Those who spent their childhood with Pokemon had grown up when the game was released. Now the new players are all kids.

    No one spends their childhood with Ingress and therefore no one starts playing it even as an adult when the alternative is games familiar from childhood...

  • d0gboyd0gboy ✭✭✭

    Hey Firmeboy,

    This is a great post, but it's also good to think about what some of these changes would actually mean.


    By way of example:

    Today, the fate of most actively played Ingress cells is not determined by large, over-cell fields. Instead it's by layers over rich-MU regions. The above change would actually amplify the affect of this tactic.


    =

    To another point, most of the places in the game with large, long-standing (near) permafields are not a result of anchor difficulty in itself, but instead enough active agents near the anchors. One of the game's "true" resources is time. It's rare that a field which is between adventurous anchors persists indefinitely -- it's an attractive nuisance! Rather, the static fields are a result of one of the two sides lacking effective opposition near the anchors

    Economically, you can even see this as becoming more likely as ratios of total portal density: total player density tilt on the side of players.

    The changes proposed are not ones that would affect this underlying issue, which is real but not the dominant source of misery on the game board.

    =

    It's also good to look at the scope of history, which is difficult to do since you've played for a year and lack the years of social media documenting what went on when most of the posts about things were on G+ -- a kind of historic lobotomy which is still sad.

    What you would find is that something like large fielding began almost as soon as the game, and it occurred even without regional scoring. It also drove gameplay to crazy new heights for years in a row, and create social organizations in its wake which persist even now.

    I would say it's not the source of many of the problems, and the difficulties encountered are more a result of how other things have changed, historically in their interaction with these mechanics. There are things to be fixed, historically, but disincentivizing adventurous and large fields seems like not what you'd want.

    =

    This isn't to say things shouldn't change, but Ingress is an incredibly subtle game. If you begin tweaking things with the idea that you will be able to simply observe cause and effect is ... fraught... because you could end up destroying a loved gameplay type and leaving yourself with something considerably less fun or less interesting.

    It's helpful when proposing these changes to think: "What are the unintended consequences?". That's not to be trite, but games like Ingress are complex systems -- which can require really thorough understandings of root causes and core game loops to get right.

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