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.
“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.