How to NOT pick an anomaly site…
Sorry for the long read. Tl;dr: Do a better job in picking anomalie cities.
Remember me? So I had hoped for a long time that things would get better for Ingress, but seeing how Munich and LA were handled, it has made me doubt this a lot. I was curious to see new sites were picked, and I was really surprised, but not in a good way. That's why I thought you may need a reminder of what a good anomaly city should have to give your players - your paying customer, the reason you get a paycheck - a really great experience. (I’m going to use the word customer in the following text instead of players, since players are your customers)
What do we need for a good anomaly city?
- The city needs an active community of both factions
- The city needs enough portals for the customers who are going to attend the event to be able to play without standing on top of each other
- The city needs enough accommodations for the visiting customers to stay at locally
- The city needs to have good connections to public transport
- The city needs the infrastructure to support high peaks in the mobile network
- The city needs to be safe
Why do you need these things?
Anomaly events require significant planning and resources from the customer base. They rely on a large and active customer base to be successful, and without enough customers in the area, the event may not be well-attended or enjoyable for the other customers that are traveling to the event. As a gaming company, your focus should always be to provide the customers a pleasant experience when they travel to your events. Remember that some of these customers may be spending upwards of a couple of thousand dollars to travel to and spend time at the location you have chosen to hold the anomaly at. Not having an enjoyable experience at one site may lead these customers to not attend another.
I guess you are wondering why you need customers in the cities to organize things for your event. Well, let me explain. Ingress - the first game you developed - is a community game. The basic game design is that you need 8 customers to build a Level 8 portal. So, in order to do this, your customers have formed communities in the last several years to achieve different things, like building Level 8 portals as a starting point, then building city fields and then building international and even transoceanic fields. Because one single customer can not do this alone communities started to spring up to make these efforts easier. So when you decide to use City X for your event, customers from City Y will ask customers from City X where to stay, what can be done in the downtime of the event, how to come to the event, how to use the public transport in the City, etc. Because usually you as the company can not answer those questions, it falls to those who have made communities and connections to those communities to answer them. Also, over the years your customers have become so connected, that friendships, partnerships, and even marriages have emerged. The events you offer are a chance for your customers to see friends from other places all at the same time. That's one of the biggest reasons your customers are traveling to your events. So this is why it's important to have an active community in the city you pick, because your customers will ask questions you can not answer. That is why they go to the locals in the area. In the early years of Ingress you offered some get-together on the day before the event and sometimes also an afterparty. I understand that because of costs, you had to cut these, but your customers still want to attend such events. So, your customers in the chosen city have stepped in and organized this for the faction they picked. Most of the time organizing event locations is more than a signal person can do alone, so it takes a small group to put things together. Also, people liked your physical swag but also wanted to show off their love for their faction and support the local community with any cost they might have to cover, so it became common for the local community to offer faction swag with their own logo. I remember in Munich how excited the Ingress team was about all the great faction swag, so it seems like this is something that many of the employees at the company also like and want to get; but, still you need active customers in the city to achieve this.
To make the experience a pleasant one for your customers, you should also know about the dos and don’ts in the city you picked. Which portals are behind paywalls, which portals are inside a temporary construction site and can not be used. Where are the areas that should be avoided for safety reasons? The local police or government usually can’t help with those questions, so you need, surprise, a group of active customers in the city to tell you that information. The result is always that you need customers in the city from both factions that are willing to help you with the event that you decided to put into their city.
On to the question of portals in a city. Anomalies typically drive a bigger group of customers into one city, so it is important to have a playbox that supports the number of customers that are coming to visit. For example: A playbox with 100 portals and 1000 customers is way too small for a good customer experience. In the end, the faction with more customers in the city will overpower the smaller one. 10 customers per portal is not a good ratio for the customer experience, and also can not be handled by your servers. On the other end of the spectrum, having 10 portals per customer, leads to a playbox that is too big. Which is also a bad customer experience. Another factor that you should consider in picking a city is, in which region the event is happening. Will there be other events in the same region, or will it just be this one? For example, Europe has had 3 cities that host an event at the same time. So the customer base has divided themselves amongst the three cities. You also established single city events like Superposition in Munich or Epiphany Dawn in Los Angeles. The numbers of those events should be an indicator for you how many people you can expect for an anomaly. For example, Munich had roughly 1300 - 1600 customers on ground from both factions. This means for future events, you should consider cities that can provide enough portals to play with. Imagine that all those customers that attended Munich are going to attend the event in Rotenburg where there are roughly 190 portals in the playable area.
Now, having a good understanding of expected customer numbers influence portal requirements for a city, let's look at Accommodation. The city that you pick for the event should have enough hotels, hostels, B&Bs, Airbnb, etc. to make it possible for the players to stay overnight in the city. Meaning, a city that only has one hotel with 40 rooms might not be a good pick for an event in some areas where a big attendance from your customers is expected.
Also needed for your customers, in most areas, is good public transport. Customers will fly by plane, travel on trains or drive by car to reach the anomaly city. If one of those things is not close by it may not be that big of a problem, but most of the time you need to have some reliable public transport for customers to visit those cities. Especially if you want customers to travel environment friendly, as this is a really important reason for some folks to be limited in their travel arrangements.
Another essential factor for your game is that the servers are stable during the event and that the data network is not overloaded. We already saw it makes a huge difference at events in the past. Sometimes your servers struggle with the amount of data that is produced during such an event. But we also know, especially from the Pokemon Go Events, that the data network can be overloaded if a lot of customers are playing at the same time, regardless of it being in a large or small city. This means your chosen city should have a stable network situation because nothing can be more frustrating than extended lag during gameplay or getting stuck in a login-loop because the network and servers are having a hard time keeping up the data requests. Your customers won’t be happy as Ingress in these situations is a highly competitive game and if people can not log into the game during an event, no matter if it's your servers or the data network that is having a difficult time, it won't be a pleasant event for them, and they might not come back to another one. Especially since there are customers who never had the chance to go to an anomaly before because of the global situation.
Does every city for the new series have all of those things?
Some of the cities that got picked check most of these boxes when it comes to transportation, accommodation, and safety. But some cities are just big surprises. After looking into all the sites on intel, it seems to be that at least ⅓ of those cities are mostly abandoned from Ingress. 9 cities have more neutral and/or red faction portals than actively played portals. Some cities have only a handful of active customers from both factions. And now those customers have the responsibility to be Points of Contact for the rest of your customers to ask questions to. Some cities have to ask customers from surrounding areas to be the Point of Contact because there is no active playing community in the city at all. Sometimes cities are abandoned because of the amount of spoofers and bots in their area. (But this is a whole different issue)
Some sites are just weird and not logical at all. For example, Rotenburg an der Fulda. We are looking at a city in the middle of Germany, one of the bigger Ingress communities in the world. Historically sites in Germany have had around 400 - 3000 customers on site. The last Anomaly in Germany was Superposition Munich which had roughly 1300 - 1600 customers attending the anomaly in Munich. Even if only ⅓ of this number of customers show up for an event in Rotenburg, we are still talking about 400 - 500 customers in a city that has, in its center, a maximum of 190 portals. This means that the ratio of customers to portals will be between 0.3 portals per customer. Now, I know you are going to say “we can deploy virtual portals to increase the ratio”, which could be a smart idea, but it doesn’t make the area where people can play bigger; so there will be more portals on a smaller playfield than your servers can handle. Let’s do some quick math on what the servers will have to handle. When one L8 XMP goes from hitting 1-10 portals at once in an area to hitting 30 - 50 at once in the same smaller area, times 400 - 500 customers, times 8 Resonators per Portal, times 4 Mods per Portals. I leave the math to you on how many comm messages this will generate.
But not only is this an odd pick because of the possible playbox, even the point of public transport is something you should have looked into. Rotenburg has a train station, but only for local trains. From a bigger city like Kassel, it's an hour with the train to get there. There is also no direct highway connection in Rotenburg. Parking is limited. Accommodation is limited. And the active community from both factions has 3 customers. And now you are expecting those 3 people to help you organize an event when most of your customers have already recognized that this is beyond an odd decision.
The reasoning for the pick: some of these cities signed up for a Kythera or Kureze Event is a big downplay on the amount of work that is going into hosting an anomaly. The Kythera and Kureze Events happened under different circumstances than what we have now in 2023. During the time registration for these events happened, people didn’t or couldn’t travel a lot. And therefore there was not the need to travel since the badge could be gained with local activity too, so those sites were smaller than normal anomaly events. And also those events happened in way more cities at the same time as what is planned now. If you really want to use entries from these registrations as an anomaly site, you should have checked before with the submitting customer if they are willing to help to hold such an event in their city/town/village.
The choice of Colombo, Sri Lanka was poorly considered given the current events in the nation. The choice of Izmir, Turkey may need to be revisited in light of the recent earthquakes hitting the country. While the city itself was spared, there may be logistical and other issues arising with the current crisis.
The overall conclusion is: Not every city that you picked for these series fully fulfills all the needs that were named before. Sometimes it's not a dealbreaker, but sometimes you should think about if the decision to choose the city is the right one.
What to do better in the future?
- Check the cities before you announce a site there. It's easy to do.
- Check your data of the last month if and how many customers played there.
- Check the accommodation situation etc.
- Do your research. It's not hard to google cities to find out if they are a good candidate for an anomaly.
Also make an application form for sites and work yourself through this list and make sure that valid accounts submitted the form and that the city checks multiple boxes of the previous stated standards.