The Value of Competitiveness: What Niantic Doesn't Get
Today, Niantic announced another Global Shards Event, something that's been talked about endlessly in the community for the last two years and something that my friends and I were eagerly anticipating, something that I even made a point to mention to Andrew Krug when speaking to him in person in Kaunas (yep, I was the one to approach you with a circle of other Russian agents and tell you how much we all want an anomaly in Russia and how much we loved Global Shards!) Yet I don't feel any enthusiasm at all. Why, you may ask?
Simple. Like a lot of recent Niantic-pushed events, both global and not, it feels tailor-made to promote their new policy aimed at attracting casual players and thus, eliminating any focus on competitiveness between the two factions—the core of the game. Driven, most likely, by the explosive success of Pokemon Go, the company decided to try and attract a part of that crowd to its older and less popular sibling. Let me explain why this strategy is fundamentally wrong.
In winter of 2017, I was still a newbie agent, maybe level 13 or so. I hadn't taken part in any anomalies, other than offsite recharging, and was only making my first steps as a field ops agent, let alone organizing or operating. And then, the global shards came. I saw a posting in one of my many ENL Telegram channels recruiting agents for the shards, and without any hesitation, PM'd.
What followed was hands down the most memorable and fantastic experience in my Ingress career. Lots of players, including me, had to take last-minute vacations or even fake a sick leave and waste hundreds of dollars for traveling, only to spend all their time standing vigil at shard portals or targets, sleeping for only two or three hours a day. It was still worth it. The day we bought out all the tickets to a guided tour near St. Petersburg because there was a shard inside a restricted area was something that could never be repeated in another game—or with another community. Even the guards following us, wondering why anyone would take the same tour for several times in a row and finally starting to interrogate one of our agents, didn't spoil the experience. And as for the events that I couldn't attend in person, I still read about and cheered for those in the field. That was a shared passion, a shared joy, and a memory I will cherish for a long time.
Which is what brings me to my point. Things like the Global Shards, the XM Anomalies, the agent-designed operations, whether big or small—all of them bring to the table something unique to Ingress, something that strongly resonates with a lot of people, and that is competitiveness. It's not even win or lose, it's the feeling of teamwork, of community, of us versus them, that awakens passion in so many players. And more often than not, it works on a local scale rather than global.
See, I may cheer if I see a huge multilayered green field over Asia, but I am much more happy when my local Enlightened field the area I live in, even if I cannot take part. It's the feeling of complicity, of involvement, of familiarity that does it—and global shards allowed for this feeling to spread over the entire world as we transferred a shard from the city I was born in, somewhere on the border between Europe and Asia, all the way to Seattle. I guarded that shard along one of its stops, and so did hundreds of my fellow agents. It's similar with Anomalies, even if not quite the same. Those of you who take part in off-site Recharge Rooms must know the feeling you get when you recharge a portal owned by someone you know, someone you're friends with, someone you might have given all of your Aegis Shields to use for the glory of your faction. Exhilarating, isn't it?
For the game to retain this unique element, Niantic must focus on a simple point: let it be competitive, the way it was designed to be, and let it be local before becoming global. Let me explain the second part: lately, we've had a lot of events "on global scale", starting with (I think) the Global MU Challenge. It failed rather spectacularly, from my point of view, because of inherent imbalance in the MU count and agent number all over the world. That said, the idea wasn't bad, for people who couldn't take part in the Anomalies on- or off-site, to do something to help their comrades. Problem was, it should have been done on a local scale—say, in cells, or using a ratio of some sort. But as for the subsequent events like portal capturing, portal hacking, or glyph challenge—now they were simply dumb. They didn't add anything to player experience but were rather generic, badly-designed, and badly-executed ways for agents to get a cadge. Instead, Niantic could have, again, done something local-based, something that made players organize and play together—or against each other. Why didn't they?
TLDR: Niantic doesn't understand that competitiveness is what drives people to play the game and invest a lot (and seriously, it's A LOT) of time and money into it. Maybe it's time to realize what a huge part your core community really wants.
Thank you for reading my rant, and I appreciate any feedback and opinions :)