Future of Ingress, Making it Profitable, Earning Back Player Trust
This was originally posted on Reddit as a response to a comment from Brian Rose (https://www.reddit.com/r/Ingress/comments/ducqi6/the_future_of_ingress/f75dybi/). A couple of people have asked me to move it over here for wider discussion, so here it is.
I very much want Ingress to stick around. I want it to be profitable. I would like to see it be successful at a financial level as well as being groundbreaking. Ingress is the only one of Niantic's games in which there is actual team competition, in which I can accomplish things that alter the territory and gain something for my team. PoGo and HPWU are fundamentally masturbatory games-- they are all about your personal stats, badges, collections. Ingress encourages and in some ways requires working with your teammates to accomplish things, since what you can do on your own is limited. Ingress is the only game where I can look at the map at the end of the day and say "I accomplished something."
At the same time, I want Ingress to be fun again. I lost Sojourner at day 1606 because I couldn't raise sufficient interest to keep it while I was on vacation. What I actually lost was an unbroken hacking streak from December 2, 2013 to August 2019. I want Niantic to understand the player base, whiny and bitchy as we may be, and do things that drive the game forward in ways that fit the game's unique characteristics. At the very least I'd like Niantic to stop **** themselves in the foot... how many feet do y'all have, anyway?
How does Niantic make Ingress profitable? You do it by adding value for the players, by providing things that will make the game more interesting and enjoyable for us without turning it into a pure pay-to-win situation. Pay-to-win is... OK for masturbatory games, but not for ones in which there is competition. Frackers were a fabulous invention because they reduced the amount of time that needed to be spent on acquiring gear. At the end of the day I didn't really get more gear, I just got the same amount faster. Doubling the price was a dick move, though. What would have been better? Create a better fracker and charge double for it. Remember the turbo mode fracking that happened for a little while, four times the gear output but they only lasted for five minutes? I said at the time that I would gleefully pay double for those. Charging for anomaly badges that were previously free? Again, insulting to the players and a really horrible blow to the unpaid volunteers who spend countless hours organizing anomalies for you. What wasn't horrible? Making character badges available to everyone. Character badges are just decorative pixels on the scanner, and if people want to pay for them they gain no competitive advantage in doing so. Letting people buy a stack of R1s? That's a timesaver. Letting them buy a stack of X8s? That's pay-to-win. What else can Niantic do that's compelling for players but doesn't provide a competitive advantage? I can think of a few things, but perhaps both internal and external brainstorming would be useful to you. Perhaps you could create a contest and award a free supply of the item to whoever comes up with an idea that ends up being implemented? You have many intelligent and creative players, and you could leverage them to help solve your problems. I say that as someone who has spent four figures on in-app purchases with Niantic. I bought 200 toast beacons, in small batches, and spewed them all over midtown Manhattan to get the last 100K AP after I recursed. I considered doing L1-8 with beacons and rejected the idea as too expensive, and then my friend NinthAnt picked up the idea and ran with it. I once spewed hundreds of beacons in one day because we had a bus event and it was more fun to beacon everything than to fight for captures and mods. I *want* to give money to Niantic, but I want to do it in ways that makes me happy rather than feeling resentful about it. Doubling the price of frackers without adding value changed the happiness-resentful equation.
I'll admit that I'm a little bit cynical about Ingress and Niantic right now, due in part to the way that the transition to Prime was handled. I'm still waiting for feature parity with Redacted. Every time I play the game I find myself frustrated, either because something I want to do is unavailable, or because it's more difficult in Prime. Once Redacted retired it took me less than 60 seconds to encounter the first missing feature-- I wanted a screenshot of my stats as a memorial, but the feature never made it into Prime. Sure, I could work around it but having to jump through hoops rather than pressing a button didn't enhance my fun level.
I'm not going to whine and complain and downvote the app, but I will continue to politely and constructively (I hope) point out the ways in which I feel that Niantic has failed the player base, and where I can I will suggest ways that Niantic can do better. Here's a simple one: time and time again, Niantic has scheduled anomalies in ways that were problematic because they conflicted with local events and drove up the cost for players. Checking calendars before scheduling events would save situations where people don't travel to anomalies because hotels are $400/night, or flights are ridiculously expensive because they conflict with major holiday travel. A few minutes of attentiveness to these things could lower player frustration. Another example of Niantic not understanding the player experience: I once ran into Bill Kilday on an airplane a couple of weeks before an anomaly that I was POC for. He asked me, "Why did you schedule your afterparty on top of ours?" The answer is simple. We had to book our party space 2-3 months in advance in order to secure it. Niantic didn't give us an event schedule until much later, too late for it to inform our planning.
The bottom line, Brian, is that I do not envy you your current position. You're being asked to clean up after a long history of Niantic failing its users, and you're trying to pull a rabbit out of an extremely tattered hat. Please understand that while some of the downvoting on the app stores is players being jerks it's also a legitimate expression of frustration about the ways in which Niantic has failed to serve its customers. You won't be able to move forward and turn that around until you (both personally and the company) understand that and own it. You can't turn that around by replying to play store reviews-- you'll have to do it by re-earning the trust of the extremely dedicated players that have not yet left the game.