Yet Another Open Letter for Niantic
Alright Niantic, it’s one of those posts again, but dammit if it isn’t needed. It’s a really, really long post, so grab some snacks and get comfy. TL;DR: For the love of god, work on your Communication, and pronto.
There is something wrong within Niantic. I cannot and do not want to pin it to a certain or to multiple persons, but simply said, the way Niantic is running Ingress is a disgrace. There are so many things that have plagued Ingress for ages, small bugs that together make certain aspects of the game a PITA, bugs that are a high priority issue and should have the whole team working on them (in my opinion at least, Niantic doesn’t seem to share that opinion with me), and of course the evil c-word: Communication.
To be absolutely fair: There is a pandemic going on, and I’m certain that due to it, the team isn’t at a 100%. I also know that almost everyone working on Ingress is really passionate and wants the game to flourish, so this post isn’t necessarily aimed at them, my hope is to reach someone up the ladder at Niantic with this. I also also have to mention that the communication, while not “good”, has steadily getting better with Brian, Pooja, ofer2 and others hopping into a thread on the forums and trying to help to the best of their ability, as well as Brian testing things like Battle Beacon scoring at the First Saturday and exploring things like the IFS Hybrid events. I also also also know that Ingress isn’t the financial powerhouse Pokemon GO is, probably quite the opposite. But still, that all shouldn’t mean to just treat Ingress like the forgotten child.
The reason I’m writing this isn’t because of any specific happening, but because it feels like the community is legitimately about to reach a tipping point due to the way Niantic handles things. In specific, there are a few instances of serious mishandling that stand out to me which are the biggest reasons for that:
COMM: Since the very launch of Prime, COMM hasn’t worked 100%. At the start, it was jumping to the bottom of the list once a new entry came in, making it impossible to scroll up in an area with activity. Then, while that was fixed, COMM now jumped to the top of the list, showing the oldest entries first. You either had to scroll all the way down or switch back and forth between the Activities tab to get to the newest entries. That was fixed eventually as well, but now COMM only loads the entries once, even after closing and re-opening it. You either need to change the distance to get one refresh for that distance, or you need to restart the app. Why the entire code for it hasn’t been scrapped and rewritten, I don’t know, I’m not a developer. Fact is, COMM is a big pile of dung and there has been ample time to either fix, rewrite or find another solution for it.
C.O.R.E on iOS: On February 9th, the C.O.R.E. subscription launched, with the renewal of it on the same day each month. Each renewal comes with a new loadout kit and ensures that agents don’t lose their inventory capacity and their subscriber flair in front of their username. On March 9th, the first renewals happened. On March 10th, the first bug report regarding losing the subscription benefits, even though the renewal was paid for, was created. Now, almost 3 months and 3 renewal periods later, the same problem still occurs, with agents using iOS losing their paid-for benefits and having to run after Niantic to get them back. Let that sink in, customers who paid for a service have to ensure that that service is being delivered to them, often through the, let’s face it, terrible support site that you sent the asked-for information to and then get ghosted. Even if the subscription is eventually fixed, as far as I can tell, no compensation has been given out for the time an agent literally paid for nothing. I have the luck of playing on Android and had my renewals delivered each month on the minute, but I have seen others that have permanently canceled their subscription and even quit entirely. And who can blame them, honestly? Even worse, Niantic continues to offer the subscription, knowing that there is a bug that can cause loss of benefits, without any information in-app or somewhere else that there may be a problem. And even now, there are dozens of threads on the forums with people still havin issues.
“No account found” error: On May 18th, a bunch of agents suddenly weren’t able to log into Ingress anymore.The scanner wasn’t able to find the account associated with the login method the agents used for ages, thus making them unable to play the game. A thread was created on the Forums, and Agents were advised to open a support ticket. Once again, the reaction from Niantic was… sparse, to say the least. Almost 3 weeks later, some agents still cannot log back into Ingress, losing their Sojourner streak and holding important keys for big operations “hostage”, while the support is silent. I struggle to think of a reason why Niantic hasn’t, at the very least, made a post with information and a “What to do” list.
- I do have to be crystal clear and give credit where credit is due: After the affected Agents created a group to coordinate themself, Pooja has been in constant contact with NIA OPS and the affected Agents and is trying her absolute best to remedy the problem. I don’t want to discredit that, and I want to thank Pooja for her help and time, seriously. If there are people not in that group though, they seem OOL.
Support and Support tickets: Oh boy there could probably be enough stories of the Support for the next few years, but frankly speaking, the Support is trash. Not even trash that can be recycled, trash that gets put on a dump and forgotten. It is unbelievable how cr4p the Support system for Ingress is. First off, you’ll have to go through a chat bot, which is fair enough because it may point agents to the right places for things they can fix themselves. But as soon as you’re past that, it gets worse and worse. You will have to choose a category for your problem, of which there are only very few and limited options. Have a problem with Wayfarer? No correct category for that, the closest would probably be “Questions about Scanner and Intel Map” -> “Gameplay Questions”. Why aren’t there more categories or just a simple “Other” one? Then, you have this awful chat box for actually giving info. Due to the way it’s set up, you have to write on one line without any line breaks (because that would send the message), making longer problems hard to read and understand. Even worse, if you want to submit a picture, screenshot or anything else, you’ll first have to send off the text, wait for the automatic answer and then submit anything else.The worst thing about the submission via chat box however is that you a) don’t get the ticket ID anymore, you’ll have to check your Emails for that (hidden at the bottom right) and b) you can’t open another ticket without going into incognito mode or using another browser/device. What was wrong with the submission form that was used before the redesign of the support page? And even if you get through all that and send off a ticket, you’re now at the mercy of the support agents, who are exactly zero help at all. More often than not, it feels like you’re talking to another bot. The answers they give are pre-formulated, not allowing for even a slight deviation, tickets are not read correctly or at all and an answer that doesn’t fit the problem is sent, and worst, people are getting ghosted. Referring back to C.O.R.E and account issues above, I have not heard of a single agent getting their account fixed through support. Heck, the support has such a bad name that a lot of people are not even trying to open a ticket and rather message an Ingress team member via Social Media or open a thread on the forums, which has an incredibly higher success rate. What about an Agent that isn't as connected like a lot of us? For example, they have the same “Account not found” error as above. They play very casually and haven’t made contact with the local community, so they think “I know, let’s write the support, they can help me.”. They do that, get a nonsensical answer and either argue with support that whatever they say is simply not true or get ghosted. Result: They stop playing. Bad for a game already struggling with low player numbers.
There are other problems and issues that might not be as important, but are still infuriating:
NL-1331 Birthday kits: For the 6th birthday of the NL-1331 van making its rounds, Niantic released a special Swag kit on their online shop, containing goodies and passcodes. However, the kit was only available on the US store, making it so only agents with an address in the US could buy them. In addition, the stock was extremely limited, with only 600 kits for the first round and 1400 kits for the second. That amount might be more than enough for a regular NL-1331 tour, but when everyone can buy it online, it means it’s gone within 20 minutes. Niantic promised that the badges will eventually come to the ingame store as well, but over 2 months have passed since then, and not
a single tone only a single tweet from Brian.
NL-1331 Meetup badge from April Fools: During this year's April Fools, you were able to get a tick for the NL-1331 badge by glyph hacking any portal, even via drone. That would have given people that didn’t want a tick for whatever reason an opportunity for that by just hacking without glyphing. For the first few hours however, normal hacking awarded the tick as well. Oh well, bugs happen, and it was a good move to open a thread on the forums to collect agent names of people who wanted the badge removed. What isn’t a good move however is having that thread still “open” after 2 months and not giving affected agents so much as an update as to why nothing has happened. The thread was pinned when it came out and was unpinned some time between the end of April and the start of May. Why? No idea, no update was given after all.
Investigation pause: Believe it or not, there is actually a story for Ingress, and there are agents that are really into it, myself included. Some of the most dedicated agents I’ve met keep up with the story and are part of Operation: Essex. After the Tesselation was over, which was basically a paradise for investigators, we started a new story string called Tabula Rasa and got some exciting information from our old universe. Things were heating up and then suddenly… nothing. On January 1st, PAC posted the last post on the Truthseeker Dossier, and on January 13th, his last comment. Since then, it has been silent. No explanation what happened to PAC or Victoria Kureze who made her appearance on the forums as well. Only recently, with Operation Sentinel, we finally got to hear from PAC again through encoded messages in the News tab in the scanner and a comment on the forum posting these messages. But between that? Over five months of silence.
Vanguards and XM Ambassadors: Both the Vanguard and XMA program have been hailed as a great step to communicate with the community in the hopes that Niantic listens to them. Problem is, both Vanguards and XMAs are behind an NDA, so they can’t talk about what they are doing. “Are they even doing anything? With how bad this feature is (Vanguard)/how bad these bugs are (XMAs), they’re only sitting on their butts.” This and other similar quotes have been posted often in regards to them, and because of their NDAs, they can’t really defend themselves. Why aren’t there updates about the programs from time to time? This will take the heat off of Agents that are volunteering their time to help Niantic.
I know that the Ingress team can’t just magically press a button and have all of those things fixed. Bugs suck for everyone, and they take time to fix, and things like the story and more Swag can’t just be produced out of thin air. All that leads to one of, if not the biggest problem Niantic has since the beginning of Ingress:
Again, credit where credit is due: A new Community Manager is on the way, and by god do I hope they have nerves of steel. But even without (heck, even with!) a CM, Niantic should bring forth a bare minimum of communication. Why is it so hard to fix COMM? Why are there still issues with the C.O.R.E. renewal on iOS? Why did some people get locked out of their accounts? Why hasn’t the NL-1331 badge been removed yet? Why hasn’t there been a digital NL-1331 birthday kit yet? Or on the topic, where is the new CM? These questions sound like me complaining and demanding “fix now”, but if there are issues, why not be upfront and tell us that? No PR talk, be straight up with us, we’re big boys and girls. An example for the account issues:
“We’re aware that some Agents might experience issues logging into Ingress, the intel map and the mission creator tool with an error message showing that no account exists for the chosen email. Don’t worry, your accounts are safe and are not lost or deleted. Please open a support ticket under this link, we have advised the support team of the situation and NIA OPS is working on the problem as we speak. This issue arose due to a bug in which multiple emails are associated with an Niantic account, leading to internal mismatches and errors. We sent out an email to affected players last year in hopes of fixing this and made further changes today in hopes of squashing that bug for good. These changes however led to the unfortunate situation today, and we’re working hard behind the scenes and with the affected agents to get their accounts back.”
Or an example for the investigation pause:
“Truthseekers, it seems like the Tabula Rasa incident is bigger than I have anticipated. There are numerous people on my tail, and I don’t know how long I’ll be able to evade them while keeping up communications. For now, I’ll have to go off the radar. Don’t know how long it’ll take for things to cool down, but don’t expect anything from me for the foreseeable future. Maybe some of you want to bugger the NIA for more information in the meantime. Apologies for the sudden departure, but I’ll be back. - PAC”
Ingress has such a passionate and engaging community, and there are so many things that could be done better. Again, there might be reasons that they don’t happen, but if that is the case, tell us. With a new CM coming soon, that would be a perfect opportunity to start changing course and opening up with us. Want an example? A few weeks ago, a very heavily anticipated expansion for the game Elite Dangerous launched, a huge MMO space game which finally introduced the ability to leave one's space ship for the first time and walk around on planets and space stations. The launch was catastrophic, to say the least. There were a ton of bugs, crashes, missing/misrepresented features and performance issues, and the content added was really “meh” for a 40€ price tag. In addition, bugs and issues that were reported from the “open Alpha” (read: paid bonus for people who pre-ordered the deluxe edition of the DLC, essentially paying Frontier, the company behind Elite, for testing) by players were seemingly ignored. The community, of course, went ballistic on Frontier, review bombing the game on Steam, refunding the expansion and leaving the game for good. In response, Frontier put out a lot of PR talk, like “It’s running fine for us” and “This expansion is the biggest undertaking we have ever taken”, which only enraged the community even more. Sounds familiar? This reaction could be applied almost 1:1 to the launch of Prime, where the first version was an abomination, which led, you guessed it, to a community exploding in rage, review bombing on the app stores, tanking the rating (which still hasn’t recovered to this day, although it is getting better) and Agents leaving the game.
The difference? After trying to dodge most of the criticism by putting out PR responses, Frontier has started a new route: Honesty. In a weekly livestream just 2 days ago, the CMs answered a lot of questions from the chat, like: “Are you aware that [important feature] is broken, and when can we expect a fix?” - “We are aware, we’re gathering reports and have started to work on it, but we don’t know the root cause yet. Expect improvements over the next patches, but we can’t tell you when it’ll be fixed for good.”, or, in the case of a feature request: “When will [Very popular feature request that would have fit perfectly in the theme of finally walking around] come?” - “We currently have no plans to add [that]”. Yes, it very much sucks that a very popular feature request is currently not on the table, and some people were angry at the answer, but at least we know now, which is miles better than leaving people in the dark and letting them hype themselves up. Players are still angry at Frontier, but they have gained a slimmer of hope and trust in the lines of “Alright, bad launch, but we’re not leaving just yet. Get going or else.”
I love Ingress, I really do, and I’ll continue to play it until the day the servers are shut down. But I really hope that that happens rather later than sooner, and if Niantic continues on their path without changing, I can only fear that the de4th clock is already ticking.
Please, start fixing things, make amends and react to pressing issues, and if that is not possible, tell us why.
Thank you for reading.
EDIT: Oh and how could I forget the Update Schedule. It's awesome that we have a 2-week rhythm, but if the update is delayed or skipped, please tell us that as well. Brian did that at least once for 2.34.1, but why wasn't it continued?