Why the 20m proximity rule for portals needs to be reduced or removed
As many of you know, the most recent update to Ingress "fixed" the 20m proximity rule, which prevents new portals from coming online if they were submitted/accepted within 20 meters of an existing portal. Prior to the update, the 20m rule was not active for several months, allowing portals to come online regardless of their proximity to other portals.
I would like to take some time to talk about why this rule is both unnecessary and detrimental to Ingress, as well as the greater negative impacts it has on Wayfarer, Lightship, and the entire lineup of current and future Niantic games.
Before I get started, I want to note that @NianticBrian did actually answer one of my questions about this in yesterday's Q&A. Unfortunately, I think the answer I received encapsulated some of the issues with the rule, rather than explaining why it should exist:
@AisforAndis asks, “Why restrict new Portals with the 20m proximity rule?”
I’m trying to remember back to The Before Times when we originally implemented the 20m rule for new Portal submissions, and IIRC I think it may have been related to UX/UI of the mobile client and our disambiguation menu. If you’re in an area with extremely high Portal density, it makes it difficult to play in addition to creating performance issues. For example, here’s an area in LA near where I live that’s infamous for this: https://intel.ingress.com/intel?ll=34.060706,-118.44575&z=18&pll=34.060196,-118.445404
Integrating with Niantic Wayfarer was meant to help somewhat, in that now these new Portal submissions won't be lost even if Ingress doesn't ingest them. They could still be used by other Niantic games, or if we were to revisit our Portal ingestion rules, then we can pull from Wayfarer's database of accepted Wayspots.
So lets start with the UX/UI argument. First, keep in mind that both disambiguation and the 20m rule were created during the redacted era. While I never have experienced such a thing, lets say that massive stacks of portals did indeed create performance issues. Were these issues not fixed or invalidated when Redacted was replaced with Prime? After all, Niantic has done nothing to remove existing high density portal stacks, only to prevent more of them. Presumably, the stacks of portals that originally created performance problems and inspired disambiguation and the 20m rule still exist. Yet in the modern era of Ingress Prime, I have never heard of an agent complain about performance issues due to such a thing. At best there are a small number of agents who just do not like these areas, despite disambiguation solving most of the problems that they ever presented.
But just as there are some agents who may not like these portal dense locations, there are many agents who love them. In a Discord community I am a part of, another user saw Brian's response to me and the portal cluster example he included with it, and ironically told me that they love that same exact portal cluster:
Clusters like these are nothing more than a matter of preference. Just like there are players who love/hate the existence of remote portals on islands and mountaintops, or portals inside gated communities, etc, there will always be aspects of the game that come down to preference. Except none of those other matters of preference are purposefully hindered by Niantic.
The true reality of this is that the prolonged removal of the 20m rule was beloved by the playerbase and that it being reinstated was unnecessary. The comments of the Ingress 2.90.1 Release Notes thread showed that in great detail. Some examples:
- "The last couple of months have shown that portals can work fine within 20m with the option to pick the portal you want. In fact, I bet the amount of submissions increased a fair bit as people were submitting things without worrying about it anymore."
- "Since Ingress Prime has the disambiguation... these days, no idea why it's still relevant."
- "The 20 meter rule feels restricting and preventing portals on top of each other would be possible with a smaller range, exempli gratia 5, 7, 10 meters."
- "By applying this rule, the amount of decent submissions will reduce as players will only want to take time to submit something that will appear in the game, or fudge the location. Both scenarios will be a negative for Niantic and their database. As a reviewer I also noticed an uptick of interesting submissions (which would probably have been proxies and therefore ignored or not submitted in the past) amongst the normal dross which we normally have to review during the period where the 20m rule didn't apply. If interesting points of interest are no longer being submitted for review the wayfarer process is going to be unappealing and the number of reviewers or the time undertaking reviews will no doubt drop."
- "As for the 20m rule, I’ve been submitting interesting things that I wouldn’t have done before because I knew they’d go online in at least one game. Now I’m disappointed it’s been reverted."
The above are just a few selections from the first page of the thread, with this trend continuing for several pages after. Judging by the amount of these comments and the nearly unanimous number of likes/insightfuls they received, it seems like the community consensus is pretty clear. I think the most important part of these comments is that they come with the experiences that these users have had for months while the 20m rule was not in effect - These aren't just some hypothetical suggestions of what could make the game better, but rather they are the experiences of those from when it did make it better, and seemingly had no negative effects. For many of these people, the temporary removal of the 20m rule was eye-opening, and opinion-changing.
As noted by some of the commenters above, the removal of the rule increased both the Ingress and Wayfarer experience. It increased the appeal of exploring for new POI, it made the process of submitting and reviewing more pleasant, and the effects of that resulted in a more interesting experience in-game. It is win-win-win all around. Its reinstatement will have many negative effects:
Players are incentivized to fudge the locations of portals so that they show up in Ingress. Because Ingress is has the least restrictive POI density rules of Niantic's games, many people do not find it worth it to submit things if it does not end up in Ingress. The promise of appearing in future games is not enough for many players (we will talk about this later). By now, many long-time Ingress players have found that other location-based games just aren't for them. For many players, it is Ingress or bust, or at least getting a portal in Ingress is their bare minimum goal. This leads people to intentionally misplace POIs and for Ingress, that can have some nasty in-game effects. Misplacing portals often puts them in inaccessible or sometimes unsafe locations, and can lead to frustrating gameplay situations. For example, imagine you are standing at the real-world object but because the portal was misplaced, you aren't actually on top of the portal to ultra strike the shields off of it. Additionally, fixing issues like this requires portal edits, which only work to clog up Wayfarer and depending on your region, can take months or years to fix. It isn't a fun experience, and it all circles back to the 20m rule.
Speaking of misplaced portals, this is a great time to bring up abuse scenarios, because while Niantic isn't allowing portal stacks through legitimate gameplay means, they are leaving those created through Wayfarer abuse relatively untouched. For example, take a look at this cluster of portals:
For convenience, this screenshot below shows the cluster with 20m submit range circles enabled. It is very easy to see just how stacked the portals are.
The problem with this stack, isn't that the lack of the 20m rule got out of hand. In fact, these portals were stacked by the Niantic abuse team! These portals were created by Pokemon Go players using a still unfixed exploit that allows them to collude together to accept these locations in wildly incorrect locations throughout their town so that they would all become Pokestops. When they were reported, Niantic corrected the locations of the misplaced portals, and they moved them to their correct location, resulting in this absurd stack of portals. The worst part is, when Niantic moved them, they almost all stayed as Pokestops when they shouldn't have, rewarding these players with a tiny park stacked with Pokestops and encouraging this behavior to continue. This isn't the only case of this either, you can see similar stacks created in the same way here and here. If Niantic treats massive portal stacks created through abuse with such leniency, then why restrict portals created legitimately with the 20m rule?
Aside from abuse, Wayfarer in general is greatly impacted by the 20m rule. As was mentioned by commenters, the 20m rule reduces the amount of interesting submissions, and makes the reviewing experience far more boring, which makes people less likely to review. It has prevented me from submitting a number of interesting things, and there has truly been a noticeable decrease in the amount of interesting submissions while reviewing in the past 2 weeks since the 20m rule was "fixed". In fact I was in the process of returning to places I had previously explored and submitting interesting things that I couldn't before with the 20m rule intact. I know it has effected others similarly. The worst part of the 20m rule is the lack of an ability to see lightship-only POIs. When submitting nominations in Pokemon Go, while initially placing your pin on the map, the Pokemon Go app shows you nearby POIs that have been accepted into Lightship, alerting you to something that has been submitted but doesn't appear in-game, avoiding potential duplicates. Ingress does not do this and Ingress players have no way to check what POIs are in Lightship, making submitting via Ingress a more frustrating experience. When the 20m rule was not in effect, this was not an issue at all.
Lets circle back to the end of Brian's Q&A clarification, specifically where he mentioned the idea that if your nomination doesn't show up in Ingress, maybe you will see them in another Niantic game some day. For a while now this has been the answer that was given to Pokemon Go players when their Pokestop didn't show up in that game, and it is now being recycled for Ingress. The problem is, the chances of this happening are unlikely. As we know, of Niantic's current games, Ingress is by far the least restrictive with it's POI. Harry Potter Wizards Unite came second to it, however that game was shut down. Catan World Explorers had a very interesting feature where the POIs used in-game rotated in and out every season, making all POIs useful although not all at the same time. But again, that game was also shut down before it even left Beta. Pokemon Go uses significantly less POI than Ingress, and while there are very niche cases where a wayspot can appear in PoGo but not Ingress, this is specially due to the 20m rule overlapping with S2 cells.
This brings us to Niantic's latest games, the recently released Pikmin Bloom and the upcoming Transformers Heavy Metal which is in Beta in some countries. As far as interactable POIs go, these two games are far more restrictive than Niantic's prior games, even featuring significantly less wayspots than Pokemon Go. Of course, the less wayspots a game features, the less likely we are to see a POI show up that couldn't be in Ingress due to the 20m rule. Considering Niantic is on a downward trend as far as how densely they use their wayspots in their games, the chances for them to create a game that used your unused wayspots is slim. Pikmin Bloom at least has a feature where you can get a postcard from a location not used in-game as an interactable POI, however these are mostly for vanity. Personally, my postcard box filled up months ago, and because it is a massive pain to delete them, I no longer get postcards and the feature is now basically non-existent for me. The reality is, that unless Niantic plans to create a new game that uses a POI density similar to or better than Ingress, most POIs that do not already appear in Ingress might never appear in another game.
The wild card in this puzzle though, is Augmented Reality. We have all seen Niantic pushing their AR technology over the past few years, and even with the most recent Ingress update they are incentivizing AR scans even more. It is no secret that AR is the future, and that Niantic is collecting AR data from portals to use in their future projects. But this raises the question, if a POI isn't in Ingress or any other current game, and if it isn't likely to show up in a future game, how will Niantic get players to scan these POIs for future use with AR projects? The likely answer, is they probably won't. The POI are left in the dust. They can't be edited, they can't have photos added to them, they can't be scanned, and they are unlikely to reap the benefits that come with being improved upon. The 20m rule excluding these POIs from Ingress largely excludes them from the methods that Niantic uses to gather data for POIs for future use, and it makes them even less likely to be used in the future. Please take note that one of the big complaints about the 20m rule is how many interesting POI it excludes. This exclusion will have nasty limiting effects for the future of Niantic's games, and for the future of the Lightship platform, as it excludes many interesting POIs in favor of the aging portal network that is full of grandfathered neighborhood signs, generic memorial benches and more. How can Niantic truly map the world with these limitations?
So, how do we solve this problem? Its pretty easy - significantly reduce or outright remove the 20m rule. It is clear the rule is unliked. It is clear the rule makes Wayfarer worse. It is clear the rule leads to abuse. It is clear the rule has negative cascading effects on the future of Lightship. It is likely the rule's impact will get worse as time goes on. It is time for the rule to go.
I'm not going to pretend I have the perfect answer for what it should be reduced to, but I think it is clear that while the 20m rule was not in effect, things were much better off, the future was brighter, and it did not get remotely close to breaking the game in an unhealthy or unappealing way. Any reduction in the 20m rule would be beneficial, but personally, I would probably reduce it to 3 or 5 meters or maybe even less. Just enough to make sure that portals aren't literally on top of each other. Besides, at a density closer than 3 meter, nominations that close are far more likely to just be duplicates.
The reality is that real world locations where large, potentially problematic stacks of portals could be created are few and far between. Locations like the example that Brian shared in his Q&A answer are the types of places that the majority of players will never even encounter. That example exists within the sea of thousands of portals in Los Angeles, at which point, if that specific 40 meter **** of sidewalk truly annoys a player, they have a near infinite number of other places to go play in Los Angeles. The best thing to govern the density of portals is the real world itself. Areas with many interesting potential POIs like this are not common, but when they do occur, it makes the world more interesting and it inspires exploration. The 20m rule does a lot more to disrupt interesting POIs when two things are just slightly too close together, rather than actually stopping problematic portal clusters. The 20m rule hurts rural players too; Many small parks are lucky if they have more than a park sign, a playground, and a pavilion. If one of those three things is within 20 meters of another, that means that an ingress agent can't even make a single field at that park. The list of negatives to the 20m rule goes on and on. It is time for the rule to be put to an end.
I hope this detailed explanation will inspire positive change, and thank you to anyone who took the time to read it in full.