Ingress: Agent, signing off

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Ingress is a new SoLoMo game developed by Google’s in-house startup, Niantic Labs. Right off the bat, I’m going to say that the game is well done. It does suffer from some issues which I’ll go into a bit, but the game itself works relatively well and as far as the game mechanics go, the world feels pretty balanced. Now for the reasons why I’m going to stop playing only after a few short days. (I will ramble, spell-check is off. You have been warned).

The team did a great job at helping new players get introduced to the content without needing to know the backstory. Although the backstory is interesting, it’s spread out and sort of difficult to follow. In fact, the best explanation I found  of what was going on in the game was in Quora.  Mind you, this was after me searching for 25-45 minutes, watching videos and going through Reddit just to figure out what the heck I was supposed to be fighting for.

Still, playing the game isn’t difficult and you quickly find out that despite your battery dying and your phone turning into a portable hot plate – there is something sort of fun and refreshing about tapping a portable and sending imaginary bots to destroy things.  So what’s wrong?

The community controls the gameplay

It’s fine to let your community contribute to the end game, but no one likes leveling up only find PvP as the only end-game strategy. Okay, well maybe some people do, but I like it a little less. I still play Skyrim because the community rocks my socks and I actually enjoyed PvP in ME3. When done well, the community adds a huge gameplay element to the already massive universe the creators have built. In Ingress however, after the tutorial missions you are left with nothing to do. It’s a sandbox experience, you just go around and hack, deploy and fire at things. It’s not bad until you run into the already established hard core community that has been around since day one.

That’s when you find out that you’re playing on someone’s turf or you created a field where they didn’t want one or played in some way that doesn’t contribute to their overall goal. By allowing the community complete control over the gameplay (daily missions, story missions and pvp scenarios) you’re putting newbies into the hands of <really passionate people>. There is a reason why most MMOs have a starting zone. i.e. GTA blocking off parts of the city until you’ve reached a certain level.

Those zones help establish positive play patterns. Little moments of joy, reinforcing the idea that clicking this button, performing this action is fun. You learn the basics in a relatively safe environment and then get unleashed onto the world to show everyone how much more amazing your skill tree is! Ingress throws everyone in the same bucket and in my case I was immediately contacted to join a group and then told how to play. In their defense, they did try to suggest it nicely, but a part of playing a game is being able to approach each objective with your own ideas. Accomplish something in your own way. I like to aimlessly wander and happen upon things versus actually try to seek it out. I don’t want to feel bugged by how I choose to play. Final Fantasy Online suffered from the same hardcore player mentality where newbies who might have been interested in sticking around to play were turned off, not by the game itself, but by the community that formed around it. I do expect a bit of clashing of styles at a higher level, but not at level 1.

My phone has become Robert Patterson and now sparkles in the sun.

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Holy Batman. This game sucks so much battery life that even playing it for 10 minutes or so puts me down to 1/2 bar. I can’t check FB, look at emails or answer calls. If I do, I need to bust out my extra battery! Not only that, it makes my phone incredibly hot. I would try to melt a snickers bar on my phone, but (A.) This Nexus is not mine (my boss would be upset) and (B.) I don’t like melted snicker bars. I actually cut them in half and just eat the bottom part. Is that weird?

This game doesn’t seem like its suited to long bursts of gameplay. Maybe just short bursts? Am I supposed to leave it running in the background? I don’t know. I tried, but it never told me when I was near a portal so unless I have the screen up, there was no real reason to keep it on.

What’s up with notifications?

I feel like there is an opportunity being missed by the team by not pinging me when I’m near a portal. Will this irritate some people? Yes, but I’m betting not the newbies or those of us who are casual-esque players. Make it opt in! All I know is that I’m not actively seeking portals, but if you let me know I’m standing right on top of one – I will open the app and hack that sucker!

Also…COMM chatter. Seriously. OPT OUT.

There is a reason why I turn off Barrens chat in WoW. I don’t want to nor need to hear or see everyone. This game shows me what everyone nearby is doing and they cover a pretty large area.  It’s just all static noise. Seriously guys, you have Hangouts. Figure out a way for people to chat, IM and form groups. Seeing Chinese conversations is cool, but I’m over it after 2 minutes. Some other things related to notifications and communications:

  1. When my friend invites me to the game, add us to each other’s friends list/hangout/group
  2. Give me a friends list/hangout/group
  3. Understand most people will be playing and viewing content from their smartphones. That Intel map is a pain to navigate. Maybe some drop down fields so I can easily zoom in on an area. A search box with maybe a zipcode filter? I don’t know, just make it easier for me to find/see things on this tiny screen.
  4. I have an Agent screen with badges! YAY! What’s everyone else’s stats? Whose the big guy on campus? Leaderboard? Hello? Hellllooooooo?
  5. Story missions, Dailies, Public events sponsored by the team? Plz? It’ll allow me to still be social, but not have to play by someone else’s rules to enjoy the game.

Maybe I’m not the group the game was built for, but the game is fun and even a casual player could find it rewarding. Niantic doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel, just look at successful MMOs and take some notes from them on how to manage a world with both casual and hardcore players. If the goal is just to farm data – ignore me.

However, if it is to grow the game and really help it take off then you can’t throw your newbie sheep to the wolves. Build us a little stepping ladder to help get into the game proper and then throw us to the wolves. By that time we’ll be better prepared and will probably enjoy the interactions more. Ingress is still young, it hasn’t even come out of open beta so there is a real opportunity for the team to have their cake and eat it too.