Ingress: The Location Game That Silently Outlasted Pokémon Go

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Ingress isn’t unlike other mobile apps in the sense that there’s the ability for players in the game to buy in-app items,” explained Bill Kilday, VP of Marketing and Live Events at Niantic. I talked to Mr. Kilday when he came to Toronto to oversee an Ingress live event, or “Anomaly” in the game’s parlance.  While micro-transactions are common among mobile apps, what makes Ingress different to Minecraft Story Mode, Wheel of Fortune, Barbie Fashionistas, and the other games on my phone is that none of those other games convinced 1500 people to descend on downtown Toronto recently.

Before the population of Toronto argument can be made, I should point out that it wasn’t a crowd made up entirely of locals either.

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“There was a guy who came from Mexico City and someone who came from Brazil. There is one player named Marius who lives in Norway. He’s at every Ingress event there is so we kind of discount him because we see him everywhere,” said Kilday as he told me how far some people came.

“I met a guy last night who was in town from London, England. He had always had Toronto on his list of places to visit, but he had never been. When the Ingress event popped up in his calendar he was like all right there is my excuse to go.”

For those who never played Ingress before, it is a location-based, augmented-reality, massively multiplayer online game developed by Niantic. It was originally owned by Google, who used it to harvest walking-path data from the general populace. Using a digital interface that is laid over Google Maps the players of Ingress can capture and hold digital hotspots that appear on the map; however, the catch is that you must physically walk up to each hotspot before your phone will try to capture it. You’ve probably heard the name Ingress mentioned throughout the past summer when people couldn’t stop talking about Pokémon Go. The two games are often mentioned in the same sentences since they have far more similarities than differences. That includes the fact that both Ingress and Pokémon Go were made by Niantic.

Their differences are harder to point out, but one major distinction is the time each game spent in the spotlight. While no one can deny the success of Pokémon Go, it’s time as a pop-culture phenomenon can be measured in months. Ingress on the other hand was surviving on a smaller user-base long before Pokémon Go became so mainstream that CNN was writing stories about it.

“I don’t know if you saw when I asked the question about how many people were here for their first [live event] and probably half the crowd raised their hand,” said Kilday as he explained Ingress’ longevity.

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“Yes some of the Ingress community has pivoted over to Pokémon Go. But Pokémon Go, because of the massive number of people playing it, has become a kind of a stepping-stone into the world of Ingress. Ingress is much more of a strategy game, and there is a deep fictional lore in Ingress. It is a harder game to get into, but it is also a deeper game. So it’s been this thing where some people have gone over to Pokémon Go, but a new set of players have stepped into the world of Ingress because they understand what a location based real-world game is. It becomes easier to explain Ingress if you’ve played Pokémon Go.”

For those of us who haven’t played Pokémon Go, Bill Kilday was kind enough to break down the rules for Ingress’ event in Toronto.

“There are two teams in Ingress, the blue team is the Resistance and the green team is the Enlighten, and they’re here in Toronto today to battle over control of Toronto. We will measure who owns designated portals, which are the hotspots in the game, at 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock and 5 o’clock. Based on that ownership there will be a winner of the event.”

Mr. Kilday also laid out some of the basic tactics that each team would use to win.

“Some people are already stationed in different areas of Toronto ready to capture the portals, so you got these remote teams that have already been dispatched. There is another thing that happens, and that is that there are people who are on the outskirts of the city who are trying to capture anchor points for their team to be able to essentially throw fields over the city for their team.” These fields are closer to the ones you would find in Star Trek than something like Field of Dreams.

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The Toronto event was actually considered to be an important one in the Ingress community since the two sides of Ingress were heading into the downtown core with the overall lead on the line.

“This particular season that we’re in, which is known as the Via Lux seasons of events, is actually tied 7-7 in terms of the city count,” Bill Kilday noted as he explained the importance of the Toronto event.

“We had events today in Setouchi, Japan that wrapped up a few hours ago. The event that’s going on in Cologne, Germany is happening as we speak and is probably wrapping up very shortly; so I don’t know who will win the whole series but going into today the two factions were tied 7-7.”

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At the end of the day the Toronto event became a pretty one-sided affair with the number of portals, fields, links and other items up for grabs being dominated by the green Enlighten team. Websites like say that the Enlightens walked away with an overwhelming 1024 to 480 point victory for their effort.

While I didn’t truly understand it at the time, the Enlighten team was the heavy favourite for this event. It’s something that is easy to notice if you look at a map of Ingress victories over the last couple of months. If mapped out, the victories would be divided along the same lines that the continents currently hold.  All of North and South America light up with the green colour of the Enlightened while Europe, Asia and the Oceania countries are all waving the blue of the Resistance. The only variation of this division is Japan who witnessed a victory for the green Enlightened just as the Toronto event was starting. The reason why Ingress is still popular has little to do with the game itself, and more with something less tangible.

It’s a lesson that the Care Bears have been trying to instill in children for years, but that we sometimes forget as busy adults.

“[Ingress players] have a lot of fun,” Kilday told me as he explained that Ingress’ long-term success was the result of a community who grew to be friends.

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“At the end of the day, and the end of the event, [Ingress players] will have played hard and they will have battled for control of the city; but then they will go out and they will party and have a good time together. And that’s just something that the events are an excuse for.”

That’s also why Pokémon Go didn’t see the long-term success that Ingress did. Pokémon training is a not a team sport and as a result will never benefit from the power of friendship.

Bryan Calhoun
Bryan Calhoun

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