For the past couple of weeks I’ve been playing a game called Ingress, developed by Google and currently being played in closed invite-only beta across the world. The game, which draws heavily on a kind of Matrix meets StarCraft science fiction styling, melds augmented reality with smartphones, computers and the kind of backstory that only a Hollywood scriptwriter could dream up.
The result is an impressively compulsive game which, astoundingly, is based around the need for players to actually leave their homes and trudge the streets to play. Not only that, but in order to succeed you have to combine into teams as part of your ‘Faction‘ to try and beat the other faction. The idea of teamwork and real life activity is something we’ve not seen before in any large scale multiplayer game (or MMORG) so this is really charting new ground.
The storyline features two factions, the green ‘Enlightened’ and the blue ‘Resistance’, both of whom are battling to control as much territory as they can using virtual, invisible portals of energy. These portals are only revealed with an Android smartphone app, which is available for free on Google Play. Players use the app to ‘hack’ portals to try and capture them and add to their faction’s total.
My video below shows you how ‘not’ to play, from a complete newbie viewpoint.
There are a ton of items you can collect and use, and the leveling up is simple and yet challenging enough to keep players engaged. The game also features a sophisticated communications tool, which makes it easy and fast to chat to teammates to ask for help, enlist assistance in a challenge or otherwise stay in touch during the fight for your faction. At any time, players can also visit The Niantic Project site, which is the home of the backstory, to learn more about the game, the factions and why things are the way they are.
There’s more involved of course, but the basic premise involves players roaming the streets of their local city or town, trying to hack enemy portals, or protect their own, individually or in collaboration with others. The beauty of all this is it can be played at any location in any country with nothing other than a phone and a game account, and the idea of making players actually visit a location (you can’t hack remotely) offers a huge leap forward in gaming potential.
So what does all this mean for Google Glass? Well at the moment the game involves a lot of running around peering at your Android tablet or smartphone screen, which can be a) a little tedious b) heavy on the battery and c) a touch embarrassing in crowded locations. I can absolutely see the addition of Google Glass as making the whole process much more seamless, and enjoyable.
The integration of Glass, which in turn is tethered to the smartphone anyway, along with an increasingly sophisticated gameplay universe, could do two major things for Google. First it would give them a massively compelling reason for gamers to flock to the new Glass device, and more importantly it would deliver yet another huge opportunity for the company to roll out more commercial services to the platform.
Ingress is already catching on like wildfire across the globe, and it’s no accident that many of the portal locations featured in the game include commercial brands and stores. What do you think the next logical step is going to be, once the game has hooked millions of players? The kind of virtual economy we’ve seen before in 2nd Life and World of Warcraft perhaps? With branded products and locations available, how long before we see multiple advertising options offered in exchange for game points?
With heavy use in dense city areas, it’s not hard to imagine portals which are placed next to popular locations (Starbucks, McDonalds or malls for instance?) which could offer incentives for weary Enlightened or Resistance players to refresh themselves while on their crusades. Or shopping. Or merchandise. You get the picture. And in case you don’t believe how much this game has caught on with the players, take a look at the video below which shows a team scavenging all through the night in London and almost getting arrested for their efforts.
So, could this be the start of something massive for the already gigantic Google marketing machine? Well from here is definitely seems like it. There are already blog posts circulating about the amount of valuable data Google must be collecting from players, including geographic, data bandwidth, mapping and device information. There will undoubtedly be more opportunities for this kind of harvesting as the game grows in popularity.
We’ll be watching (and maybe playing if we can level up sufficiently in the next few months) to see just how quickly this fascinating game takes hold, and how long before it starts to attract mainstream attention. The ecosystem that has grown up around the game since its private launch in November of last year, just 6 months ago, suggests that this is a game which is probably going to have a huge impact on the gaming scene everywhere.
So if you notice a small group of people huddling around their phones next to a statue or landmark in your town, don’t assume they’re just Facebook fanatics, they’re probably fighting for the future of our planet, virtual style. And one day if you overhear a chap touch his Google Glass headwear and say quietly ‘Hack’, resist the urge to call the police, He’s probably more enlightened than you think.
Meanwhile we’ll be sitting here reading How to Level Up Faster Than Your Friends. See you on the other side.