Ingress Prime

Above: Ingress Prime is a reboot of Ingress.

Image Credit: Niantic

Question: Are you still partnering with companies as you did in the beginning?

Hanke: The sponsored locations business model is part of all of our game products. It’s growing. So yes, there are retailers like Lawson’s and McDonald’s. You’ve seen Lawson’s in Ingress. You’ve seen McDonald’s in Pokemon Go. There are current and new sponsors coming to Ingress. Those are integrated in a very organic way. They become locations in the game. It’s not throwing an ad or some brand logo in your face, but it’s there. It’s a place that you may end up while you’re playing the game, because there are items and power you can get from that spot.

Question: What is the state of the Google Maps API? We’ve seen that games like Jurassic World Alive can very quickly become location-based games. How do you feel that you can differentiate in a world where everybody can adopt this? Are there certain features here that you think go beyond where the Google Maps thing is?

Hanke: From my point of view, the mobile game landscape is awash in copying. Copying other mobile games, for a lot of companies that’s their bread and butter. The fact that our successful games have now been emulated and copied–that’s the way the world is, I guess? [laughs]

Question: But it was almost impossible to copy this, because nobody else had the locations. Now all of a sudden they do have landmarks through Google Maps.

Hanke: Yeah, but if you look at those games, the locations that are utilized coming through Google Maps are commercial establishments, things of that nature. I personally don’t think that’s the right way to build the game. Anybody who grabs a 3D engine can make some kind of 3D shooter. That doesn’t make it Fortnite. The nuance of what makes a great location-based AR game–we feel very confident that we’re the world’s leader in that. That something looks superficially similar doesn’t necessarily mean it can do everything we can do. I think the user numbers, success, and traction of products is ultimately the thing to look to about whether that’s happening or not.

Above: Niniane Wang is a senior engineer at Niantic.

Image Credit: Udacity

Wang: As John has said, sometimes when people think of AR they just think of overlaying something on the camera feed. But it goes much deeper. That’s just a screenshot, the very surface level. Similarly, sometimes people think of an AR game as, “Oh, there’s a map. Anything with a map is in that category now.” But again, that’s very surface level.

We talk about the magic factor, what makes people think there could be another reality on top of this reality that actually can feel magical. There’s so much more that goes into making those two worlds — the augmented one and the real one — feel consistent with each other, making people feel that sense of, “Oh, this could almost be real.” It’s not just opening the app and seeing a map. There’s a lot more iceberg under the water.

Macintosh: The social aspect is a really important one. The last anomaly I went to — this was in Mexico City — I suddenly had eight friends. I spoke English, unfortunately, but even though there was that language barrier, they took me around with them on their team. I didn’t tell them I was the Ingress product manager. [laughs] I just showed up and happened to be an Enlightened member. They brought me into the fold.

That was the part of the magic that I could see. These are people who–we were going out to their favorite restaurant later that night for dinner. Through a combination of my broken Spanish and some body language, it felt like more of a community than I experienced in the other two days I was down there. That’s an awesome aspect of these games. These are people that come from different walks of life, different background, different interests, but that one commonality in Ingress brought us all together.

Wang: I think many people would like to feel a sense of magic. It’s part of why people like, for example, Harry Potter. Just having wizards doesn’t make something the same as Harry Potter. There’s a desire to feel that there’s fun and magic lurking in our world, waiting for us stumble on it. A lot goes into the underlying psychology of what makes that feel actually magical. It goes beyond just something like a map.

Question: In terms of mechanics and story, it feels like Ingress is more intensive than Pokemon Go, for example. How engaged are Ingress players compared to Pokemon? To what degree do you see it as more complex or harder to get into?

Frank: Something that’s interesting about Ingress is that there are many different dimensions of gameplay. There’s glyph hacking. There’s linking. There’s fielding, deploying, remote recharging. There can be a different version of Ingress gameplay depending on what your preferences are.

At a very basic level, I remember when I first started playing, I was more about hacking. I liked exploring the locations in my neighborhood in San Francisco and discovering the stories behind this wooden statue I’d passed on dog walks for more than a year, without ever knowing anything about it. From that, then I’ve evolved into–now I really like linking and fielding. Over time, the game has supported my different interests and different types of gameplay that I might be doing. Maybe it’s through the airport, and I’m just trying to capture a couple of portals before I touch down in the next city.

Certainly Ingress can support pretty complex gameplay. But a lot of the elements of it are broken down and can be much simpler. We’re hoping that with the new onboarding experience, people will be able to find their type of gameplay as they progress as an Ingress agent.

Ingress Prime

Above: Ingress Prime is the new game from Niantic.

Image Credit: Niantic

Question: When you look at the community behind Pokemon Go, a lot of it is built by the users. It happens in places like Discord and other third party applications. Is anything going on with Ingress Prime to centralize that? Do you want to bring that community closer through a read-only API or something like that?

Hanke: The community that exists in Go creates because we gardened it and nurtured it based on the Ingress community. The 40,000 Ingress user groups that popped up globally during the game’s launch showed us how real-world communities could work, this idea of MMO guilds in the real world. We were deliberately trying to nurture that with Pokemon Go in the way the game was designed. Certain things like raids were about local collaboration.

We never set out, though, to build ourselves the social network infrastructure where those communities could organize. That’s partly because, in different countries, people prefer different social networks. Discord is popular here. WeChat is popular in China. KakaoTalk is popular in Korea. People may prefer Telegram in Europe. It varies, and our feeling is that should be the choice of the local users. As long as there’s a way for them to get together and organize their meetups and stay in touch with one another, we’re supportive of that.

A challenge for us was that Ingress was originally launched inside Google around the time that Google+ was launched. We launched the game to Google beta testers, which was a pretty tight group of a few tens of thousands of people who were vetted by Google. We launched on Android only. The Ingress community naturally sprung up, originally, on Google+. It’s persisted there. If you think about Google+ as this shopping mall where everybody’s left, there’s one anchor store in the corner that still has a huge amount of activity. It’s the Ingress store.

And now the mall is closing. The realtors have decided to bring in the wrecking ball. [laughs] It’s a challenge for us to figure out how to help Ingress find that new version of–the Silph Road is obviously huge on Pokemon Go. That has to happen. We frankly acknowledge that’s something that we have to help with. It’s a challenge to help that get transplanted to a new home.

Question: We have more games like this now — Ingress, Pokemon Go, and now your Harry Potter game. What do you think about what happens when people playing these different games mingle with each other in the real world?

Macintosh: I think it’s awesome. I don’t think it’s a problem at all. I think it’s brilliant. We see this at events all the time. We’ll go to an Ingress event and everyone pauses for a minute to go to a Pokemon raid. Or at a Pokemon Go event, suddenly everyone’s fighting over all of the portals in the area. As someone who goes to a lot of live events, we like this. We like people playing different games. We think that each game can appease a certain part of you, whether it’s the competitive side, the exploration side, or the collection side. There are so many sides to it. Having a diverse library of games is a real benefit for us.

Hanke: We’ve planned Ingress events and Pokemon Go events to happen side by side. For example, at Go Fest in Chicago, there was an Ingress event that included a piece where people were marching together in groups through the park to do various Ingress things through this area. This was the day after Go Fest — it was Sunday — but there were still tons of players in the park downtown. They were all high-fiving each other as their paths intertwined on their way through the park. I agree. I think it’s cool. People are having fun together in public places.

Macintosh: I mentioned the Mexico City anomaly I was at earlier this month. The second day was a mission day. Going through on those missions in Ingress, all of a sudden I reached this park. I look up and there’s a sea of people covering every inch of this huge city park. People were everywhere playing. It was fun to look around and see Pokemon Go here, Ingress there, every person alternating.