GamesBeat: Do you feel like this is almost an eSport?
Hanke: It’s even better than a sport in some ways. League of Legends, you have your big tournament and everyone shows up at the Staples Center and you watch the high-powered teams play each other. When we bring 6,000 people together in Okinawa, every one of them is playing. It’s different from 6,000 people coming to watch a soccer game. It’s a mass game.
Everyone is a player. It’s more participatory. I think of it as more like a 5K run, something like that. Everybody comes to a 5K. It’s accessible. Everyone participates. There’s a bit of a competitive element to it. But there’s not a decision between the players and watchers, between the elite and everyone else. It’s a team thing. Whenever you show up as part of a team, you get assigned to a squad. You’ll have orders about where to go and what to do. Everybody strives to beat the other team.
It’s awesome to see in person, if you ever have a chance to make it out to one of the events. They have chat going on. You have earpieces for the squad leaders. There’s almost a military feel to it, but at the same time people are smiling and laughing and enjoying being outside. It doesn’t have that — I read recently about two guys getting in a fight at an eSports event in Europe. Ingress doesn’t have that. At the end everyone’s together and it’s one big party.
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It’s competitive, but I think the fact that it’s fighting over portals — I’m not fighting to kill you. That makes this a little different. But I do think eSports — that whole concept has huge legs. Sports have legs. People like to play games and the best opponent is another human being, not an AI. Sometimes you may want to immerse yourself in a narrative, solo-play, adventure kind of game. Those can be cool. But competition against other humans, facilitated by computers that let us do things we can’t with just a bat and a ball — it’s absolutely the future.
Quigley: We do a lot of original programming on our YouTube channel. Ingress Report is our ongoing show, but we’ve done documentary-style things as well, like Ingress Obsessed. Episode three in particular is really good. It brings to life what you’re talking about. We have an embedded reporter and crew following these guys and what they’re trying to achieve. You put that on the scale of 6,000 people in Okinawa — it’ll help bring to life what John’s talking about.
Hanke: You look at the amount of money people invest in Ingress today. I was reading on social media today about a woman in Atlanta who’s getting on a plane to fly to Milan. At our event in Kyoto there were people from Hong Kong, Thailand, mainland China, the Philippines. People had flown in from the United States. Loads of people will get on planes to come to these events. I’ve heard Ingress players say that this isn’t a game. It’s a lifestyle. Once people get into the social aspect of it, they make a big commitment.
GamesBeat: Do you guys see a particular path to becoming something like World of Warcraft? I see no limit on how big this could get, beyond the number of devices out there.
Hanke: I think we can be bigger than World of Warcraft. There are more mobile devices than gaming-configured PCs out there.
GamesBeat: It almost still seems like kind of a secret, though. A secret society or whatever.
Hanke: So did EverQuest in the early days, or Ultima Online, before we eventually got more widespread awareness of a new category, which is what we are. That’s fine with me. I don’t mind continuing to tell the story and invite people to play the game, and in particular to plug in to our community and see the events.
Quigley: We’re more on a crusade or a mission than we are — I’m not spending my time trying to beat everyone else out on paid user acquisition. We do these events because we’re trying to build a genre from the ground up. It takes a much more hand-crafted, thoughtful approach.
Hanke: The awareness curve of what we’re doing is maybe similar to free-to-play. I don’t know if you can project your mind back a few years ago to when there was this thing going on in Korea — you don’t buy the game, but you buy stuff in the game? It wasn’t mainstream at all. It was this thing they did over in Asia.
The awareness of Ingress in Japan is huge. This award here is from the Tokyo Game Show. It’s the designer’s grand prize. There are two grand prizes awarded at the Tokyo Game Show. This one is voted on by everyone in the industry. They picked Ingress as the winner for this year.
We’ve had a number of very large companies come to us and say, “We want to work with you to build a game on your engine.” Our awareness is higher in Japan in terms of the industry, but that’s changing now after the announcement. As I mentioned, we’ve gotten some interesting phone calls from over here as well.
Quigley: I remember flashing something to John Riccitiello and Frank Gibeau in the mid-2000s. “Guys, we’re seeing from our user feedback in our quarterly surveys, this free-to-play thing is mainly happening in the open web with browser-based stuff—It’s not eating into the discretionary income of our users, so we’re okay there, but discretionary time is a red flag. People are starting to spend more time on these free-to-play MMOs.” That was 2006 or 2007. Fast forward and it started to dig into people’s basket of discretionary funds for gaming, and then you get to where we are today. It’s a good analogy. The way we’re growing is in a good, responsible way.
Hanke: I look at Dungeons & Dragons, Magic the Gathering, the early MMOs. I worked on Meridian 59 back in 1994, one of the first 3D MMOs. I remember people saying, “I’d never play an RPG like that. It’s all about the story and quests. If you’re playing an MMO a narrative just doesn’t work.” You can see the appeal once you see it, but it takes some time for people to become aware of it.
If you remember the first time you went into an MMO and walked up to another avatar — I remember my experience with Meridian in the development phase. Another user would walk up and you could wave to them or change your facial expression. “Wow. It’s another person in this world.” Then you’d play for a while and see it get dark, see that there’s a time cycle going on. There’s always something happening. It just took people a while to catch up to that concept.
Quigley: I remember giving Bing a little grief. We were doing a presentation where he was talking about Ultima Online, calling it the first MMORPG. I didn’t do this publicly because I’m not going to do that to Bing. He’d take my head off. But I pulled him aside and said, “The first MMORPG was actually Meridian 59. I beta-tested it in business school with my classmate, John Hanke. I’m just telling you.”
Hanke: Lesson learned. We were coming at it as a startup, completely David versus Goliath. An unknown brand, an unknown franchise, no marketing apparatus or whatever. 3DO bought us before we launched. Trip loved it. He’s always been a visionary. He got it. But then EA came in with the Ultima franchise, which everybody knew and loved. They took the single-player experience and turned it into an MMO. So we learned our lesson. We’ve got Pokémon.
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