Friday, October 4, 2013

Ingress is the Future of Gamification

Ingress is the Future of Gamification
What is Ingress?
A secretive company named Niantic Labs discovered an element they named “Exotic Matter,” or XM, that seems to appear from cultural landmarks such as public art and places of historic, architectural or social significance. They believe XM is used by an alien race called the Shapers to affect humanity and may actually contribute to the creation of the landmarks near portals where it springs forth.

Technology was developed to interact with and control these portals using modern devices such as smart phones and tablets and has since been leaked to the public at large. This technology is now being used by two distinct factions in an attempt to harness the power of XM. The Enlightened faction believe that the Shapers are working toward a powerful enlightenment which will uplift all mankind. The Resistance believes that it is protecting humanity from Shaper ingression. The factions have, however, been occasionally observed to ignore their difference and to co-operate by establishing neutral zones and rules of engagement.

What is the True Nature of Ingress?
The true purpose of Ingress is data collection. Niantic Labs is a Google start up that has used gamification to recruit over 500,000 volunteers. In order to play, you walk from place to place with Ingress running on your GPS enabled smartphone, You take geo-tagged pictures using the app, and all the while the data is collected and sent to Google’s server where gameplay takes place. Through this process, Google is collecting vast amounts of pedestrian data, average walking speed, routes taken, pictures, and even Wi-Fi hotspots available.

What Makes Ingress Different?
Google has a long history of offering free products which contribute to their data collection efforts. In 2007 Google launched a free automated directory enquiry service named GOOG-411 which allowed them to build a database of accents and cadences that they later used to perfect their voice recognition technology for Android. What makes Ingress different is that, instead of offering a service, they have made the act of collecting data into a game.

Ingress is also a social game and is not designed to be played solo. In fact, there are significant restrictions on how much a single agent can accomplish and it can take as many as eight agents to make a single portal of the maximum level. While this may make it difficult for individuals in rural areas to participate, the social element is vital to adding enjoyment and keeping players involved.

Why Should I Play It?
With their other services, Google identified something that would be beneficial in people's everyday lives. They met an existing need or offered a better way of accomplishing a task. With Ingress they have created artificial incentives to participate in new activities which often reap personal rewards beyond the scope of the game. For instance, yesterday I spent several hours walking around the city of Franklin, TN. I explored cemeteries and monuments, learned things about my local area and got a lot of exercise. Ingress is an inherently social game and offers opportunities to meet new people. There are already examples of couples that met through Ingress.

There is another element to Ingress that sets it apart from other products that use incentives, such as Foursquare. Niantic Labs has developed a complex science fiction back story which is being revealed in real time. Not only are Ingress agents part of the story, they actually affect the plot through large organized events called anomalies. Anomalies can take place at a particular location or can span the globe and agent involvement determines the outcome which then becomes part of the ongoing story.

What's the Down Side?
As with all games, Ingress isn't for everybody. For one, it's still in closed beta which means an activation code is required to join. Each agent can send a limited number of invites to friends and invites can be requested at Ingress.com.

The game is also not without it's flaws. Players gain significant power as they level up and low level players are unable to have any real effect in the game. New players will spend most of their time grinding Action Points (AP) with the purpose of leveling. This process can go much faster with assistance from higher level players or by visiting locations with a high concentration of portals such as cemeteries or historic towns.

What Next?
While you're waiting for an invite, check out the Niantic Project investigation board and the Ingress Report on Youtube for videos and documents. The folks at Niantic Labs have done an amazing job at producing rich content to tell the story and it's a real treat for science fiction and conspiracy enthusiasts.

If I've missed something important or for questions, post a comment below or contact me on twitter (@gainesk).

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