The world around you is not what it seems. Researchers at CERN have uncovered a mysterious energy which they have taken to calling Exotic Matter, or XM, and which seems to emanate from portals located at works of art and architecture around the world. This energy – which it turns out is being sent by the Shapers, a transdimensional intelligence seemingly intent on infiltrating our dimension – contains some form of ordered data, some type of information, which the scientists have been unable to decipher. The NIA, a black budget intelligence agency from the United States, is assigned to investigate the XM phenomenon, at which point all manner of hell breaks loose.

This includes the leaking of the NIA’s scanner technology to the general public, able to detect and interact with portals and XM. Public opinion on how best to make use of this technology has been divided. The Enlightened, as they’ve come to be known, seek to harness the power of XM and the influence of the Shapers to bring about an evolution of humankind. In opposition to this goal stands the Resistance, who wish to protect what’s left of what they see as vital aspects of our humanity.

Ingress Scanner

The Ingress Scanner

Welcome to the world of Ingress, a massively multiplayer real-world location based augmented reality game for Android (and eventually iOS) from Niantic Labs, the internal startup at Google also responsible for the Field Trip app.

In that world, there is one challenge that even the most ardent, hard-core players seem to have trouble surmounting: that of accurately and succinctly describing the game to others.

I’ve heard players variously talk of it as a mash-up of geocaching, capture the flag, Risk, king of the hill, and other familiar activities. But trying to explain Ingress by comparing it to games of the past always seems to fall short, and perhaps that’s due to the fact that there’s simply never been a game quite like this.

Nor, up until now, could there have been. No company other than Google would both be willing to try something like this, and have the necessary resources and infrastructure to pull it off. As Brandon Badger, product manager at Niantic Labs, puts it,

Ingress represents a new genre of mobile gaming that is played in a single alternate reality world. The game is played in real time by agents all around the globe. To bring Ingress to market, the development team has leveraged its experience in building globally scalable software solutions for other Google products. The game is made possible through the use of Google tools and infrastructure.

Even for a behemoth of a company such as Google, however, creating a game on the scale of Ingress has not been without its difficulties. The web-based Intel Map was initially excruciatingly slow (something that has since been much improved). There have been issues with phantom links and fields that could not be destroyed.

When asked why making a large field over a lake, where there is no population, still awards a player a large number of Mind Units (the scoring units used in the game), Badger – who, like other members of the Niantic team, tends to answer questions about Ingress from within the point of view of the game’s lore – responded, “The technology for measuring the effects of Control Fields on the human population is still evolving.”

Minor issues such as these, though, are certainly forgivable when considering how rewarding the overall experience can be. And despite being released in beta back in November 2012, Ingress is still heavily in development, with bugfixes (along with quite a few substantial gameplay changes) still coming regularly. The majority of the most egregious issues from early builds of the game have since been rectified, and those that remain continue to be addressed with each update.

By any account, Ingress can be considered a success, likely far beyond any expectations the higher-ups at Google had when they green-lit the project. But, beyond any particular part of the storyline or mechanic of the gameplay, what has truly made Ingress successful is its focus on community and interaction with other players.

Ingress Agents

Enlightened Agents anakette, DreadRaver, GRyoda, and Johnny0hn0

Throughout human history, great things have tended to happen when the right two (or more) people met and shared their ideas and passions with one another. Ingress takes, in my experience, a huge number of bright and technically-minded folks (not always the type most inclined to much socializing), and sets them out in the world to meet others of their ilk. With Niantic continuing to shape and refine the experience to further encourage IRL meetups and player cooperation, the likelihood of the right two people coming together who might create the next world-changing product or idea will continue to increase by the day.

And therein – aside from just a fun escape, or a clever way for Google to collect copious amounts of free data – lies the true value of Ingress.

Google+: Ingress The Game
Twitter: Ingress The Game
Website: Ingress The Game


[pb-app-box pname=’com.nianticproject.ingress’ name=’Ingress’ theme=’light’ lang=’en’]

About the author

Chris Foote

Singer, guitarist and songwriter for the Grand Rapids, MI based band, Ars Nova. Google Glass Explorer. Google Helpouts guitar lesson provider. Photographer. Transhumanist. Technology enthusiast. Enlightened Ingresser.


    • Definitely, Nitish. I’ve met some awesome folks through Ingress, and I’m sure you will as well!

    • Yup, you should definitely try out this game. I’m playing since Dec’12 in Mumbai and it’s awesome to meet new people and play together.

  • Connecting the technically intrigued who are sometimes socially less adept through the paradigm of a game using google tools and platforms is a brilliant strategy for harnessing another generation of dream makers and product developers. It is only one of the many values of Ingress.

  • I think you have hit the nail on the head in many ways chris. Some people who i had thought for sure would be into this game are not and others who i never expected to be are. it’s really amazing, and so many good ideas have already come from interacting with others during this game that i think you have hit upon something that is an unintended side effect. Or as some may say, the world is becoming more enlightened in unpredicatble ways.

  • Well, to start with, it’s not really a game. At least not a computer game. The tools are mobile and computer based, but the playing field is real and the organizations you build are almost completely outside of anything Niantic provides. Zello? Maps Engine? Hangouts? Google Docs? Agents all around the world are building teams, devising operations and organizing events all outside of the game itself, and players interact in the real world even when using the scanner at portals.

    In a way, the game is more about constructing and improving these teams more than specific operations.

    As for Niantic harnessing that, I disagree. Everything they have shown so far indicates they do not plan to engage players and the organizations created to effectively play the game.

  • This was a fantastic game/hobby/obsession until it was destroyed by rampant cheating that Niantic is seemingly powerless to stop. The play in my city, has become almost pointless due to automated cheater bots that level up over the course of a few days and then destroy the hard won efforts of real players with no effort.
    Such a shame. Before investing too much into the game I would recommend checking out whether game play has been significantly affected by bots in your area. If it has, it’s probably not worth the grief.

    • Totally Agree! Bots rule the game here in Orange County, CA! I played for both factions then quit. When I was with the Enlightened, we had hundreds of farming bots that would supply hundreds of agents in OC and LA with endless supply of gear. Just place your order and the gear was spoofed to your location. It is so common that no one even thinks of it as cheating anymore. In fact the BIGGEST threat, is that this guy and his bots will get banned and the supplies will end & people will have to actually go out and farm for it themselves! Though I don’t know how many of the players spoof, but I do know that once they are fed the gear, they love to drive out to the location to troll the person they hate. Which doesn’t make any sense. They didn’t farm their gear, but they’ll drive to a location if it means trolling someone, then bragging about the tears they caused. Some bragging rights huh? I got tired of being associated with this ring, so I switched factions to Resistance. I finally ended up quitting because of two reasons. All the backlash I got for being a traitor and not wanting to be a part of the cheaters circle, and the 2nd reason is that it was too difficult to play as a Resistance agent against hundreds of Enlightened bots taking down my portals up to 8 plus times a day. I really tried to Resist (no pun intended) but bots don’t care and they don’t get tired. Especially when you have people with a grudge programming them against you! They really had it in for me. They gave me no choice but to quit. Either I was going give in to their mafia style pressure to cheat, or they wouldn’t allow me to do anything, period, as a Resistance agent. Lower level agents don’t even know that they are participating or being recruited into the cheating ring. That’s how I got suckered into it. Then if you turn a blind eye to it, you’re a “trusted agent.” They just think generous players are donating gear to them out of the kindness of their hearts. We’ve all reported it to Niantic, but they never did anything about it. I know they know about this because one of the Google employees has built farms with the cheating ring leader. So there’s a huge mixture of suspicions going on here and we are left with no choice but to suspect that this is why he has not been banned from the game. In fact, there’s a post floating around showing proof and screen shots of a private conversation showing that siad Google Employee advised them to get rid of evidence in order to protect the cheating ring leader!

    • I haven’t run into any bot-related situations in my area, to the best of my knowledge. I would be interested to hear more about this bot problem, though.

  • Nicely done, Chris. Don’t let the naysayers detract. Yes, bots, scripts, multi-account holders, spoofers – they are a problem for everyone. None of that mitigates your primary message: that the true value of Ingress lies in it’s social aspects for the real players who go forth and conquer together, who see points of interest in their tows and cities that they may never have noticed, and who can do cool things in cross-faction get-togethers.