Ingress comes to iOS: double or nothing?

in Geek Inside

I started playing Ingress a few months ago, and from the start I heard rumours about Ingress coming to iOS “soon”. When Niantic Labs (the startup behind Ingress) announced that they had submitted the app to the App Store, no one held their breath.

It was confirmed a few days later: Ingress became available on iOS on July 14, and Niantic made a big change in the gameplay to level the playing field and make it easier for new iOS players to join a game already populated with high level players.

I’ve had the chance to play a bit with the iOS version, and I’d like to give you my opinion on the new game rules.

The iOS version looks like a basic port of the Android game, minus a few features. I assume some of the features were intentionally left out to allow new players to concentrate on basic game concepts before to start playing with more advanced actions, like submitting portals.

That’s a good idea, as Ingress can be a bit complicated to grasp at first. It can also be hard to start playing in an area where enemy players block you from levelling up. In practice, that means that older players capture portals, deploy high level resonators, protect them with mods, and recharge the portals as you attack them. Think of it as the sandbox protected by the tough kids of the playground. There is no way you’re going to be able to play while they’re there. :)

As a new player, this is not the kind of portal you want to go for; you’ll want to try capturing portals that are either uncaptured, captured by another low level player (thus easier to attack), or weakened enough so you can attack and capture them.
Depending on where you live, this kind of portals could be quite hard to find. That would mean a bunch of new iOS players on the playground, and nowhere to play.

To avoid this issue, Niantic Labs decided to change the rules of the game. They increased Portal Decay to allow each portal to return to its uncaptured state 72 hours after it was captured.

This is a big game change; it offers more opportunities for new players to capture portals and level up. And it makes things a bit harder for higher level players, for a few reasons:
– Building a Level 8 portal takes time: you need 8 L8 agents to build such a portal. With the old system, it could take more than a week for a portal to become L8, and players were used to that. Since portals now decay a lot faster, it’s harder to build L8 portals; it requires coordination. In practice, that means less L8 portals.
– High level players rely on high level portals to get the gear necessary to build and maintain other high level portals. Since there are now less high level portals, high level players get less high level gear. This starts a snowball effect, as the lack of gear causes players not to build high level portals anymore. You consequently see less and less high level portals.
– Players living in cities where their team is outnumbered might welcome the change. In practice, the new rules apply to both teams so it won’t really affect the game balance.

However, if Ingress is successful on iOS the snowball effect will stop; more players means building level 8 portals becomes easier, and we get back to the previous state of the game.

Double or Nothing?

This feels like Niantic played “Double or nothing”: if Ingress is successful on iOS their strategy was perfect, and we’ll soon have lots of new level 8 players with us. If the iOS release fails to attract enough people, old players will get bored or building and hacking low level portals and will stop playing.

It’s been fun to see the reaction of the community on Google+. Most of the old players are obviously pissed. Niantic also came up with a story to explain the game change. Every aspect of the game is actually explained in the back story, and this Portal Decay change was introduced as a “Portal Virus”, released by a rogue scientist. It’s interesting to follow that story even if it can be cheesy; the actors hired by the game developers are often overdoing it :)

In any case, I’m very curious of the outcome. I expected to see a lot of new players in my neighbourhood immediately after the iOS release, when Ingress got some press. It didn’t really happen yet. I guess my team would need to start recruiting new players, as others have done in other cities.