Ingress Fails as a Game
This article has a controversial name for a bit of fun. I do like Ingress and enjoy playing it. These are my thoughts on how the game mechanics fail and could be improved.
This article is partly inspired by an article called Ingress 101: Seven Reasons the Game's Going Nowhere. It is also inspired by How to Tell if you are Dating Your Scanner an article on the fevgames website. This other article describes problems with the obsessive players (playing long hours), lucky players (with convenient local portals which leads the Wayne Schulz to conclude it is best for city dwellers) and also the lack of a clear goal (which is something I talk about below). I agree with the general direction of Wayne Schulz's thinking but believe some of what he is saying may be determined by his local players and is not necessarily generally true. It certainly got me thinking though and I enjoyed his article and also writing mine as a response.
My Opinion: Ingress is a Fun Way to Explore
I've found lots of new places playing this game. You are rewarded for finding different portals. Just one example is that when I go dancing I now try to find new ways to walk home afterwards to find new portals. This breaks me out of my routines, helps me get to know my local area and adds a sense of fun to the walk home. Great!
My Opinion: Ingress does not work as a Competitive Game
People say it is large scale strategy game. I agree. The world is covered in portals and the two teams compete to carve up the world into green and blue triangles.
I will compare it to wargames because of the very large scale of the game and the fact you are competing for territory over the world. It is at least a good way for me to explain my feelings about the game so please go with it! There are two primary sorts of wargame. In the large-scale type of wargame you are a general controlling the troops (think Command and Conquer or Starcraft). In small-scale you are one soldier but that soldier is a hero and singlehandedly takes on important missions (think Call of Duty or World of Warcraft). (I agree this is a simplification because you often operate in teams in Call of Duty and in World of Warcraft and there are many skirmish scale wargames. However, I would argue that the skirmish level games generally still put you at key points in the action and as a group you are achieving unrealisitic, heroic feats.)
I think that Ingress cannot generally work as a small-scale hero type game (everyone is approximately equal from level 8 onwards and there are a lot of level 8 players). Even if someone does find a unique approach that means they can achieve significant things the majority of players are not going to get this feeling. So, it has to work as a large-scale strategy game: this seems to be what I mostly hear from other players as their reason for it being a good competitive game. However, it does not work at the large-scale for me either.
For me Ingress is only fun as a competitive game for the very few international players that have fallen into roles coordinating the other players. I'll explain this some more. I recently took part in the Cardiff Ingress event. I was in a group of between 3 and 8 (it varied as there was some responsiveness to how we worked). I won't give away too many of my colour's secrets but it is obvious that there has to be either a cell-like structure or management-tree structure to enable lots of teams to work on the ground. And it is also obvious that there has to be some central control (or decision making prior to the event) to enable those groups to work together. In practice it felt like playing Command and Conquer and just being a grunt soldier being told what to do. Imagine a new version of Command and Conquer where (instead of being the general commanding the troops) you play for hours and just have to follow instructions. This would not be a popular game. Well, that is what Ingress feels like to me when played on a competitive level and if you take it seriously.
I think for some people being part of this large group and following instructions is still fun. There is some flexibility to improvise and use tactics as an individual and I understand this is enough for some people. For me I ask more of the competitive games that I play. I want more room for self-expression and for me and the people around me to get our teeth into the game more. So, it does not work for me.
My Opinion: Day to Day Playing of Ingress is Like Voting
Every day (or something like that) the amount of green and blue fields are counted up and one team is declared the winner depending on the success in making fields. (It is actually not the number of fields but the number of "mind units" but if you don't know the game just imagine the portals are joined together into groups and that over the whole planet all the groups are added up and compared.)
My issue with this is that the scores are so massive one player cannot make much difference. So for me it is like voting in a giant election that is over the whole planet with just one person being elected. In most elections the justification for voting is that there are a large number of candidates giving your vote more meaning. But this is an election over the whole planet with one seat. In my opinion you are not really impacting the final score!
So Why do I Still Like it?
I would argue Ingress works as a platform within which you can make your own games. Sort of like taking a deck of cards and making up games to play with friends. And like so many games it is not the game that is the most important thing but the socialising that happens during the game.
I am enjoying finding obscure portals and trying to get the "Guardian" badge: it forces me to explore and is a fun challenge. I like meeting up with friends and seeing how much we can turn green in an hour before going out for dinner. I like using Ingress when I am working away from home in the evening to find places of interest nearby. I have found games within the structure of Ingress that I enjoy. That'll do for me!
My Thoughts About Future Games Like This
I think a future game like Ingress cannot be made to work like a large-scale wargame. So, it has to be small-scale. I would suggest that incorporating computer-controlled players would work. It would then be possible for everyone to achieve "hero" level feats by beating lots of computer-controlled players. Much more fun! Alternatively, remove the competitive element completely and make it a cooperative game. For me the ultimate problem is the scaling issue and these are two possible ways of solving it.