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Google's Augmented Reality 'Ingress' Gives Players New Creative Outlets

By Katherine Noyes
Oct 1, 2014 9:51 AM PT
Ingress screen shots

Google's Niantic Labs last week announced a new Missions feature that can incorporate user-generated content in its Ingress augmented reality game.

Now available to Android users -- and coming soon on iOS -- Missions challenges players to visit a series of places, complete a game action such as hacking or capturing a portal, or use clues to solve a puzzle in order to advance, said John Hanke, head of Google's Niantic Labs.

Data from Niantic's Field Trip app is included, making it possible to incorporate locations related to history, art, architecture, outdoor activities, shopping and dining, provided by more than 200 publisher partners.

Niantic has created an array of Missions players can undertake, but it's also allowing users to create their own and then share them with other Ingress players. That capability is available initially only to a small set of experienced Agents, but Niantic plans to expand its reach over the next weeks and months to all Agents level five and above, Hanke said.

7 Million Players

Ingress was opened to the public at large last December, following a beta that began in late 2012.

Featuring a complex science fiction backstory with a continuous open narrative, the massively multiplayer online role-playing game depends on GPS capabilities.

Players in the game choose a side -- Enlightened or Resistance -- and fight for control of Exotic Matter, which is stationed in portals around the world. By visiting those real-world portals, which include landmarks and other places of interest, players collect energy and score points for their team.

More than 7 million players in the past year have installed the Ingress app on Android or iOS; more than 30,000 have participated in Ingress Anomaly events hosted across the world.

New Level of Involvement

The new Missions feature "could be very interesting for existing fans of Ingress," Christine Arrington, senior analyst for games with IHS, told TechNewsWorld. "It has the potential to increase usage and loyalty to the game by allowing players to become even more invested in the process and outcome of missions."

In a game like Ingress, which integrates real-life places with a fantasy narrative, "I think gamers often have ideas of how they would like events to unfold," Arrington observed. "Allowing them some control over creating missions ... gives gamers an outlet for their own creativity."

While the capability could be daunting for newcomers, "it gives loyal players another level of involvement that will keep them playing," she added. "Finding ways to keep mobile gamers interested in your game is key to longevity in the mobile space."

Business Possibilities

Much as the wildly popular game Minecraft lets players build things, create levels and customize a virtual world, Niantic's Ingress now will offer a similar creative outlet, Lewis Ward, research director for gaming with IDC, told TechNewsWorld.

"The idea that you can turn over to individuals the ability to add their own creativity and customize the type of missions makes eminent sense," he said.

"Google is all about empowering people to get what they want," added Ward. "This happens to be expressing that in a gaming context, but it's still about empowering individuals to share with each other and communicate with each other."

It seems likely that individual players won't be the only ones who are interested in the new feature, Ward suggested.

"It could make a lot of sense for businesses," he said. "I can imagine all sorts of companies being interested in promoting themselves by adding themselves to the list of places that are important to visit."


Katherine Noyes has been reporting on business and technology for decades. You can find her on Twitter and Google+.


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