If you know game theory, then you know about the prisoner’s dilemma. Why might two entirely rational sides not cooperate even when it appears it would be best if they did?
The prisoner’s dilemma was codified and formalised in the 50s by scientists working at RAND. Not Iron Fist, Danny Rand’s company but the American think tank.
Imagine two prisoners in separate cells unable to listen to one another or communicate in any way. The authorities have some evidence on them but not as much as they would like, and so they offer both prisoners a deal; rat your companion out, and you will go free unless more information about your crime surfaces.
That situation means that if both prisoners tell on each other, the authorities get fresh information about both and can lock the pair up for years. If one rats on the other (or vice versa) then the rat goes free and his fellow companion is locked up. If both prisoners stay silent, then both will serve a small sentence based on the lightweight evidence the authorities had on them.
This is an Ingress post and Niantic are busy with their (former?) flagship game given that Ingress Prime, aka the next generation, is on the verge of rolling out beta invites and this year’s anomaly (global events) ‘Cassandra Prime’ is also starting soon.
Here’s what happened; Niantic created a special badge called the ‘Cassandra Prime Neutralizer’ and a window of time in which players could earn it (July 13th through to the 22nd). To get the badge at bronze level agents would have to neutralise 100 portals, silver 300 portals and gold 1000.
The keyword is ‘neutralise’. To neutralise a portal, agents only have to remove all enemy resonators from it – they don’t need to capture the portal for themselves.
In terms of the prisoner’s dilemma, it means that if both sides continue to play as usual – capturing and recapturing portals, then both sides can progress their Cassandra Prime Neutralizer badge. However, if one party, starts only to neutralise portals, leaving them in a neutral state and their opponents unable to re-neutralise and only able to capture them then only that side will progress at pace. However, if both factions stop capturing portals, then the game slows to a halt, and no one ends up with a shiny award badge on their electronic character sheet.
So, what happened?
Reaction around the world was different. This blogger has heard from cities where the game continues as usual and from towns where one or both sides stopped capturing portals. In fact, since Ingress is also an inventory/resource management game, there are some in-game tactics to favour the equipment necessary to neutralise a portal (burster and ultra strikes) over the kit needed to capture (resonators).
However, just two days after Cassandra Prime Neutralizer started Niantic had to step in with an additional modification. Agents are now thoroughly incentivised to capture portals with substantial boosts to experience points (known as AP in the game).
It takes eight resonators, and agents get AP for each one, with a bonus for the first and a more significant premium on the 8th. Until July 22nd, when the Cassandra Prime Neutralizer race finishes, agents are now getting 100% bonus for resonators deployed in the first seven positions and a 200% increase on the already weighty eightieth resonator. For Ingress players that means over 1,000 AP for a single resonator.
This intervention means more players are capturing portals again. The tweak restores game behaviour balance by simply bribing agents to play as they would normally do.
Mechanically speaking, it would be an excellent time for new players to join Ingress. They’ll find more uncaptured portals than usual and will race through the lower levels of the game. It also seems that based on Niantic’s global sandbox, if you are ever in the prisoner’s dilemma, then the odds of your fellow companion/opponent cooperating with you for the greater good aren’t high.