This weekend saw the Enlightened win the Umbra anomaly in Ingress, a free to play augmented reality game. Except, for the first time ever, official participation in the special event was not free. Niantic now requires players to pay and play to secure their participation badges and help their team.
As the first set of paid-for games started, apps began malfunction again.
Ingress players had reacted negatively to the news of charging. Some players had already bought travel tickets and hotel rooms for the weekend event, and some thought not enough notice for the additional charges had been given.
Many other players questioned what Niantic actually does during the anomalies. In practice, local players on the ground do almost all of the work, from planning the strategy to arranging merchandise and after-parties.
Niantic conceded that the rollout of tickets had done been handled as well as they would have liked, and they apologised with some slight tweaks to the format. The company, who also runs Pokemon Go and Wizards United, also made it clear they needed to charge and investigate ways to make the game sustainable.
In the runup to the anomaly battles, which pitched thousands of players in the world against each other in key cities, concerns that Niantic’s servers could not keep up with demand grew. Smaller events, like First Saturday, a newbie onboarding event, had suffered when some players had been unable to log into the game.
Niantic knew about the First Saturday and related problems. Brian Rose stepped into reassure players on the forums that the anomalies had been planned out.
As a result of the NIA Field Tests, we scaled servers up to meet demand. Today, during early-morning hours (PDT) we saw increased latency and issues signing in to Ingress. We scaled our servers up and latency returned to normal within several hours. Please note that this was a server-side issue.
For the Oct 12 anomalies, we’re using past anomaly data and current Events tab registrations as a baseline, with some additional buffer.
However, as the paid-for anomaly battles this weekend started, some players found that the app was malfunctioning.
A thread on the Ingress community site is full of screengrabs (taken in the heat of battle) from Ingress agents unable to get the app to work.
The opening image shows a level 15 Enlightened agent, well placed to try and clear a portal of the Resistance’s blue resonators, being told by their app there was a problem.
Umbra was the first set of anomalies fought where players had to use Niantic’s latest software, the Unity-based Ingress Prime.
Niantic hasn’t explained what caused the problem, but one theory is that Ingress Prime hits servers harder than the old technology, or is less efficient.
How Ingress could earn money
Niantic has a small store associated with Ingress. Players can buy harmless beacons to light up their social events, costly mediocre kit (with the best kit being reserved for actual play rewards) as well as ‘frackers’ which double the rewards of real play.
It seems that this is not enough to support the game.
A common request is that Niantic supports the old visual style of the game – one associated with Scanner REDACTED (the old app). It’s been suggested to the company that they sell different skins for the game. One of these skins, perhaps a free one, could retrofit the appearance of the game to look like REDACTED.
While new skins could be made for Resistance or Enlightened players, or even as a sponsorship opportunity, such innovation requires development time from Niantic.
New game elements could also open the door for new payment opportunities. As always, the balance needs to be found between avoiding pay-to-win and compelling enough reason to pay.
In the past, Geek Native has speculated on Ingress sub-factions and perhaps a system like that could have a ‘pay to betray’ element in which changing sub-faction cost money.
Players also like to speculate on new items for Ingress. In the past, these have been reserved for sponsors, but could the right item become a pay-only item.
New playing styles, something that Niantic seems to be testing, might also allow for new payment opportunities. Geek Native’s previously suggested alternative anomaly designs, some of which might allow for extra micro-payments. For example, could players pay to encourage portals back to stability more quickly?
Photograph via NiaOops.com.
Start up a conversation in the comments below.