Niantic Labs Bears More Fruit: Location-Based Massively Multiplayer Game Ingress Hits Google Play

We’ve seen startups tackle location-based multiplayer gaming, with title’s like Massive Damage’s Please Stay Calm and Shadow Cities out of Grey Area, but now a heavyweight player has entered the ring with Ingress, an app created by Google’s Niantic Labs. The Niantic project got a lot of buzz last week thanks to a mysterious teaser, and previously the group was responsible for Google’s location-based discovery app Field Trip. Now, Ingress is launching on Google Play, offering a way for players with invites to join in unravelling a global mystery.

The game is like other map-based ones we’ve seen before, plotting in-game elements to real-world locations, so that users can interact with the locales on their Android devices to unlock clues about what’s going on, gather objects, work together and against other human players in a two-sided battle to determine the future of humanity. It all sounds very high-stakes, and it isn’t just about interacting in a virtual world overlaid on top of our own; there’s also a shared goal, with details gradually revealed on a virtual corkboard at the Niantic Project website.

The plot involves two warring sides, the Enlightened and the Resistance, who have opposite views on what to do with a new source of powerful flowing energy that can be tracked via the app and emerges at various real-world sculptures and structures. The energy maps in the game strongly remind me of J.J. Abrams’ Fringe, a similarity that Frederic pointed out in his earlier article but that’s become even more apparent as a source of inspiration now that the cat’s out of the bag.

Again, access to this app is invite-only, so you’ll have to wait for Niantic to ask you to join in the ongoing battle in Ingress. They’re calling it a closed beta, but I wonder if limiting access is more about building a sense of mystery and secrecy into the game world as it is about controlling player group size.

In the past, I’ve found in speaking to the developers behind these kinds of games (Massive Damage and Grey Area, specifically), that people generally still play these at home or in the office, at stationary places rather than in an exploratory fashion by wandering the world. Ingress seems to be more about seeking out locations, based on the trailer you can see below, so I’m curious to see if player patterns differ here, or if Google can be more successful in getting players off the couch and out into the world. It’s clear that with Field Trip and now with Ingress, Niantic has a common theme (and possibly a mission) of motivating mobile users to get out and engage with their¬†surroundings.