Viral marketing efforts last week pointed to a new release from Google’s Niantic Labs. Now, the company has officially gone public with information about Ingress, its new massively multiplayer map-based mobile online augmented reality game (MMMMOARG for…short?). The plot revolves around a mysterious energy force and users attempts to encourage or stifle its proliferation at real sites around the world. This represents a furthering of efforts like Google’s Field Trip app and other MMO games like Please Stay Calm or Shadow Cities – a blurring of lines between real and virtual.
A Whole New (Yet Oddly Familiar) World
John Hanke of Niantic Labs says his company is “draping” its game world over the real world, according to a November 15 article at Forbes. Ingress’s maps feature energy portals at notable city landmarks; players use their phones to check in at as many as possible and lend their character’s strength to the cause.
That cause is a divided affair, a rift between the Enlightened and the Resistance for control. The more players from a side who check in at a given portal (a real place somewhere in the world), the better chance they have at getting (and keeping) control. In addition, players can walk designated real-world paths to pick up points, making their characters stronger and therefore more valuable in portal-flipping efforts.
The game ends when one side controls the world, something Hanke says should take around a year and half, since not just player actions but events released by Niantic will keep things hopping beyond just the “find and control” mechanic. Other content – cutscenes and videos, for example – also come as part of the experience. Right now, the game is invite-only and only on Google Play, with an iOS version expected in a few months.
Change the Game, or Change the Player?
As mentioned above, other map-based mobile games exist on the market but according to TechCrunch, despite aims to overlay real with virtual, most users still play from the confines of their home or office. Niantic hopes to get people actively wandering the world, lending physical presence to online strength. It’s a grand idea, if it works.
What’s also interesting, if Ingress and similar games gain traction, is the potential for subtle content delivery. Already, these virtual universes act as real-life tour guides, ideally giving users the impetus to visit a familiar attraction or often-ignored historic landmark.
Advertising takes minimal effort – an energy hotspot appearing in a large retail store, for example, or in-game events that include industries or companies dealing with the effects of this new energy source. Businesses could even appear as “sponsors” of one game faction or the other, lending their good name to the virtual cause. It’s not hard to imagine a situation where consumer goods purchased outside of the game world confer bonuses inside; this already happens with the release of popular titles like Call of Duty and Halo 4.
Ingress and similar endeavors provide a unique opportunity to change the way players interact with both virtual and real-life environments. As a result, they offer a similar chance to expand the impact of marketing through real-time, unique events – ones already teeming with users and full of content. Savvy marketers just have to find the right niche.
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons