The world around you is not what it seems. It’s happening all around you. They aren’t coming. They’re already here.
Such is the introduction for Ingress, what is turning out to be, a viral augmented reality (AR) hit by Google. Despite being an invite-only beta, it is already whipping up amazing interest on social media sites.
Disclaimer – Ingress is still in a semi-closed beta. You can download the app from the US Google Play store, and install it, but you won’t be able to play unless you secure an invite code. There is talk that the game may be opened up at the end of the month. To reinforce this, just read the #IngressInvite tag on G+!
If that isn’t cryptic enough, there is a whole mythos popping up and being stirred by the Niantic Project.
Ingress (on Google Play – you need an invite code to play) is shaping up to be a massively-multiplayer augmented reality game that takes place in the real world. Currently it is only available for some Android-based smartphones. A related application, Field Trip (see below for more) has already been released for Android, and the page states that it is coming soon for iOS. I expect that given time, we will also see Ingress for iOS, since both Ingress and Field Trip are from the same developer - but maybe not straight away. It goes without saying that a massively multiplayer game needs as many players as possible, so this is perhaps another point that suggests there will eventually be an iOS version released – but this is purely my speculation.
I first twigged to Ingress as it started popping up in my Google+ circles, and increasingly it, and related tags regularly turned up in trending topics on G+ (see #Ingress on G+).
As an augmented reality game, it requires you to get out into the world, and get active – much like geocaching. The level of interest I’ve seen online, including by geocachers in my Google+ circles, suggests that Ingress is going to be huge. I don’t think geocaching is ‘threatened’ by Ingress, indeed it makes a good parallel activity to play around your home town, where you have likely cleared out all the caches! You can even find people going through a similar process with Ingress, that many of us have been through with geocaching – particularly recognising the benefits of exercise and discovery that location-based activities provide.
It is worth noting that Niantic Labs, have also produced another Augmented Reality application recently called Field Trip. Ingress and Field Trip (on Google Play) are connected by more than just the same development lab within Google. I believe that they are both being used to build up a comprehensive database of interesting real-world locations – with Field Trip providing the ‘real world’ interpretation, and Ingress providing a fantasy gaming construct built around these points of interest. It is possible to submit your own ‘portal’ for Ingress, and I’d wager a bet that if the spot is interesting enough, you’ll see it turn up in Field Trip around the same time. If you look closely at the images for both apps on Google Play, you’ll notice that the same portal features in both.
So there is clearly a larger plan at play here by Google via their Niantic Labs project to build and deploy an increasing number of augmented reality applications, and at the same time, grow a large supporting dataset.
So, how is Ingress played? I’m not going to tell you. That’s half the fun, exploring the web, finding out the details, discovering strategy, and even choosing sides. Despite the lack of invites, and the lack of availability from the Google Play stores down under, it is still surprising to see Ingress play starting up in places like Launceston, Tasmania; and Wellington, New Zealand.
Me? I’m itching to play. As far back as the start of 2002, I was outlining a possible GPS Domination/Capture The Flag game and how it could be played. Scout from Geodashing, later created a game called MinuteWar that likely came out of these early discussions on the geodashing mailing list. Ingress definitely fits the same mould, but it is writ much, much larger, and likely to deliver on a global scale.
Heck, I’m even eyeing up Android devices just so I can play Ingress!