Ingress creator on turning Earth into the game’s battlefield (Wired UK)


Niantic Labs/Google

John Hanke is best known as the man behind Google Earth, but now
his focus is running Niantic Labs — a startup inside of Google,
that is primarily focussed on creating and running the massively
multiplayer online and in-real-life game Ingress, which launches on
iOS today

Ingress is a kind of capture-the-flag game, which has
what Hanke describes as a “JJ Abrams, sci-fi” feel to it. “The
basic premise is pretty simple — it’s to turn the whole globe into
a giant game board with these portals as these active spots that
you compete for and interact with.” When you sign up, you join one
of the two teams and start to capture portals by visiting them,
because you’re trying to join them together to take over the world.
“It’s sort of like Risk, but with a million people all

In fact even ahead of the iOS launch, the game has had four
million Android downloads and is played in 200 different

John Hanke

Niantic Labs/Google

Ingress has two hidden agendas, according to Hanke.
Firstly the “active spots” that people have to interact with are
often historical markers or pieces of public art, so participants
inadvertently end up learning more about and feeling more connected
to their neighbourhood or city. Secondly, it encourages people to
get out and about — either on foot or by bike. Hanke says that he
personally loves “to walk through a city and explore” and that
while there was never an Google mandate to make it so, Ingress is
to some extent proving critics wrong about the effect technology
has on exercise.

“People tell us that they’re losing weight. We don’t market it
as a health app, but it does cross over with that and for a lot of
people it is that extra nudge just to walk a little bit more.” It’s
not just people who are walking and cycling that are playing
Ingress, though. According to Hanke, people have rented
helicopters to go and capture portals, airline pilots are playing
Ingress as they fly around the world and people play with
their phones mounted on their motorcycles.

He even tells the story of one woman who got to be the star of
own adventure movie for the day. Her local faction rented a plane
to take her to a remote site in Alaska so she could try to capture
a portal there. A storm was setting in and she had thirty minutes
to knock out the portal, and she did it just as her plane was icing
up. “She admits she never would have done that on her own, but that
day she was Jason Bourne.”

This is just one of many stories about people working together
as part of Ingress that Hanke knows intimately. “A lot of
the gameplay of Ingress doesn’t happen within the game, it
happens in Google Hangouts or on discussion forums and in chat
rooms where people are making plans.” At one point, 1,200 players
from 20 countries came together to help out in Operation Ode to Joy
— a strategic manoeuvre in which they intended to take over the
whole of Europe together.

Ingress – It’s Time To MoveIngress

These operations are often initiated thanks to some of the games
within the game that the Ingress team creates. Virtual
objects and sometimes physical clues are dropped into the game and
the players will have to find them and help them travel across the
world. “It’s almost like directing flowing water,” says Hanke.

Such is the fervour of some Ingress players that they
have even had tattoos done of the logo. There are frequently
international meetups and players also take the initiative to
organise their own events. When players go off on an adventure of
their own, they often document it and make a video of it, which
will then be shown on the Ingress YouTube channel, along with a
weekly show that progresses the game’s storyline. “With the social
media, plus YouTube plus the mobile game altogether form a new kind
of entertainment experience — I would say it’s bigger than just a

The social aspect of Ingress goes beyond purely the
formation of a gaming community though. There have been several
Ingress-initiated engagements occurring along the way and
people often gang up and take road trips together. “Really extreme
players use it like AirBnB,” says Hanke. “They will use it find
couches to crash on.”

Ingress has attracted a wide-ranging and far-flung
bunch of dedicated players, many of whom have no history of playing
MMOs. The demand for these real-world experiences has taken Hanke
somewhat by surprise, he admits, but clearly there is a desire for
gaming experiences that penetrate virtual boundaries.

“People go into this bubble of them and their phone, and they’re
no longer present in the world. Technology doesn’t have to be that
way, it can actually enhance your interactions with other people
and the world around you,” he says.

Ingress is available to download on iOS from today.

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