At this point in this blog, I've spoken about Ingress a lot. If you haven't heard about it before - the short version is a massive online game played in the real world with a phone with two teams - green & blue.
As the game aged it became quite clear the lines between these teams became more and more rigid. This is probably because playing the game at the higher regional level took an insane amount of time, money and energy. Losing because someone leaked a detail kept enforcing the notion that more and more walls between the teams had to go up.
Secret groups formed on each respective side, secret tools were built on each respective side and intense competition was born. It was healthy competition, but every so often there were folks who crossed the line in the sand. It may have been physical intimidation team against team or an actual crime with property damage as some folks are so deranged they cannot keep a game in the game.
Anytime an event occurred the worse came out in folks as you would immediately see the poor logic of faulty generalization. It would normally go like:
- A guy on blue is cheating, they all support it!
- Green has no job, none of them have any job!
- Blue stalked me home, they all are stalkers!
This just continued till one of a few things occurred:
- A team switch - a grueling long process to actually move from green to blue or vice versa.
- Quitting - putting down the game and never returning.
- Splitting - Leaving a group, but staying on the same team to distant yourself from x.
What was once a healthy rivalry between teams evolved to a toxic tribalism attitude. I think the company behind this, Niantic, started realizing that as well. Events were slowly becoming less about team vs team and more about every person against every person.
However, 7 years into the game is a bit late to do a massive change like that as folks didn't want to play nice with others. So lets take a look at what happened when Niantic launched Pokemon Go.
It became quite clear that Pokemon Go was launching with 3 teams, even though the lore of the Pokemon universe could have many more. Was Niantic trying to squash the toxicity that occurs when it is simply two teams?
As the game matured it was fairly obvious the 3 distinct teams and the ability to swap teams with $10 (1 year cool down) really changed the culture around the game. The toxic team vs team was just gone - it was more a group effort for every challenge.
Sites and groups spawned that didn't limit joining based on team and meeting folks in person rarely asked the question - "which team?". Which was a large departure from Ingress where folks normally demanded seeing your phone and watch you open the game and confirm you were indeed on a specific team. Sometimes asking as much for you to sign out and sign back in to prove you didn't have multiple accounts.
Though when you take the team vs team nature out of a game - what happens? Those that are attracted to games for the competitive nature and not so much the collection nature fall away.
It appears that the majority doesn't really care in the location-based game space. As you can see from SensorTower, Ingress doesn't even place alongside other location-based games from Niantic or other companies.
This isn't exactly a fair comparison since Ingress launched 8 years ago without in-app purchases and pretty much created this space, but it was interesting to see regardless. So lets pivot one more time and talk about other Niantic games.
Niantic launched after Pokemon Go, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite which of course following the lore of Harry Potter had 4 teams:
- Hufflepuff (badger, yellow)
- Gryffindor (lion, red)
- Slytherin (snake, green)
- Ravenclaw (eagle, blue)
The game became just another collecting game with rivalries between teams/houses never taking off. The game basically broke down to individual achievements for collecting stuff. I was curious what the next Niantic game would be seeing how games in order went:
- Ingress - 2 teams
- Pokemon Go - 3 teams
- Wizards Unite - 4 teams
I then saw the 4th Niantic game - CATAN launching with 3 teams:
- Golden Eagles
- Blue Bears
- Red Wolves
So that was enough proof to me that Niantic would never return to the two team structure as it inevitably leads to a toxic ecosystem where players are forced to live between. So what else in the world is two groups?
Yep - politics. The great Republican vs Democrat. Red vs Blue. Right vs Left. Conservative vs Liberal.
I've noticed with every election I've lived that the party lines have gotten really bad to the point that some folks have ended friendships or stopped speaking to someone solely for the person they vote for.
The problem being that politics isn't ready for a 3rd party as most things are designed for blue vs red. Take the few senators who are independent and don't pledge towards any specific party - they are forced to caucus with one party and that normally falls on the democratic party.
Is the solution that Niantic implemented in games the missing key to solve turmoil in the political spectrum? I'm no political expert so I can't answer that - I'm sure 3 parties would present some new issues much like no parties. I can probably safely say that the politicians of the late 1700s and early 1800s probably did not predict the tribalism that exists today in 2020. I can only fear that each election will continue to escalate tribal behavior until something crosses a line that forces reform.
Yes - I wrote this post on November 3rd, 2020 setting it go live on Sunday - November 8th.