Google is Taking over the World (Post #65534 aka Ingress)
Years and years of harbinger-talk about Google being the next Dr Evil should have worn out even its worst critics online, but Google itself has not been resting on it’s laurels (or even it’s search engine). This blogpost will barely scratch the surface of its grand plan by looking at Google Glass (augmented reality glasses) and Ingress (an augmented reality game by Niantic@Google).
Google Glass aka Project Glass, posted here on Google+ (as possibly a backdoor advertisement to the less successful, to Facebook, latter product) basically aims to fit the works of a smartphone (which in turn tries to fit the workings of a laptop and telephone and camera) into a pair of glasses.
Let’s ignore the obvious dangers of talkie-walking or scrambling on roads and being able to record questionable scenes and sounds. Google Glass, by virtue of hitching a ride onto a more essential product – glasses (and potentially lenses for die-hard contact-lens wearers), will soon take the place of the smartphone (depending on the quality and processing power of the former). The immediate benefits for the consumers are apparent:
- minimal carrying burden
- hands-free convenience
- look-and-speak photography/videography/videoconferencing
- no more searching for discount coupons (digital or hardcopy
- lower risk of loss/damage
- safety (at least a measure of it)
- a bionic transformation for users unfortunate enough to be physically incapable of using a computer/phone – eye tracking technology is something comparable to the muscle/eye-twitch tracker that Stephen Hawking uses
- biometric scanning
The potential business benefits for Google could be colossal:
- first-mover advantage (and hopefully Apple or another company does not grab the second-mover advantage
- running momentum from Google Phone and abovementioned services without the problems posed by trying to compete with a hot smart-phone market
- direct integration with Google+, Maps, Drive, Skype, Google’s Skype’s spin-off Web RTC, Ingress (see below)
- non-stop influx of data – from GPS, to audiovisual, to location-biased google searches, to detection of dead spots etc.
Talk about brand extension.
The crucial link between Glass and Ingress would Google Maps – Ingress will serve to augment (no pun intended) the strengths of Google Maps (simplicity and features) as well as collectively boost the popularity and update the prowess of each related product.
Ingress, also featured on Google+, In a rapidly increasing market of games, from free-to-play models with optional purchases for some (Farmville, Path of Exile, Dota 2) to subscription (WoW) to one-time payment (everything else) examples, the influences on society caused by games can range from environmentalism to becoming a case study for bio-terrorism.
Gameplay-wise, Ingress encourages small-team play on foot in urbanised, population-dense areas like cities, and vehicle-powered play in larger, rural areas. In game “portals”, points of contention, can only be accessed (“hacked”) once every 5 minutes, for a maximum of 4 times every ~4 hours. Items can be thus gained from friendly portals, while enemy portals yield items and a bit of Experience (“AP”) in return for getting zapped. Portals can be captured using “resonators” (that degrade over time and can be “recharged”) and protected with “shields”. Nearby portals can be further linked (for even more AP) if the player holds the “portal keys” of the other linking portal. Player actions are determined by a resource (“XM”) that is found abundantly near portals and sporadically otherwise.
Gameplay aside, Google seeks a strategic foothold, intentional or not, as illustrated in list-form below:
1) The Grand Plan: The Cloud is Greater than the Office
From beta-testing to open-source software to forums, the new age brings a new source of labour, time and energy – the Cloud aka the Crowd (as in crowd-funding). Ingress leverages the appeal of a game and pools the real efforts in a virtual world to the possible fruits including constant updates to Google Maps (it requires photographs of landmarks, on which portals are created by the game admins), and travel data ranging from population density to travel time to obstructions and wifi/GPS/deadspots.
Integrated with Google Glass, there is potential to view a live videoclip directing a search-user from Point A to Point B between landmarks, or coordinate meeting points with friends, or organise events that make the Amazing Race seem like child’s play. If Google does something right, it is recognising that data is king.
Furthermore, Ingress allows for…
2) Advertising without Advertisements, or, Partnerships without (visible) Partners
Portals are located “on” landmarks. Landmarks are (currently) player-submitted. Portals are maximised when players either pass by (negligible time for 1 hack) or stay for 20-minute blocks (maximum hacks). It doesn’t take knowledge of rocket science to see where this is going.
Would you like some coffee with your 20-minute hackfest? How about cake? Are you waiting for your newbie friend(s) to show up? Have a seat in our nice little cafe while you surf the net and charge your phone and advance world domination in the name of your faction. Furthermore, since linking and recapturing portals requires a significant amount of walking back and forth (or virtual tag with your faction mates), shrewd collaboration amongst and within shopping centres, museums, cultural centres, tourist attractions (and amongst tour guides) etc. could yield portal dense areas. XM, the respawning resource in the game, could also be scattered along trails or concentrated in certain areas on event days to accompany and illustrate the hype and real-world crowding.
Hey, maybe gamers will be nerdy enough not to buy anything, but even if a low % of them make a purchase, driving traffic to a physical area (digitally) would yield a significant increase in interest if not revenue.
Currently, as a beta, Google has not yet offered any cash input or payout from the game itself, although it is anyone’s guess as to which companies relying on physical shops and locations for events would ride on this platform. This brings us to…
3) The City (and Country) that Never Sleeps
The game server is up 24/7 (even though stability is not perfect yet), serving a player base suitably distributed across celestial and biological time-zones. This opens up a couple of interesting possibilities all by itself.
Health-wise (amidst most other video games that are sedentary in nature), Ingress has been meme-ified simply as such:
In terms of travel, it could well prove to (in conjunction with point #1 & #2) model and remodel the way people travel. Following the collection of travel data gleaned from players, government agencies could re-plot travel routes as well as litter incentives (both in-game and out) along areas that would encourage greater use of public transport if so desired. Ridiculous as it may sound, cross-island and cross-country links between portals have been created, which logically leads to even possible consequences on ferry trips and plane flights should Ingress become as widely played as Farmville or Bejeweled.
4) Virtual or Reality
Last but not least, video gaming to date seems yet to find a portal through the glass door (or ceiling if you may) that separates the real world from the physical. Many games have in-game shops that use real money, or capitalise on team-chat or social interactions, but few if any (please comment if you know of examples) require players to both require (and favour) travelling in groups as well as possess a device capable of accessing the internet and GPS services.
Blurring the line between the “real” physical world and the digital “virtual” one might reconcile concepts including the growing dichotomy of physical versus blog stores, and remove the stigma of the unfit, nerdy and socially-handicapped gamer (it helps if almost everyone can play it). This might just hasten the progression to a new age in which space, economy and the network that connects humans (like the synapses that connect neurons) may be revolutionised.
Oh, did I mention this (as well as games and subsequent software of this genre) might just help to drive sales of connectivity-capable devices?
Google’s work doesn’t simply stop at this sweet couple made in cyberspace. A wide range of digital and hardware strategies currently being developed includes search monopoly/bias, establishing a free wi-fi zone, digital coupons (read: retail partnerships), apps (even on other platforms), and even partnering law enforcement agency FBI. It is working on self-driving cars as well (the inspiration of one of my short stories).
TL;DR, expansion into retail, telecommunications and even law enforcement is not beyond the juggernaut that is Google – and things are going to get very, very real.