Thoughts on Ingress game balance – part 1
This is the first installment of a longer article about the game balancing issues that many players are experimenting.
It is the result of many contributions from players across Germany, Switzerland, Italy.
Game balance (that is, the absence of it) is, in our opinion, one of the major flaws in Ingress.
If you do not know what we mean, imagine a medium-sized city. Say 100 to 200 portals. The typical size of a european city with so few portals is fairly small. One can very easily reach any portal with 10-20 minutes biking and/or public transportation. And there are a lot of such cities around, of course.
Under these conditions, the present rules are not robust enough and they potentially lead to a situation where one faction completely dominates the city, holding nearly 100% of the portals.
The reason is that the game at the moment has one huge positive-feedback loop: a faction dominating the city always has better inventory (which they cannot use due to lack of targets, btw), while the dominated faction has no way of getting the xmps they need to claim the city back. Moreover, massively linked portals get even stronger after the last update and destroying and rebuilding requires now a much larger effort, due to the xm drain upon firing/deploying
This means that the dominating faction gets stronger, and the dominated one weaker. There are examples of whole cities being turned entirely into L8 farms, and staying like that for days, since the other faction has no other option than to painfully wait for the portals to yield enough xmps to take them down.
This evolution is unavoidable, as long as both factions play the game the way it is meant to be played. Presently the aim of the game is to conquer all portals, because in doing so you get good inventory and more options for building fields. Any faction who is not struggling for complete control over its city is not playing the game properly, according to the current rules. Then it is enough for a faction to have a handful of very active players to completely take over the city.
On the other hand, any situation of absolute domination kills the game. The dominated faction has no means of recovering in any short time. In most cases it loses all motivation. The dominant faction is left unchallenged, and most players will agree that this is terribly boring.
Feel free to have a look at middle-sized european cities on the intel. You’ll find quite a few being in a completely unbalanced situation. A few minutes of exploration are enough to find tens of cases. Then look again after a few days: you’ll see that the situation didn’t change. Those cities are, to all extents, lost to the game.
Presently, the only way out of this kind of impasse is to wait. Wait until some of the more active players of the dominant faction eventually get bored and leave, or wait until some very active agent joins the dominated faction. Basically agents just have to cross their fingers and hope for the best.
This is why we think that the game dynamics should be improved. We collected our proposals under three main topics. We will report now about the first one.
Easing recovery from unbalanced situations
Big, spectacular actions, like conquering 100% of the portals in a city are nice, and should not be made any harder than they are now. Such operations are the best occasions for refining the organization of a team and bonding with other players; moreover, showing-off and bragging are part of the game. So the game should be robust enough to tolerate such extreme situations, while forcing them back to a saner balance in a relatively short time. Moreover, conquering portals is now the main element of any game strategy. Portals are needed both for inventory and for linking/fielding. This encourages lousy strategies, where one concentrates on item harvesting instead of item managing. The game should decouple the “rough” aspect of item collection from the more strategically interesting one of portal ownership and field building.
Concerning this problem, we would like to propose these improvements:
a) The rules for item collection should be made more complex. You presently get a lot of stuff if a portal belongs to your team, and you pay a lot of xm to get mostly nothing if it’s an enemy portal. A very basic improvement would be to just make the item collection completely symmetric. The aim of the game should not be to have more xmps than your foes, but to make a better use of them. A more interesting situation is when portals give you different items depending on whether they are friendly or enemy. A scenario where friendly portals give you mostly defensive items (resonators, shields) and enemy portals give you mostly offensive items (xmps, powercubes), would introduce some negative feedback in the loop, and automatically allow the game to go back to the equilibrium: the dominated faction will end up having lots of xmps to take the city back. Moreover, all players would have interest in keeping some enemy portals around since they are the only reliable source of xmps and powercubes. Indeed, this would add an extra layer of strategical planning to the game.
b) The new rules that allow links to contribute to portal defense are nice if you think of large fields and long links. What happens in real life, however, is that people use this to make farms harder to destroy. To improve this, we propose that only long links should contribute to portal defense. Or, that the portal “pays” the improved defense with much faster decay. If you think that this will make your L8 farm more vulnerable, well, you are right (we also believe, en passant, that high-level farms should not last longer than the time of a burn out, in any case). Note that the new rule does not act symmetrically for dominated and dominating faction: when you have 500 xmps you really don’t care if you will spend 5 or 10 to take down a portal. If you only have 20, that makes some difference indeed.
c) Similarly, the new rules that make you pay xm for each xmp you fire, penalize mostly the team who has to recover from a very unbalanced situation (trivially, they are the ones who have to fire more xmps, and the dominating faction is very likely to own many more power cubes). The xm drain could be determined in a dynamic way by the number of friendly portals hit by the xmp: this way, if you are recovering from a highly unbalanced situation (i.e. attacking only enemy portals, with no friendly portals close by), you only get very small xm drain. If you are consolidating your dominance (i.e. you already own all of the portals in a given area, and you are attacking the only one missing) then you hit many friendly portals, and your xm drain is much larger.
d) In order to help new players leveling up in highly unbalanced cities, the AP gain for hacking an enemy portal may be increased when there are no friendly portals nearby. On a similar note, AP gain for very isolated portals could be made higher, to encourage players to visit them even if they are far away from the bulk of the portal population.
e) The Jarvis virus and its counterpart may help in rebalancing a highly asymmetric situation if, for example, they are dropped more frequently by enemy portals. Since these are relatively new additions to the game, however, it is not clear yet what their impact will be.
This is all for this first post. In the next days, we will be adding two more sets of ideas, namely:
Part 3: Limiting the impact of very active high-level players
For the time being, what do you think of the game balancing? Do you find it adequate? How is the situation in your own city?