Thoughts on Ingress game balance – part 3


This is the third and last installment of a longer article about balancing issues in Ingress. You can find the first part here, and the second one here. I remind you that this is the result of a brainstorming by several players across Europe. I don’t claim that all the ideas here are mine, nor that all the contributors agree at 100% with all the ideas…

In the two previous parts we have discussed how recovery from an unbalanced situation could be made easier, and how unbalanced situations could be made less desirable from the point of view of game strategy.

Now, as everybody knows, no matter what the teams decide to do and the strategy they decide to adopt, the game is always extremely vulnerable to the actions of a few very active players.

That is why this last part will discuss this particular issue.


Limiting the impact of very active high-level players

A handful of very active high-level players is enough to decide the faction who dominates a small city. While such players are an asset for both teams, their impact on long-term game balance could be limited, while not depriving them of the fun of the game, of course. Extremely active players should not be able to spoil the game in a whole city.

There are several ways in which this situation can be improved. The challenge is to find a solution which does not frustrate the active players (which have the right to enjoy the game like the rest of the agents). These are a few proposals:

a) A player could have a stamina variable which gives gamers an extra boost for their first actions (throwing a burster, droprate when hacking a portal), and some penalty for quickly repeated actions. The stamina might be falling off exponentially with the number of actions, say from 1.5 down to 0.5 and should recreate slowly over time, like a full reset in 2 hours when the user isn’t playing. The aim is to give occasional gamers some extra motivation to also attack portals which are harder to capture. It would also allow teams to hold a hidden reserve of “silent” agents, e.g. for tactical reasons. This is more effective than what happens with the new rules about the xm cost of xmp firing, since no matter how many powercubes you have, after a while your xmps will inflict half the damage. However, if you are ready to use a lot of them, you will still be able to have a big impact on the game, which seems fair: active players should be able to keep playing as long as they want (although challenged by more complex gameplay), and not being constantly frustrated by the xm drain.

b) Stamina would limit, in part, all actions of a player. On the other hand, one may want to specifically limit only the attacks of a very active player. The xm drain upon xmp firing does solve in part this problem, but it is most likely an overkilling. If the aim is to forbid one player to completely take down a portal of arbitrary level (in the same way as a single player cannot build alone a portal of arbitrary level), then the implementation could be more along the lines of limiting the damage a player can do to a single portal, not limiting the player altogether. One could imagine scenarios where a portal becomes immune to attacks of a given scanner after having received some damage, because it learns how to defend itself. Immunity could be native or triggered by a mod, and implemented in the same way as cooldown (i.e. as a per-user, per-portal dead-time, reset for example after 30 minutes). The player can still move to a different portal and keep playing, no need for him/her to turn off his/her scanner. One can also imagine some extremely rare items that, when used by a player, change the imprint of his/her scanner and reset all immunities established against him/her until that moment. Or a mod that inhibits the immunity of a specific enemy portal against all users. The amount of energy a player can subtract from a portal before it develops immunity should be a function of the portal level and the player level. It seems sensible that if a player can build alone a portal of a given level, he/she must also be able to take it down alone, without many difficulties. On the other opposite, if a portal needs 8 players to be setup, it is unreasonable to ask that 8 players join their efforts to take it down, as this would make the game too static (unless, of course, said portal were inherently less stable, i.e. with much shorter decay times). Some tuning of the immunity could certainly be devised in such a way that on average destroying a portal requires efforts by one fraction of the players it takes to set it up.

c) To further discourage scenarios where 8+ high-level players turn a whole city into a farm, building high-level portals could need more “vertical” team play, involving also players of lower levels. One possibility would be to forbid direct deploy of L7 and L8 resos. They could only be used to upgrade an existing lower-level reso. This way high-level players are forced to keep around also some intermediate-level portals (and/or players) if they want to build high-level portals. This could be enforced more widely in a three-stage process: direct deploy only of L1-L2-L3, upgrade to L4-L5-L6, then upgrade to L7-L8. This will force teams to work together for high-level farms (not just the high-level players) or push lone wolves to have a more balanced inventory (that is, keeping only L8 resos would be pointless, since you cannot deploy them: you need to have an L1 and L4 too). Upgrading instead of deploying is, after all, already common practice any time you don’t want to draw too much attention. A somewhat weaker implementation could consist in removing the xm drain for reso upgrade. With some tuning, one could make direct deploy of high-level resos extremely expensive, and favour the upgrade instead. A nice side-effect of this is that we can keep all cities lively and enjoyable for players of all levels, without the need to set up dedicated playgrounds: low levels (players/portals/resonators) are needed and play a crucial role in the game, they are not just a not-yet-high-enough-level. This will probably also boost the recruitment efforts in those cities where a large number of players already reached a high level.

Enough for this last part, and enough with the balancing problem. My next post will be, most likely, about a few ideas on how to make the game more time-dependent, i.e. waking each morning and opening the intel and/or the scanner without knowing what to expect :)

In the meantime: how do you feel about extremely active players? Are they really a problem, or is this just a perception in some very special scenarios? And in case you are wondering, I do consider myself as a fairly active player. This does not prevent me from spotting what I consider to be weaknesses in the game logic. How about you? Feel free to voice your opinion in the comments here: as usual I enjoy discussing with you, and I’ll do my best to answer most of them.

At the end of these three posts on game balance, I’d like to thank all the agents who contributed. This was started by  a g+ post by agent chaosline, and was enthusiastically endorsed by agents aamuuninen, fnord23 and barlow (who chaired the discussion and edited the final document, and is now posting this for you). New interesting ideas were contributed by many others of which I only know the g+ name, not the in-game nick. I’ll not mention them here explicitly to better preserve their privacy. But I have all the discussions logged, so feel free to claim credit for your own ideas if you wish: I’ll be glad to confirm it :)

Early exposure to readers/critics helped in refining the proposals and spot some obvious inconsistencies, as well as adding last-minute ideas: thanks to agents guschtel, balrog, aspergillusflopp, tille, morghulis, sterlak (plus, again, the ones I don’t know the nicknames of) for the time spent in reading the article and giving feedback.

Part 1: Easing recovery from unbalanced situations

Part 2: Making the coexistence of the two factions more convenient

Part 3: Limiting the impact of very active high-level players

About Author

Proud member of Enlightenment teams in Freiburg (DE), Geneva (CH), Rome (IT)


  1. Good stuff but here in California game play has slowed dramatically due to the xm cost to do anything as they try and slow down player advancement.
    Maybe do a story on this.

    • Hi Bob. I am reluctant to write about situations I do not know personally. I wrote these posts only because I have played in different cities, being both from the dominating and dominated factions, hence I wanted to share my thoughts with a wider audience. Concerning the slow-dowsn due to the new rules, I’ll have a look at what happens in my hometown. It seems clear, for the moment, that it makes the recovery more difficult, but we’ll how things go in a few days…

      • doesnotmatter on

        The problem is when new players try to play in a town dominated by the other faction. Especially high level players because they make the game unfun for others. I personally live in a town like this, it is overrun with resistance to the extent that enlightened players often get frustrated with in the first few hours and quit playing the game. They have created 150+ portals and they have them all at levels 6, 7, or 8. They have 99.9% linked in one way or another, and if you attempt to destroy any portal they charge it remotely while you are attacking it. Making it impossible to do anything but waste your busters. Then if by chance you do find a white one and claim it. Within the hour they destroy it and jump it up to a high level so you are stuck waiting for a portal to be neglected and die out. Making it not fun for anyone but the level 8 players that were fortunate to have found the game early on. They also share accounts, have several accounts each player and have stockpiles of items. I understand that the point of the game is to have your faction come out ahead but if you are running off new players faster than they are joining then the AP is not flowing for either team. It’s going to kill a fun game fast. The game is dead for any enlightened in my city and the neighboring towns.

  2. short answer, the long left for when I am not stunned by waking up and trying to read such post size and I did
    the first part: interesting ideas, controversial and debatable ideas.
    second part, well, here we started drifting …
    third: it was proved necessary?

    really want a facebook game? (“Energy”)

    by the way, now the shields, give us more mitigation.

    we are in a game that is BETA, send all this “brainstorming sessions” that you want, but in the end I hope survives and if the traditional innovation you propose happens would be a horrible game (in the sense that it will be another game in which wait for the “energy” or pay for the potion …)

    that’s my point of view, maybe when I finish waking read back what you put in line and makes sense (I hope)

    google translator

    from español Argentino to google’s north american english (or something like that)

    • Hi KuroroLGC. Concerning whether this was necessary or not. I wanted to write it, so I wrote it. Not sure what you mean by necessary. Apart from this, I’ll wait until you wake up and post the rest :)

  3. orion13790 on

    I *love* the idea of forcing resonator deployment via upgrades. As a lower level opposition player in an area with several active L8s, the recent shield changes have made it all-but-impossible to significantly impact portals without paying a huge cost. And with AP gain centered on link and field creation, opposition progress is going to slow to a crawl which in turn eliminates targets for the dominant faction. We need a way to incentivize the maintenance of lower level portals instead of massive L8 farms.

    • Hi Orion. Yes, the game seems to consider (imvho) building large L8 farms as the ultimate goal, while field building is much more interesting.
      The recent changes have also made sure that the L8 farms are indestructible: requiring 4-5 players to team up to take them down is equivalent to let them stand forever. It’s defintely a shame, as it makes the game more boring, imvho.

  4. I am very upset to read. If I work twice as much, I look forward to some bonuses, right? I know some people who take vacation specifically for the game. They want to become a stronger players faster, applied to this much effort. For example, I specifically played a few nights, traveled with half of the city. There is a risk that changes when the game becomes less interesting to me, because with the increase in the player level increases the number of constraints. In addition, these changes make the game just a team game.I did most of the time I play one. For a variety of reasons: mood, work, free time, etc. These changes make me change my plans. And I do not like it. If I decided to play all night for rapid growth, I would hate to see poor performance in a few hours of play because “stamina works”.
    I am convinced that we need bonuses for low-level (or opposite) players. For example more items at hacking portals, especially bombs and a little less – power cubes. Also energy consumption can be made dependent on the level of the portal. For example portal level 1 loses 5% xm per day, the portal Level 8 – 20% per day.
    In any case, the introduction of limits for high-level players will make the game much less attractive.
    Also I do not like three-stage deploing reso.We have a distance between the nearest cities are measured in hundreds of kilometers .. How will I be alone sets the portal and make the link? And if we talk about the game within the city, I believe that the problems with the current setting is not. Portals 6th level changes color several times a day. And this with only 14 players of the 8th level in the city with a population of 1.5 million people! The alignment of forces is constantly changing.

    In conclusion, I repeat: more opportunities for new and low-level players and no additional limits for high-level players .. I hope that my opinion will be heard. Thanks.

    FanCarver. Enlightened. Siberia. Russia.

    Ps: Sorry for my english, it’s to blame google translate. :)

    • Hi Alexey. Let me clarify that these are NOT REAL GAME CHANGES. There are just ideas of a few players. I am not a developer and I am not announcing new features of the game.
      I understand your point. I hope you can accept that some of us think differently :)

    • You and Andrea are both discussing things from a personal point of view. You are in a city where there is a lot of churn, most of his ideas, including these, would not significantly change the swapping of control of pportals in your cities, but it would rightly make leveling up a process that is easier at the beginning and harder at the higher levels and the cost for your strength to be greater.

      Look at it this way, you can do with a handful of XM or resonators what someone half your level would take three times as much equipment to accomplish. Forcing you to take longer to do it solo or to bring along a lower level player to help decrease the time would not be an unfair requirement. Your time is still spent more efficiently, and your desire to cover a broader scope of portals rather than protecting a small group of them would be untouched.

      Now some of Andrea’s ideas are pretty interesting, but I think they are a little too specific for his circumstance, and your problems with his suggestions are much to specific to yours.

      There exists a middle ground incorporating some of his changes, and tweaking others that would result in a much more balanced game with a fair amount of faction shift at the city level. The question is just will the developers embrace any of those?

      • Hi iLogos, I tend to be optimistic. We have seen that the developers are not afraid of changing the behavior of the game following players suggestions.

        First of all, with the new shieldings, in many cities the game will just stop in a couple of weeks. So eventually they will have to realize that either they focus the game on large cities (which is perfectly legitimate of course) or they re-tune it to make it also playable in smaller cities.

        What I fear is that with their approach of having global parameters (global xmp damage, global xmp range, global xm drains upon standard actions, presumably also global droprates) it will be almost impossible to keep the game interesting for everybody. They will really need *local* parameters, to be tuned (possibly automatically) based on portal/player level and density, faction balance, and so on. The drawback is that the gameplay is not identical everywhere: the damage your xmp will do varies depending on the city you are playing in presently. On the other hand, the tuning could be such that the *challenge* you face is the same everywhere, which is clearly not the case now.

        Moreover, I am assuming that the last thing they want is that the news start spreading that ingress is only playable by teenagers without a job and/or a family (ok, I’m exaggerating here), and that you must sacrifice to it your holidays and 80% of your spare time. Because this would mean that *most* potential players will be scared even before trying the game. So again, somehow they will have to find a way to make the game playable by not-very-active players too.

  5. Daniel ( dgl3906464) on

    Stamina and immunity seem counter-productive to me, in terms of trying to balance: an L1 player literally has to fire hundreds of xmp’s to have an effect. This proposal would ruin their ability to play.
    I like the upgrade only option, but it hurts sparsely populated areas.
    The negative effect of active high level players is limited to destruction. I think that recent costs and shield mods help this greatly, as much as I hate them. That being said, the easiest way to correct for this is recruiting. Go. Find players. They will beat the breakers.

    • Daniel, this post is particularly focused on high-level players, not L1. With the present game design L1 players are in any case either forced to be confined in some dedicated playground, or to team up with some high-level. I don’t think that the picture you draw, of an L1 firing hundreds of xmps to take down alone an L8 portal happens frequently in real life. Concerning recruiting, this was discussed widely in the past days. I agree that it helps, but it is not the solution.

  6. Once upon a time there were few agents and few portals. Talk about grinding it out. Even with the limited set of game rules, it took a while for a charter agent to hit L8. In the cold (if you live in the Northern hemisphere). I started playing in March. It took me 7 weeks to hit L8. The reason it took me so long is because I actually slacked off for a period of time (another agent starting the same time I did reasonably reached L8 in 4 weeks). But thanks to my faction team mates, the myriad of portals, and the increase of enemy agents creating AP opportunities I didn’t find it difficult to level up (compared to a charter agent).

    Game balance? I did mention the myriad of portals. The number of portals continues to increase. There are some really cool new portals, but I see portal density as a major part of the problem. To begin restoring game balance, let’s stop making portals out of every wall painting, or every rock that marks a commemoration or housing subdivision or donated tree, or every other kind of marker of any type. Why do we have so many? The reason is because as soon as an agent activates their invite they’re suddenly entitled to submit portals. And so they do. I think that should be an earned privilege. I say save that privilege for L8’s, and still the right to submit a portal should come by continuing to earn AP and being rewarded at certain levels. Alternatively, or in conjunction to, perhaps it should be a community approved system, where a portal must garner enough votes to be considered.

    Thing is, “in the real world” would an ingressor just keep opening up new portals, or would an ingressor use some element of surprise tactics and abandon portals and open new portals somewhere else? This game should develop similar mechanics, such that when a new portal comes online, a random portal that is nearby will “lock out” and disappear after fully degrading to neutral. But, how many portals to allow for a given area must also be addressed. Perhaps it should be relative to the estimated MU over a given area. I’ve seen new portals come online that have no strategic value and couldn’t even aid in creating a 1MU field.

    I could keep going on about the over-saturation of portals.

    Another thing about game balance is that it *should* be hard to take over a portal and it *shouldn’t* be hard to defend. Seems like every time something is done to give the attacker an advantage, something else is taken away from the defender. The story line of this game is produced to give os a sense of realism. Think about the game mechanics in terms of how it would likely play out in the real world. Enemy portals suddenly stop attacking and drop more gear? Dumb game change, imho.

    • Hi Jeff, concerning portals, I will post next week some ideas, but I agree with you that submitting portals should be left to experienced players, and that portals need to change in time.

      I must admit I am puzzled by “every time something is done to give the attacker an advantage, something else is taken away from the defender”. Are we talking about the same game? When is the last time that something was done to give advantage for attackers? Because it seem clear to me that the game is now dangerously biased towards defense.

      I just took down a fully shielded and fully linked L8 farm (about 15 portals, I think). It cost me 1 month worth of farming and 2 hours, while it only cost the builders a few resos and 30/40 minutes of time. I simply realized that, as much as I did have fun doing it, it is just not worth it.

      The next L8 farm I will just leave it standing and farm it. And I suspect that unless they seriously make portals more vulnerable, more players will start realizing it, and the competition for portals will be, at last, dead. Which imo is nice, since portal control should not the the main focus of the game, but ymmv. Of course, if you don’t allow people to compete for portals, they won’t ever level up, which means that the game altogether will be dead.

  7. the game is fine the way it is right now, xm cost for deploy/upgrade actions could actually be a tad higher, but no ones perfect around here.

    As for penalizing very active players, I call that serious BS. why should people that define the game be punished for it? that does make no sense at all except if you’re a player youself who is not willing to spend considerable amounts of time to keep his/her city clean.
    then again… statists gonna state…

    In fact all the rebalances you suppose are unneccessary regulation. we have seen in the past what happened when niantic regulated things players didnt like – they broke the game even more, people cried, they broke the game more and more again to fix the things they broke last time, and in the end all we received is that you need and get more xmps for stronger portals. so pretty much we’re back at the beginning of our journey.

    As for you leaving farms standing, (the reply above) thats your problem, and I dont see why anyone else should be impeaded by it. The way I see it stronger portals make the game a better challenge, because yea, the guy just trying to bash it without giving it a thought might have problems. stronger portals doesnt mean shit for the sake of making them harder. they just enforce teamplay and will even more. they make the game better, since now for the first time in ingress history we can actively defend our portals. (meaning that the portal isnt green by the time you read the notification, booted the scanner, found the key and started recharging it)

    Now its no longer the problem of who’s more active and can take over a portal 3 AM in some weird location, no, now its actually about who has the best defense and offense network to maintain their portals.

    As for you taking down portals and speaking about what is the focus in the game, get that:
    It’s about team-play, it always was, and hopefully it always will. This is not Farmville nor WoW. If it takes you a month of farming and 2 hours to take down those portals(you might as well just have burnt them out beforehand, that’d drastically reduced the amount of farming neccessary, and you probably did and counted it towards the 2 hours), heres my advice:
    (caps intended)

  8. Today i took down a fully shielded and linked L7 farm (about 15 portals) with two other agents. Teaming up like this it was a matter of minutes until the farm broke down and it took me at most 20 minutes to restock the parts of my inventory that i used during that takedown. We rebuilt everything to L6 afterwards and the LL agent (L6) made a *lot* of points during that takedown and rebuild-operation. So the game is a lot more about teamplay now just like it should be.

    I like the current changes that there is a possibility to defend portals *if one wants to*. I hope Niantic continues to encourage activity and teamplay with further changes.

    But thats just my very humble opinion.

    • Hey Guschtel, concerning your adventure: let me suggest that you may have been facing old shields. A fully linked and fully shielded farm means that your xmps only make 1-2% damage. Simple calculation seem to suggest that the situation you describe is highly unlikely, unless as I said you where facing the good old useless shields :D
      Apart from this OT, you *know* I’d love to know your opinion on the post itself…

  9. I personally don’t think active, high level players are really a problem, for a few reasons:

    a) High level players need to cooperate, which drives leadership and group interaction for their faction. Active players deploy more portals and gear drop for lower level players. These actions have a buffering effect: Active players have to work harder for less returns, as they cannot use all of the gear they farm, and their efforts provide a bonus for lower players by providing access to lots of friendly portals. Also, active players seem more likely to submit portals, and to be around long enough to build up particular areas.

    b) The shield & link defense changes have significantly altered gameplay enough already so that a solo L8 player will have a very difficult time taking out even a single reinforced portal. Lone wolves taking down farms are a thing of the past (at least till the rules change again). This has had the byproduct of making the game slightly less appealing to high level players who don’t work in groups. By contrast, many of your suggestions would make it less appealing to *all* high level players. This seems to be a clear design decision by Niantic.

    c) Making the game easier for low level players comes up a lot, but I don’t think it’s all that much of a concern. Portal and agent density keep increasing, and new players level up much faster now. Players will likely spend much more of their game career at L8 than at low levels, so it’s worth it to make the game appealing to higher level players.

    I’ll caveat this that while I’m in a larger, very portal dense city, and one faction has a clear advantage, they have not *dominated* the city so much that the other side has given up. I personally have not run into many of the issues that you are addressing, and from my perspective they seem like overly complex solutions to problems that not every location has.

    I would add that several active high level players here in the “underdog” faction have kept their side afloat long enough that they now have a pretty good foothold in the city. This required no special measures other than strong players with dedication. I think most of your proposals seem to be aimed at slowing down or deterring these types of players, which could have the opposite effect than what you intend.

  10. I have been playing for roughly two weeks. This is my take away so far… Leveling up is the most important thing. Get as high as you can as fast as you can. I have worked very hard to find unclaimed portals, maintain them and try to get keys to start linking. So far within a day of completing something be it a link or claimed portal a LVL 7 or 8 has come in destroyed everything and made it to where I can’t attack it to take it back. I would have to resort to the equivalent of going to get my big brother because an older kid is picking on me, get with one or two LVL 8’s for them to take it down so that I or they could reclaim it.

    My suggestion. LVL 1,2 and 3 players be grouped. Only attack each others stuff ( a base layer if you will). If you find an in claimed take it or capture enemy portal up to LVL 3. All links and fields do not affect higher players links and fields. Once you advance to LVL 4 you can upgrade your portals and make them LVL 4 or you can leave them behind for new players. ( this would help with communication as those leveling up can pass along info to new folks) also would start rivalries and bad blood between equal players, not having a LVL 8 bully that I have contend with until I can do something about it. Then group LVL 4, 5, 6 together.. With same things in place. And then finally LVL 6,7,8. Or make 1-4 and then you play with the big boys.

    Or just make it to where you can’t attack anything more than two levels under you. Then to take over a new players stuff you would have to work with lower LVL players to get them to take something over for you to take it. This would take some of the big bully away the LVL 8 running around stomping on everything.

  11. thomasthethinkengine on

    Intriguing post.

    Whether you boost the noobs or shackle the L8s, the question is this: how much more power in the game should be conferred by experience? Could we imagine a game with no levelling up? Where everyone was the same level all the time? Where the only way to get an advantage was to spend more time playing each day?
    This feels like a deep question (not dissimilar to the one being asked by Occupy Wall St,etc) how big should be the gap in access to resources between the privileged and the unprivileged? What should be the Gini coefficient of the game???
    Personally, I think the inequality in the game is not important, so long as the game offers opportunities for every one at every level to have fun.

    I feel like high level players themselves should not be the target, (why level up if there’s no advantage?) so much as the balance of the game.
    To me the issue is dominance of the game by regions – neither blue nor green want to live in regions that are dominated one way or the other for very long.

    Focusing proposed changes on the portals not the players will make people much more receptive to hearing about it, I suspect.

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Thoughts on Ingress game balance – part 3

by Andrea Di Simone time to read: 6 min