Ingress has found success making inroads into the world of mobile augmented-reality games, and its latest moves signal that it's ready for a wider audience.
The game overlays an alien energy invasion onto a real-world map, where physical landmarks become points of incursion for the energy. It's also become stable enough since its debut a year ago that the game's designers at Niantic Labs, a quasi-startup within Google, dropped its invitation-only requirement on Monday. John Hanke, who runs Niantic and founded Keyhole, which became Google Earth when Google acquired it, also announced that the game would leave beta on December 14.
"We have a nice upward trend of monthly active users. Once we get rid of our invite codes we'd love to see that spike," Hanke told CNET in an interview last August.
"Ingress is a game of exploration and discovery in the real world, as well as a way to join in with an amazing global community of Ingress Agents," Hanke wrote on Google+.
The game has united its players beyond the game's winners and losers. "People are playing the same game in countries that have political differences," Hanke said. "People from Israel and Syria met in Cypress to exchange [game] keys."
He noted that Ingress has more than 1 million downloads in its first year; that the Niantic team has participated in live Ingress events in more than 80 cities around the world; and that Ingress "agents," as players are called, have created more than 2,000 user communities.
When asked how Niantic handles all the real-world geographic data that Ingress players must be providing to the company, Hanke denied that Niantic kept track of its users.
"One could look at your Instagram history or geotagged tweets and get a lot of information about you, too," he said.
"We're getting a lot of information about people, but we're respectful of people's privacy. We don't store a continuous history of people's path," Hanke said.
As with many games and other entertainment, some Ingress fans are truly fanatical. At least 12 agents have had real Ingress tattoos etched into their real-world skin, and one player who died had the game logo emblazoned on his tombstone, Hanke said.
Leading up to the end of the Ingress beta, Niantic is running an in-game event called Project 13 Magnus that pits the two teams in a race to find the shards of one team's leader. To support this event, Niantic is holding a contest to find the "top 5" Ingress agents. Winners will be chosen based on their Ingress in-game performance and a "creative social-media submission" and flown to California for a "VIP tour" of the Ingress world in February.
Presumably, that means the Google satellite office in San Francisco. Rules and other details of the contest have not been published yet, with Niantic saying that it will update this Google+ post announcing the contest with them.