Google launched a closed beta for a free mobile app today for Android called Ingress, which is an alternate reality game where activities accomplished in the real world directly impact what happens in the app.
Created by the Google-owned Niantic Labs, a start-up led by former Google director of geo John Hanke, Ingress allows players from all around the world to connect to the same game and view their surroundings in a new way. Players are assigned missions which are completed by moving from location to location, such as picking up virtual energy (XM) which is collected by traveling along certain walking paths and going to "portals", which are virtually associated with public libraries, museums, art galleries, public spaces and monuments.
Speaking to AllThingsD, Hanke said: "This grew out of us thinking about notions of ubiquitous computing. The device melts away.
"The concept is something like World of Warcraft, where everyone in the world is playing the same game," he said.
The game is set in an alternate version of our world: a mysterious energy has been unlocked by scientists in Europe and it is believed that this energy is powerful enough to control our minds unless we control it first. Players join one of two teams: The Enlightened, who embrace the power, and The Resistance, who fight the power. Players on both sides are up against everyone else in the search for XM and portals – they can track the progress of other players around the world, plan their next step and communicate with others on their side using the intelligence map. Once back at their computers, they can look at the larger area of gameplay and determine what their strategy will be.
Players can cooperate across neighborhoods, cities and countries.
The game also features a business component in the form of advertising, where real physical stores and products are incorporated into the game. Google has deals with Zipcar, Jamba Juice, Hint Water and Chrome apparel and messenger bags. Hanke tells AllThingsD that he believes Ingress will be good for Google's business.
To request access to the beta for Ingress, visit Google Play. The game is optimized for smartphones, not tablets.