Saturday, September 14, 2019

An Open Letter To Niantic

Dear Niantic,
Well it happened, you pushed the payment for the anomaly badge and what we are now seeing is of course a huge pushback. There are some reasons for it, some are valid and some maybe not.
Reason 1: Communication
Dropping this ‘bomb’ one month before the anomaly looks to your player base just bad, especially since you didn’t give a heads up to the POC of the sites. Why is it bad? People feel betrayed, they already have booked their flights, trains or other transportation to the sites, they have paid for their hotels and other things not fully informed about your new conditions. You may think $15 is not the world, which in some places is true, but it’s not mostly about the $15 it's about the fact that people don’t have the feeling you gave them all the information that is needed to make a decision about their participation.
If you would have made an announcement months ago with a statement that the Umbra Anomaly will be a paid anomaly there would have still been push back but not because your communication was bad. 
Reason 2: No alternative
You are not offering enough alternatives for agents with this announcement so close to the anomaly, there should have been some kind of a transition period into paid badges. Right now for onsite agents: Pay for the badge and your actions will be counted or you are not counted for the faction. What would have been the alternative? Setting up a ticket that makes sure that people are signed up for the anomaly and their actions will count for their faction without getting the badge. The paid ticket could also have included the double AP as an extra incentive.
This would have given your Players the possibility to choose if they want to get the badge for the scanner or if they only want to play for their team. It could have been a single time transition option to pave the way into paid badge only anomalies. And you can still do it!
Reason 3: Capitalize on faction volunteer work
In the history of anomalies the main work was done by the factions, from the very beginning Niantic has asked quite a lot from their player base to make these events happen. We are asked to submit POC recommendations and playbox proposals, coordinate lodging deals, encourage our agents to sign up on Niantic’s registration site, provide our agents with all the details of where to be and when for the weekend, secure an afterparty venue, submit missions for Mission Day, help with GoRuck planning when that's a thing. 
There is quite some work that both factions put into these events. And this work made the concept of an Anomaly a successful event. That work made people signing up again and again for those events. That work made people come from all over the globe to these events every couple of months. They come from all parts of the world to this one point on the map to play against the other faction together with their friends and other faction members.
Without the local POCs and Orga Anomalies would not be what they are right now. Without anything organized around the anomaly by the local people, there is no more real added value to your ticket option especially when Niantic does not have an on site presence anymore.
To make paying for an Ingress event more attractive you should add more value to your events. You can not rely on local orgas anymore to put in their time and effort to make your event great (again). You can not count on them to find a venue for your customers, you can not count on them to handle any of your business issues anymore. In short, the people that you rely on to make it worth people's while to come to the site will no longer help you since you are now charging for this to happen and they do not receive any financial or organisational help from the company. 
I think the majority of the Player Base could accept paying for the badge of an anomaly, but then there will be high expectations and a real value needs to be added.
Reason 4: Legal issues
(mostly focussed on Germany - because that's my home area) 
With making badges and participation a paid ticket you are entering the harbour of ‘event law’. Germany has some really detailed laws about events in public spaces/areas so let's try to have a look into this (Disclaimer: for more information please pay a lawyer).
A public space or public area is understood to mean the part of a municipality or public corporation that is freely accessible to any citizen and managed or maintained by the municipality. In general, these include public transport areas, but also streets, sidewalks, parks and squares.
All gatherings of persons in public space (e.g., concerts, street fairs, etc.) are subject to the Assembly Hall Act (in Germany: Versammlungsstättengesetz)
Every event, which is carried out and advertised in public space, must be registered and approved in good time with the authorities, usually at the responsible regulatory office. The exact permissions, permits or insurance you need depends on the type and size of the event, but also on the location and timing of the event.
The estimated number of participants or visitors is also an important factor when entering into detailed planning.
So the event must be registered and approved from the city. As a former POC I know that I was asked not to contact the local authorities to register the event, but I also never was 100% that the event was registered. 
If the Event gets successfully registered, there are more terms that needs to be fulfilled.
Other locations around the world, especially in the US, have different but similar laws that vary from place to place. All these items that will now fall onto Niantic as the organizer of the event to register for, as local agents, in many cases, will not be able to serve as a local proxy for the company.
4.1 Security
As a company, you have not only the duty, but also a self-interest in taking appropriate security measures. Whether a well-developed security concept is necessary or sufficient to adhere to some basic security standards depends on the size and nature of your event and may be required by some local municipalities as part of your application for the event.
Emergency numbers: Keep a list of the most important emergency numbers clearly visible in several places on the event site. (Event site means Playbox area)
First aid: If an emergency occurs during your event, first aid measures may be required prior to  lifesaving measures before a doctor arrives. As an organizer, you should be familiar with first aid measures. This also applies to employees who help with your events. It also could be that there will be a requirement to have paramedics on site, which would be needed to be paid for by the event organizer, in this case Niantic.
Organizer liability: No one can plan an event to the last detail, since external influences may occur that were previously unknown and not foreseeable. For the execution of events you should therefore necessarily complete an organizer liability, or hold harmless, as elementary protection. Insurance is a requirement to get permission for the event. 
If your event takes place on public streets or squares, you may need a special permit. Also a map of the event location (Playbox area) that will be submitted to the authorities. This may be needed to be submitted to these authorities months, not days, in advance rather than what is the current norm for Niantic. This will mean that in some locations organization will be needed much earlier than in the current planning model that Niantic currently employs. 
And this is just a short run thru the requirement list, every city has there own regulations so there might be other requirements needed every time you set up an event. 
4.2 Service Fees
(also again focused on Germany - for more information please pay a lawyer)
In August 2018 the Federal Court of Justice in Germany decided that a service fee on digital tickets is against the law. (for references: BGH III ZR 192/17)  That means the Service Fee that people are asked to pay is, in Germany, not allowed and needs to be withdrawn. 
4.3 VAT
(for more information please pay a tax consultant)
VAT in Germany is 19% for Events that are not concerts, but tickets for Belgium and Sweden don’t show any costs for VAT. I’m curious how this happened. 
Similarly there are many locations around the world that require any online transactions that take place to be subject to taxes. As the responsible party, Niantic would need to collect and disburse those taxes to the correct governing authority and failure to do so may hold Niantic to legal ramifications
4.4 Payment
Right now you are only offering Payment via credit card or debit credit card but it also appears that not all cards are being accepted. For years players are asking you to change your payment options because not everyone has a credit card. Especially in Germany this is an issue for many agents. Before this issue was solved with the free ticket or if someone wanted to buy swag with the friendly help of an agent with a credit card. With the new process, people only can order through their scanner and need the credit card info from their friends.
Reason 5: Unrealistic Prices
15€ or $15 seems not to be the world in countries like Germany, USA & Australia. But that's not the case everywhere . For example in Argentina since 2015 the monthly income has dropped from $600 to $220. Asking an agent there to pay $15 + whatever - means you are asking them to spend roughly 7% of their monthly income for a badge in the scanner. In India the average income per month is ~$160, that means you are asking agents in India to spend ~10% of there monthly income for the anomaly badge. I know pricing is not easy especially for worldwide events but you should always ask yourself: Is this pricing realistic to be paid by an average local player.
Reason 6: Self-Image and Marketting
“An Ingress XM Anomaly Event is a series of free Ingress events that you play as a team with other local and visiting players against the other faction.” 
On your FAQ site you are stating yourself that Anomaly Events are free. Making an Anomaly a paid only event is a change of the company's ethics - it's not even a change, it is a complete 180 to the former statement. That a change like this will be silently taken by the consumer of your product was not expected and we are going back now to Reason 1: Communication - If you are changing one of your core pieces of your product there needs to be Communication! Good Communication, understandable Communication. Don’t be the Clu in this game, be the Tron!!! 
Conclusions
I understand that you want Ingress to be financially viable as Niantic, you are a company, this is not a hobby project for you. You need to be economically sound. I’m not mad about the fact that you want to make money but don’t you think there are other, maybe even better, ways to introduce paid elements into the game than this? Over the years I saw great ideas from players on how Niantic could generate revenue from Ingress without making it pay to win. I would pay for a subscription to Ingress, if I would maybe gain some value like: more portal submissions, better statistic processing, more inventory space, etc. There are so many possibilities many of which you have supplied in the other two games that you have put out since releasing Ingress. 
Sinceriously,
Your Vanguard
original post can be found here: Ingress Discussion Forum

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