The 2015 Ingress demographic survey

Beth Winegarner
Sep 18, 2015 · 7 min read

As I was researching my piece last month called “How To (Accidentally) Build A More Female-Friendly Game,” I realized that a comprehensive Ingress survey hadn’t been done since 2013, when Ingress was just getting off the ground. Someone did a reddit-based survey this year, but its respondents were mainly reddit users — not exactly a broad sample.

I knew I wasn’t going to produce anything that could be called scientific, but I wanted to attempt something more inclusive. Since some folks asked: I am in no way affiliated with Google or Niantic and only conducted this study out of curiosity and to benefit the Ingress community. I advertised the survey on the international Ingress G+ group, on regional hangouts, on Facebook and in the Ingress comm. I asked people to reshare it in international and cross-faction groups. I received responses from about 1,250 players, most of whom answered most or all of the questions.

Let’s start with the first thing we tend to ask when we find out someone plays Ingress:

I know more folks on team Enlightened, which may account for the slight skew in favor of that faction here. In raw numbers, 706 respondents are frogs, while 533 are smurfs.

This is a pretty good spread. In particular, it suggests that we’re adding new and invested players all the time, which we need as older players get bored, burn out, or take breaks.

Most of the players who responded are between Levels 8 and 16, which is no surprise, particularly since those are the players who congregate on the communities where the survey was passed around. It also seems like newer players are leveling up faster these days, which may be reflected by these results.

Not that many agents have switched factions; folks seem to be happy where they are.

Most of us are still on the Android platform, which isn’t surprising, since that’s where Ingress got its start. About 20 percent of players are using either an iPhone or iPad. That thin little slice of “other” includes one player using a OnePlus One and another using an iPad Mini 2.

Now let’s take a closer look at some basic information about who plays Ingress (or, at least, who responds to surveys about playing Ingress).

Agewise, we skew toward the middle. Most of us are somewhere between the age of 25 and 44, although we have our younger and older players as well. According to the Entertainment Software Association’s demographics for 2015 (PDF), the average gamer is 35, which is isn’t far off from what we see in Ingress.

I wanted to include this question in part to see whether we have more females playing Ingress than we did back when the 2013 survey was done. Back then, 91% of the respondents were male, so we definitely have more women and girls playing now, although they’re still in the minority. We also had a few genderqueer and other nonbinary folk. And, it doesn’t show up very well because there are so few of them, but five respondents said they are trans male. None said they’re trans female.

This question got way, way more negative feedback than any other, which suggests a lot of people still aren’t comfortable with the wide range of genders people embody. I wonder whether that reaction has anything to do why so few non-cis folks play Ingress, or at least why so few wanted to identify themselves as such in a survey about the game.

Granted, this was an English-language survey circulated with California as a starting point, but the number of non-Caucasians is still surprisingly low. Even so, a number of respondents felt that “Caucasian” didn’t get close enough, and came up with their own ways of saying “white,” including “White Euroamerican,” just plain “white,” and “WHITE (HOW THE FUCK IS THIS NOT ON HERE?!).” One identified as an Amberite, while another claimed to be a Jedi.

Again, given the parameters, it’s not surprising that most of the folks who filled out the survey turned out to be in the U.S., but we got a respectable number of responses from the UK, Canada and several parts of Europe. And from Australia to South America, folks are firing up their scanners. This is another place where respondents’ fill-in-the-blank answers turned up some bizarre and amusing stuff. Among those responses were “Amber,” “Chupamedingen,” “Fuckin’ Portugal,” “Veridian III,” and “In my scanner. I live there.” Of course.

Now that we know the basics of who’s playing, let’s look more deeply at why.

There are tons of reasons people like Ingress, which is why I let agents choose as many options as they wanted. On this question, the “other” responses included “dog walking,” “paradigm shift,” “the gameplay mechanics lend themselves to possible sociological inquiry,” “shiny lights and sounds cater to addiction receptors in my brain,” “it keeps me from spending money,” and “I find a family.” Aww. :)

Likewise, Ingress offers many different options for gameplay, and agents enjoy some of those options more than others. Building and destroying things are by far the most popular, but farms and social gatherings are close behind. Big operations and anomalies are also high on the list. Other, much less popular but still enjoyable aspects (to at least one of you) include “BBQ on ex-shard locations,” “finding hard portals,” “YOLOs,” “solo farm building,” (er…) and “Joe Philley.” RIP.

And now a little about where and how we play:

Population-wise, these results are a no-brainer; more people live in cities, and there are also more portals in cities, which helps keep players engaged with the game. Playing in a city also offers more ways to get around, so you’re not driving massive distances to get from one portal to the next.

That said, plenty of agents are getting around by car. Even though most players are in urban areas (with, presumably, some sort of public transit), cars are still a heck of a lot more popular. Walking beat driving by a significant margin, though, and plenty of others are getting around by bicycle. A number of you said you play by motorcycle; I can’t remember if I omitted that option through simple absentmindedness or because I’m horrified by the idea of anyone trying to play Ingress while on a motorcycle.

The responses to these questions were almost identical. I actually suspect there are many more Ingress agents who don’t use either of these communication tools, but since that’s a big part of how the survey got passed around, that’s what we got.

Ingress isn’t like other video games. In fact, I’ve wound up in more than one debate over whether Ingress qualifies as a video game at all. The same debate could be had over such games as Flower or Words With Friends. I suppose it’s some sort of logical fallacy to say that if more than half of Ingress players play other video games regularly, then Ingress is itself probably qualifies as one. What I can say is that for more than half of agents, Ingress is just one of the games they play on an active basis. But for the other almost-half, it’s one of the only ones they play. As Niantic spins off from Google and takes Ingress independent, it’s good that they’ve created something that appeals both to people who are regular gamers and those who aren’t.

Beth Winegarner

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Journalist, editor, author, opinionator. Bylines: Guardian, New Yorker, Vice, Mother Jones, Wired. Much more at www.bethwinegarner.com.