I know about a secret world that exists right on top of the one you and I live in. It’s a place torn by civil war over the dissemination of information, and driven entirely by Google based technology. It’s called Ingress.
Sure, some people might dismiss it as a game. These are the people who haven’t played past level 3, or the grumpy people with iTech. When you buy your technology at the same place you buy your fruit, bitterness is bound to set in.
I’m not a gamer. I tend to actually loathe the things as a waste of time, energy, and resources. But this one got me, and for one simple reason – It’s not a game. It’s a world.
Augmented Reality is the key.
This world may exist in an android device, but it is layered directly upon the land that you and I inhabit on a daily basis. The guy next to you at the post office? He just hacked a bunch of resonators and bombs from a portal you can’t see. That couple staring at the sculpture in the park? They just blew up the energy resonators on an AR portal to turn the control of that portal from the evils of the resistance to the wonders of the enlightenment. In the Seattle region, it’s Toads (Enlightenment/Green) versus Smurfs (Resistance/Blue). I bet you can guess which team I play for. Ribbet Ribbet!
These portals are secret to people who don’t know how to find them, but this community is mighty. I’m currently at L8(the top level in the game at this time) and still play on a regular basis. This world has a Skinner box addiction reflex like you wouldn't believe. There are people who drive or fly to other cities just to play it. There are people who have spent over $500 a month in gas driving around to play. There are people who have talked about moving to areas that are denser in portals. They make custom clothes, stickers, artwork, etc. (If you look to the side, you can even see an "ingress valentine" that Alan and I made for a group of Smurfs that had been "annoying" us at the early part of February. We took their portal and then put a heart of resonators around it. That's just how we roll.) These people are nerds at their finest – obsessed and devoted to a fun and worthy cause. Ingress, or “The Niantic Project,” is currently in beta, but it has a HUGE community around it. And it’s not just some little Seattle thing – it’s international. Every single city has portals, because the first three portals put in are the fire department, the post office, and the library. Then come any additional portals – things like fountains, artwork, museums, unique businesses, etc.
So, what does this have to do with apartment marketing? If you have art or a notable unique spot on your property, it is a chance for you to do something fun and unique. I recently visited a property manager here- the very talented Erin Long at UDR’s amazing Elements Too in Bellevue- and before going in to the building, I noticed that there was a portal on one of the pieces of art in her building. As we were speaking, I asked Erin if she had noticed an uptick in foot traffic on her property. She said that it was weird – she had seen people walking around the lobby of her building looking at their phones, taking a few steps, looking at their phones again, etc.
Elements Too is a building with a TON of beautiful commissioned artwork in it, and since the information in this game is frequently user generated, she had no idea that the beautiful glass sculpture in her lobby was a portal. I showed her on my phone what those people were doing, and how the game worked.
She was amazed.
I had a similar experience with a regional manager for Equity 2 weeks ago, when I asked her if the increased traffic around Redmond’s Red160 property was annoying the staff there. I showed her the game and how their building had a portal on it (the ZipCar location). She was also surprised.
Your property, if it has a unique feature, a fountain, or any kind of art on it - or if you’re mixed use and have a unique business in it – may already be listed as a portal on Ingress. This gives you some great pros and cons.
First the cons:
- While it will bring more people on to your property and through it, they will not all be looking for apartments.
- As far as I know, you cannot get your property or art “portal” listing removed from the Niantic system at this time
- To use this to your advantage, you will have to explain the game to your staff…and if they play, it’s a 75% chance they’ll become as addicted as the rest of us.
- It might just be a fad. You know how fast people’s obsession with technology fades. Who’s still on BriteKite?
Now the Pros:
- People seeing your apartments or knowing of your building, even if they aren’t renting there, isn’t a bad thing. If I know that the outside of Red160 or Elements Too looks awesome and have a sense of familiarity with the property for any reason, I’m more likely to direct my friends to check it out when they’re looking for a new place to live.
- This gives you some very interesting Craigslist opportunities to be super unique. “Do you Ingress? Sleep and hack in the same place!” Sure, it’s a niche market, but like I said, they’re loyal and as the game beta and eventual release grows, it could lead to an interesting lease or two.
- The people who play this game are nerds, and in my experience, nerds make pretty awesome residents. Not that I’m biased, or anything.
- There are meet-ups for this game in many cities. For a lot of people, the complication is that they don’t have a space to meet and go through training with newbie players. If you have a cabana plus a portal or two on your property, this can be a great chance to not only do a little outreach marketing, but also to build familiarity with your property. Branding is branding.
- Sure, it might be a fad…but you’re finding out about it less than 6 months after the release of the game (November 2012). You’re on the upswing here. And let’s face it, everything in marketing is about riding one fad wave to the next, trying to gain an ounce of propulsion from each.
If you have a unique feature on your property, like the glass art sculpture in Erin’s building or the waterwheel mill in front of The Mill Apartments in Mill Creek, WA, I would recommend that you submit the portal yourself. It gives you the chance to tell what it is…and make sure that your apartments are listed next to it. People don’t often remember the name of the art piece or fountain, but they remember the name on the sign – for example, the ZipCar portal at RED160 Apartments in Redmond is often referred to in game as the RED160 portal, not ZipCar.
If you are submitting something on your property as a portal, I recommend the following format – “Apartment name’s Artwork name.” This way, if the characters cut off the end, then at least you have the name of the apartment on there prominently. Don’t list prices or anything like that because you’re not going to be able to get in there and change them. Portal information changes take upwards of 4-6 weeks, and they’re not to be used for listing sales information. Keep it to the neat facts. Try to make the information that you put in the game about the artwork or unique feature that you’re writing about. You are the location, not the feature.
If you want to go one further and REALLY use this as a marketing tool, you could explore what Jamba Juice and ZipCar did with Niantic. In return for making each location a portal, these companies promote themselves and the game with codes that can be redeemed in game for gear like XMP bursters, Resonators, etc. They have national deals with Niantic/Google, as marketing partners. I do not have any idea if Niantic or Google would entertain the idea of working with a single property or with a national company as a whole, but it’s definitely something to explore if you’re interested.
Currently, to play the game requires an invitation. If you’re in the Seattle area (and you promise to join the Enlightened!), I’m happy to extend you an invitation to play and check it out. If you don’t wish to play, but do wish to submit portals, you will still need an account on the game to do so – the app for game play holds the tools for submission as well.
If you have any questions, I’m happy to explain anything further…but for now, I must go hunt some smurfs.