Iwate taps Google's 'Ingress' to boost tourism

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

Since it was introduced, Google’s location-based game “Ingress” has engrossed many Japanese smartphone users, and officials in Iwate Prefecture have found it to be a great tool to boost tourism.

“By using ‘Ingress,’ we expect to publicize Iwate’s notable sightseeing spots and reconstruction sites (after the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami) that we want people to see,” prefectural government spokesman Kazuei Tamotsu said. “I think this is the very first attempt by a municipality in Japan to use ‘Ingress’ for a sightseeing campaign, and that catches people’s attention.”

“Ingress” is a free location-based territorial game released by the Internet search giant.

Like board games, players are divided into two teams: the “Resistance” (blue) and the “Enlightened” (green). Each team’s aim is to increase the size of the territory it holds. These territories are defined by “portals,” which are notable buildings and landmarks in the physical world.

By downloading the app from Google Play or Apple App Store for free, players are asked to join either team before the game starts.

What is unique about the game is that it uses location-based information via players’ smartphones, meaning that players are required to actually visit a portal to conquer it for their team.

Since its official release worldwide as an Android app last December, Ingress has been downloaded more than 8 million times. Introduced as an iOS app on July 23 this year, the game has become a huge hit among smartphone users here.

Google says that as of Monday, Japan was the third-ranked country in terms of the number of players.

“I hope people who have smartphones will find our project interesting,” Tamotsu said. “Hopefully, more players will come and visit Iwate and learn about the history of sightseeing venues within the prefecture by playing the game.”

Tamotsu came up with the idea of using “Ingress” during a tourism campaign after a friend introduced him to the location-based game in late September.

On Nov. 9, in order to increase the number of registered portals in the prefecture and also to publicize it among local communities, Iwate held its first official “Ingress” event.

Although the organizers originally expected just a small number of people to take part, as they were relying only on word of mouth. However, in the end, 54 people from both inside and outside the prefecture came together. The players were a diverse group, from “Ingress” aficionados to university researchers.

Iwate’s experiment attracted the attention of Google, which offered official support.

After learning about the project, the game’s developer, Masa Kawashima, declared on his Twitter account that Google would fast-track efforts to increase the number of official portals in Iwate, which usually take five to six months to register.

“I hope more people will acknowledge the possibility of ‘Ingress,’ ” Tamotsu said. “It would be even more fun if local communities in Iwate take advantage of the game and organize their own events.”

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