Hogwarts fans have been given a second chance at a hit mobile game with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.
Coming from the mobile gaming pedigree of Niantic, it at least goes some way to erasing the memory of another recent flop.
Mobile gaming is a booming industry currently estimated at around $2.2bn. An estimated 25% of all IOS apps downloaded are games. Popular ‘freemium’ model games can actually produce more in revenue than some AAA titles.
Harry Potter meanwhile is one of the most popular and marketable franchises on Earth. The series shifted a staggering 500 million copies of the book series, that’s one for every 15th person in the world.
Spawning a film franchise that grossed over $9bn worldwide to date. As well as an enviable merchandising empire, that’s still going strong. Combining the two markets then seems like a sure-fire hit.
Harry Potter in the World of Gaming
Like a lot of series’ that began in other media – particularly film – Harry Potter hasn’t had a ton of gaming success. There were a host of mediocre movie tie-ins that eventually devolved into a series of third-person cover shooters.
Prior to that, they were open Hogwarts simulators in the vein of something like Bully. You attend class, learn potions, duel classmates, play Quidditch and have little to do with the actual narrative of the series. Sort of like a collection of mini-games loosely held by a story.
The Quidditch section was eventually fleshed out into its own full game in an attempt to tap into the sports game market. Harry Potter did have more success as one of the cornerstones of the popular Lego series.
These also largely recreated the books but performed considerably better with critics and fans. Aside from two lacklustre augmented reality attempts in the concepts’ early days, it was into the mobile market for the series.
Cases from the Wizarding World and The Hogwarts Mystery
Many fans are probably familiar with the recent disaster of Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery but less so with another attempt prior to that. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that remembers Fantastic Beasts: Cases of the Wizarding World.
Despite the game still being available on the Android and IOS stores. It’s a by the numbers crime scene investigation game with a vague Harry Potter twist. If you’re someone who enjoys those games it might be up your Diagon Alley. It’s hardly the immersive experience for Harry Potter fans though.
Then, of course, came the ambitious an exciting Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. Promising a customizable RPG experience, allowing players to create their own wizard and enter Hogwarts for the first time.
A tantalising prospect but sadly one bogged down with one of the most common pitfalls of ‘freemium’ games. Microtransactions. It was practically impossible to achieve anything without spending real-world money on energy.
What’s worse, energy would time out mid-task or plot point and players would be booted back to the start of the sequence when reloading the game. The game was through and through a greedy cash grab.
Typified by the now infamous scene where your character is strangled to the point of asphyxiation and the player is forced to pay to free them. Shameless. But Harry Potter recently got one more crack at mobile gaming success with the backing of industry leader Niantic.
Niantic and Mobile Gaming
Niantic established themselves as one of the leading mobile game designers when they partnered with Nintendo on Pokemon Go. The game was one of the best-selling apps of all-time with a 147 million peak monthly audience.
What’s better it was a perfectly immersive experience the likes of which Pokemon fans had been waiting for. Using augmented reality and location-based gameplay to send players out into the real world in search of their favourite Pokemon.
Just like the heroes from the games and anime. Pokemon Go brought the world of Pokemon to life. There was also a fair balance of in-game items and microtransactions making it fully playable for free but also highly-profitable.
Everybody was out playing Pokemon Go at launch. The game grossed over £28 million in its first weekend alone. On course to becoming the second-highest-grossing mobile game ever, in the three years up to this point.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite
Pokemon Go has seen a number of significant updates since launch, making it a far better game today. Ironically though, most people never played the game later in its life-cycle with a huge drop off in players in the first year.
Niantic have taken a lot of those improvements though and implemented it into a more fun gameplay experience at launch. Problem is though, like Cases From the Wizarding World, it’s just not Harry Potter.
Niantic had a lot of success with location-based gameplay before Pokemon Go, most notably with Ingress. So it makes sense they would stick to a tried and tested formula. But we don’t remember any Harry Potter fiction where he wanders around aimlessly looking for challenges.
The point of Pokemon is to explore the world and catch them all, so it works. The ideal Harry Potter experience is what was promised with Hogwarts Mystery, a fantasy RPG.
The core elements of Wizards Unite are fun but the demand isn’t there, which also spells trouble for the core gameplay model. It’s been nowhere near as successful as Pokemon Go at launch so you’re significantly less likely to run into a fellow wizard.
Co-op challenges are mostly pointless because you probably won’t find anyone to play with. Battles are more varied, but it’s again significantly less fleshed out than it needs to be to create that level of immersion.
Put simply, there’s just not enough to do in Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. And it’s hard to see it having any kind of longevity.