The news hit this week that Niantic would be closing down their Harry Potter Wizards Unite title, with it being removed from the App Store in early December and shut down completely come January 31, 2022.
While “failure” isn’t in the announcement… the marketing department says that says that they are set to complete a two year story arc and that not all games are meant to last forever… I am pretty sure if the title were bringing in even a quarter of the money that Pokemon Go still manages to grab we would be hearing about a bright future for the game. But the numbers I find on the web seem to indicate the title made about as much over two years as Pokemon Go makes on a good, but not great, month.
So how can a game that is pretty much the same as Pokemon Go, just dressed up in a different but extremely popular IP, fail to gain the same traction?
Wait, did I just answer the headline question there? Maybe, and I certainly have opinions as to what went wrong.
My experience with Harry Potter Wizards Unite is somewhat limited. As my wife and I approached the level 40 cap then in place in Pokemon Go, we thought we might give the recently launched Harry Potter game from Niantic a try. If there is an IP more popular in our household than Pokemon, it is Harry Potter, since my daughter and I both read the books and my wife likes the movies.
I grabbed a copy from the App Store, which was a bit of a challenge as I wasn’t quite clear what the game was called and if you search on “Harry Potter” there are a lot of results, which is a problem right away. Wizards Unite was not, and is not, the only Harry Potter game in the store. But I managed to find the right app, downloaded it, and signed up.
I got through the intro and into the game where I went over to the park near us where there is a Pokestop and a gym in Pokemon Go to find there a fortress and something else… I don’t recall now… and there were things to catch or battle by doing wand motions, but it all looked very much like a re-skin of Pokemon Go.
I didn’t hate it, but nothing about it really grabbed me and when Pokemon Go upped the level cap to 50 my wife and I just carried on with that and never looked back at Harry Potter Wizards Unite again.
So I made it to level
10 5 and stopped, that hardly makes me an expert on the game. Fair point. But as a fan of the franchise, I still wondered why it didn’t grab me. I should have been in the prime demographic for the title. But here’s the thing.
Pokemon Go is a brilliant translation of the franchise into a mobile AR enabled game. As a player you get to become that 10 year old in every one of the core RPG titles and go out into a world inhabited by Pokemon to catch, collect, and trade them. You get to battle in gyms, battle other players, and even fight against the legendary Team Rocket and its leadership. It took a while to get all that in play, but even at launch it convinced me it was a Pokemon game to play.
That is almost the core of the entire franchise, which was based on a video game that came out in 1996 which did pretty much those things. The collectible card game, the TV shows, the movies, the spin off games, they have built on and expanded beyond that core, but the core is still there. If you played Pokemon on your GameBoy or DS, you left you house in the game to do all those things.
Harry Potter doesn’t benefit from that. Based on the books and a series of popular movies, Harry Potter always feels like we’re going some place else. Our world is parallel to the world of Harry Potter, and wizards pass through our muggle society, but they are of a different realm entirely, and the magic of the series is being let into that realm and going to places that aren’t in our neighborhood or across town at the community center.
Basically, Pokemon Go can make you feel like a Pokemon trainer, but Harry Potter Wizards Unite never made me feel like a wizard. My local park spawning Pokemon and having a gym seems is adorable, the same location with a wizard fortress… well, it doesn’t really sell me. The park isn’t dark and foreboding, it is a happy place with grass and a playground and kids playing. It is a place where Pokemon fit right in and wizards probably don’t show up until past my bed time.
We’re probably bordering on that immersion topic I have been harping about. Maybe there is a post about Pokemon Go possible in that series. I’ve been to Minecraft already, so why not? I certainly seem to be making a “sense of place” argument here and how Pokemon Go succeeds and Harry Potter Wizards Unite fails.
Which isn’t to say that great Harry Potter games are not possible.
I thought the LEGO Harry Potter titles were great, as an example. But you know what LEGO Harry Potter did? It brought you into the world of the books, reimagined in LEGO form, and let you explore an experience that world and the stories we know from it in a fun and whimsical fashion.
And that, I think is the key. If it sent me off to a LEGO version of my park, that would be kind of cool, but it wouldn’t be Harry Potter.
So that is my working theory. Harry Potter Wizards Unite did not capture the essence of Harry Potter the way Pokemon Go did with Pokemon.
Honestly, I think it would be tough for a lot of IPs to work well in the structure of Pokemon Go. I can’t really see Star Wars or Lord of the Rings working at my local park either. Maybe Star Trek, as time traveling away teams are canon, or perhaps some sort of superhero IP, but it would have to be done just right.
Pokemon Go just caught the lightning because it was just the right IP at the right time on the right platform.