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November 9, 2017

We’re all wizards now — ‘Pokémon Go’ developer sets its sights on Harry Potter

by John_A

Niantic, the developer of 2016’s breakout augmented reality hit Pokémon Go, announced its follow-up: Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, set in J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world of Harry Potter. Niantic is developing the AR title in partnership with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment’s Portkey Games label, promising more details about the game in 2018.

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite will follow the same basic principle as Pokémon Go: That the real world hides magical secrets just beneath the surface, though details on any particulars of what the game looks and plays like are nowhere to be found currently. “By exploring real-world neighborhoods and cities across the globe,” Niantic’s press release reads, “players will go on adventures, learn and cast spells, discover mysterious artifacts, and encounter legendary beasts and iconic characters.”

Pokémon Go and Niantic’s first major AR game, Ingress, both relied on a faction-driven metagame to connect players and structure the whole experience. Niantic’s release focuses on the individual role-playing experience of going on adventures, collecting items, and learning spells, but gives no indication of any larger structure. Rowling’s obvious analog in the world of Harry Potter is the house system at Hogwart’s Academy, where a sentient hat sorts students into one of four student houses based on their personalities.

Late summer 2016 was utterly defined by Pokémon Go for a lot of people, especially if they lived in a major city, sparking a flurry of interest in AR games. Players, critics, and bystanders were all enchanted by what seemed like a wholly new type of game, using the tools of video games to get people engaging with the real world around them. Unfortunately, the magic wore off pretty quickly, and a lack of features available at launch (such as any meaningful way to interact with other players) meant that the player base rapidly atrophied except for all but the most diehard trainers. Steady updates up through the present have made for a more rewarding game than what most players experienced at launch, but a rushed release and chronic server issues meant that most players left before they would ever see it.

The success of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite will depend on whether the game can sustain a critical mass of its early adopters. The massive release of Pokémon Go no doubt taught Niantic a lot, and as a global brand Harry Potter may have stronger cache than Pokémon, so it will be interesting to see whether Niantic can not only make lightning strike twice but cultivate that spark into a steady blaze.

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