If all goes well, later this year we will finally be treated to an actual Harry Potter MMORPG in the form of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. While that will be a mobile ARG in the vein of Pokemon Go, it will still be a big step into the online space that MMO fans have been craving for nearly two decades now.
Obviously, Harry Potter continues to be a mammoth franchise for J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., and Electronic Arts, which has handled the video game license over the years. While there have been single-player Harry Potter titles, especially on consoles, no MMORPG emerged even at the height of the IP craze that swallowed up Star Trek, Star Wars, Warhammer, and more. So why not?
The truth is that Harry Potter Online almost did happen. Its brief existence and development isn’t too well-known, even today, but the wasted potential has always tantalized me with what could have been. Using a time-turner, we will go back to the late 1990s today and peek in on a possible future that came to fruition.
Pokemon Go developer Niantic just got enough money to build a second pool in which to put all that money to roll around in. Venture capitalists have poured another $200M into the company through a Series B funding campaign following the reveal of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, its upcoming wizarding world MMOARG. As Android Central points out, Niantic raised just $30M in 2015 following its Pokemon Go announcement, so this is a hefty increase that demonstrates continuing confidence in the power of Harry Potter, MMOARPGs, or both.
Meanwhile, researchers from Purdue University have produced a paper documenting the real cost of Pokemon Go in property damage and human life in a single county in Indiana, which won’t surprise anyone who recalls the parade of articles about crashes and deaths and vandalization last year when POGO first released.
On this week’s show, Justin and Bree wrassle a mess of eastern mobile MMOs that are leaping onto the scene, imagine a world full of Harry Potter gamers wandering about, discuss SWTOR’s server merges, and take Guild Wars 2 to task for lockbox missteps.
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When we first heard rumors about a Harry Potter version of Pokemon Go, I said I could barely imagine what the game might be like before listing several other IPs that would translate better as AR games. It’s not that I don’t like the Harry Potter series (I do) or Niantic (someone’s got to push the envelope). My issue is that I can’t see how their respective styles could combine to create something great.
So I’ve gone back to some of my pre-POGO notes about Ingress and what would need to change before it went live and, well, Niantic clearly thinks differently than I do because this game is very much happening. I thought it might be useful to consider Niantic’s past and how it may affect its upcoming game Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Let’s dig in.
Like the idea of a mobile augmented reality game (ARG) but aren’t really keen on Pokémon? Niantic, the operator of Ingress and Pokémon Go, is branching out to include an additional franchise that should rope non-muggles into its community.
The company announced that it working with WB Games to make Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, set in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. “Harry Potter: Wizards Unite uses state-of-the-art augmented reality technology to reveal the magic all around us,” the teaser site says. “Explore real-world neighbourhoods and cities to discover mysterious artifacts, learn to cast spells, and encounter legendary beasts and iconic characters along the way!”
Niantic CEO John Hanke said that this game will give fans of the series a real-world outlet for their passion: “The beloved Harry Potter stories have captured imaginations worldwide for more than 20 years, and soon we’ll turn the fantasy into augmented reality, allowing fans and their friends to become wizards and witches.”
Wizards Unite is one of several titles being developed by WB’s Portkey Games for mobile and console. More details about the game will be forthcoming in the new year.