Is Harry Potter: Wizards Unite the Next Pokemon Go?
On summer solstice, the highly anticipated mobile game Harry Potter: Wizards Unite was released for Android and iOS devices. This game is from Niantic makers of Pokemon Go, one of the highest earning mobile games of all-time. Considering Harry Potter has a larger fan base than Pokemon will Harry Potter: Wizards Unite be just as big or even bigger?
The short answer is no. While it is still too early to make an ultimate judgment, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is destined to be a much smaller game than Pokemon Go. Of course, considering how big Pokemon Go was (is) that is not a failure. It is just a reality of the nature of the franchises.
Pokemon Go is noted for being an augmented reality game. Users walk out in the real world and catch Pokemon which appear as part of the scenery in the camera on their mobile device. The game was a huge success when it launched in the summer of 2016 with over 40 million daily users.
Two years later, the buzz had slowed but during the summer of 2018, Pokemon Go still had 5 million daily users. This was a higher paying core base that keeps Pokemon Go as a steady $500 million to $1 billion annual revenue generator.
Of course, Pokemon was based on a Japanese anime and video game series launched in the 1990s. The portable Pokemon video games are one of Nintendo’s biggest success. The games are now in their 7th generation of release, with an 8th generation launching later this year.
Harry Potter is a book and film franchise that in terms of the number of users is much larger than Pokemon. While a generation of Pokemon games can sale up to 30 million units, the first Harry Potter book has sold over 100 million units (extending the Pokemon analogy there are 7 Harry Potter books and 8 films).
Furthermore, the Pokemon games were designed to be used by a single user, with only one save slot. Books were designed for sharing with multiple users per copy. Each Harry Potter could have multiple readers. Add in the films and spin-offs and it is clear that Harry Potter has far more users than Pokemon.
In late 2017, Niantic announced it was working with Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment to build an augmented reality (AR) version of Harry Potter to mobile devices. Like Pokemon Go, this would be a free-to-play game, monetized by buying virtual currency for in-game items. At first glance, on paper, this seemed like it could be even bigger than Pokemon Go.
After extensive testing during the initial few days, DFC confirms its initial opinion that Harry Potter: Wizards Unite will simply not be as big as Pokemon Go. This is despite the fact that augmented reality is in its early stages and has significant growth potential.
Pokemon is often seen as a game for children. In reality, it is a complicated competitive video game. Hundreds of Pokemon, each with dozens of statistics and capabilities, compete against each other. In some ways, it is statistics for the masses.
The beauty of Pokemon Go was that it appealed to the core users while simplifying the formula for the masses. The game is free and not as complicated as the core video games on which it is based. As such it greatly expanded the Pokemon audience.
On the other hand, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite appeals to a niche base of the existing Harry Potter audience. This is a complicated game for the users that care deeply about the inner workings of the Harry Potter universe. Users not only should be super Harry Potter fans, but they need to be into complicated video games.
DFC actually had trouble getting users to test Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Most of our regular video game testers were simply not that excited about the game. It was quickly dismissed as Pokemon Go with Harry Potter characters. We ended up also reaching out to fans of Harry Potter who were not really into video games in the first place.
In many ways, the assessment of Pokemon Go with a Harry Potter theme seems correct. Unfortunately, Harry Potter does not work as well with a real-world AR theme. Pokemon is about wild creatures found in normal environments. The original video games were about walking through a neighborhood collecting Pokemon. It is perfect for that type of AR.
The Harry Potter universe is about a hidden wizard world. The AR portion seems tacked on and almost unnecessary. The idea is magical creatures are loose in the Muggle (human) world. It simply does not fit with the core appeal of the character-driven Harry Potter universe.
On a beautiful Sunday on June 23, we went to the prime Pokemon Go spots in the downtown area of San Diego. During weekends in Balboa Park, home of the San Diego Zoo, it was often hard to walk because of the crowds of Pokemon Go players. In Balboa Park, we found exactly one other Harry Potter: Wizards Unite player.
Across multiple locations, we visited that, was it. Furthermore, we couldn’t engage that player because the game crashed. On top of not really offering anything new, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is extremely slow and buggy at launch. The game was also extremely aggressive in trying to monetize users. Not a good thing on a product that buggy.
Of course, those problems can be corrected. Pokemon Go thrived by continuing to improve. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite may eventually find its niche. However, when our hard-core Harry Potter fans met the game with a major shrug of indifference we had our concerns. Playing the actual game only amplified those issues.
It should be stressed that Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is in its early days and has plenty of growth potential. This game should be a success, as long as it is not considered in the same league as Pokemon Go. Overall augmented reality games are just scratching the surface of their potential appeal. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite remains in generation one of AR. We are still waiting for the next big step. Minecraft maybe?