Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is live — but will it spell joy for children?
It feels like a long time since the announcement of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, an official game set in J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world, made by the team behind Pokémon Go. Mainly because it is a long time: that original announcement was made 19 months ago in November 2017. It was an enticing prospect: another mobile augmented-reality game that would get Potter fans out walking in the real world casting spells, battling monsters and hunting for artifacts – alone or with their friends.
Earlier this year, the game was released in Australia and New Zealand for ‘beta’ testing, but last Friday it launched properly in the US and UK, followed quickly by a rollout in 25 more countries. One mobile-industry analyst reckoned the game was installed around 400,000 times in its first 24 hours, although since it went live a little earlier than expected, its marketing – for example on app stores – may not have swung into gear from the start.
A lot of children are going to want to play Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, so I think it would be a good idea for parents to read up on the game as reviews go live – so they’re aware of how it all works. Reviewers are still getting to grips with the game (as am I) but the first impressions seem broadly positive.
Tech site CNET’s Clifford Colby praises it as a big improvement over Pokémon Go: “Harry Potter has an expansive backstory to pull from — between the original Harry Potter books and movies and the more recent Fantastic Beasts movies — and the game’s AR experience goes a long way toward creating the charm and richness of Harry Potter’s magical world on your phone.”
Games site Kotaku’s Gita Jackson also thinks that Harry Potter: Wizards Unite shows progression from Pokémon Go. “It’s polished, there’s lots of stuff to do, and it sometimes really makes you feel like you’re a wizard… All I have ever wanted in life was to get my letter to Hogwarts. Wizards Unite isn’t quite that engrossing, but it’s close enough for now.”
MacWorld’s Leif Johnson praises the game, while suggesting that it may not be as accessible to non-Potterphiles as Pokémon Go was to non-Poképhiles (is that the right word?!):
“You didn’t need to know jack squat about Pokémon to get into it (and, in fact, even I barely did at the time). You exercised, you found critters, and you threw balls at them. You didn’t need to be able to know a Rattata from a Pikachu to get into that, and so it succeeded in pulling in throngs of folks who otherwise wouldn’t have been caught dead with a Nintendo 3DS. Wizards Unite, though, seems to expect you to know about the very specific people you find in the so-called “confoundable” and “foundable” events popping up around your neighborhood. It expects you to care about those wands and wants you to thrill at the name of Ollivanders. (If you don’t get that reference, you have an idea of what I’m talking about.) Pokémon Go was able to serve as a gateway drug to Pokémon as a larger concept, but I feel safe in saying that Wizards Unite will only succeed in uniting existing fans.”
There are some concerns, however. Take this article from Forbes journalist Paul Tassi, for example, which suggests that the game is a bit over-aggressive on encouraging players to spend money:
“The more I play, the more one of its barriers to success is abundantly clear. It is over-monetizing the living hell out of itself, which is exhausting for players and may get many to quit given how often it asks for money, “ he wrote, before suggesting that “pretty unbearable once you’re constantly out of energy and maxed out on all your inventory space”.
In a separate article, he focused on the downside of the game’s ‘energy’ system: “You are not given enough energy to start with, you are not given enough ways to recharge it and you are required to use too much of it too often in literally every activity you can do in the game, even battling. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen the “buy 50 energy for $1?” prompt come up the past few days.”
I have two thoughts on this: one that’s a note of concern, and the other that’s more optimistic. On the concerning side, it’s not always immediately apparent whether a mobile game is going to be badgering players to spend money — sometimes that can come a little way in. So parents should keep an eye on articles about Harry Potter: Wizards Unite beyond this initial launch phase, to see how it goes. More optimistically: these kinds of features can (and invariably do) evolve in response to players’ feedback once a game is out in the wild.
Which is to say: how it works at launch isn’t necessarily how it’ll work a few weeks or months down the line. If the energy system and prompts to pay are too annoying, they’ll likely be changed. And all the more so for a game like this, which the developers know will be appealing to children as well as adults, and where there are people behind the scenes (right up to J.K. Rowling herself) who’ll be keen to ensure it’s not all grabby for cash.
(It’s also worth being aware that adult reviewers may not be experiencing Harry Potter: Wizards Unite like a child. The first time you play, you’re asked to enter your age, and the first difference is that adults have to sign in with a Facebook or Google account, whereas children are invited to use the Niantic Kids system instead. I’ll be interested to see if there are further differences between how adults and children experience the game as they get into it.)
There are, inevitably, some real-world parenting concerns around a game like this: British children’s charity the NSPCC has published a blog post on the Net Aware site it runs with O2 offering some advice:
“There is a potential for game players to accidentally end up in dangerous locations or to want to go outside when it’s dark to collect specific items for the game, so it’s important that younger children are supervised by an adult whilst playing and we recommend that older young people play in groups and tell an adult where they are going.”
If your child is liable to wander into a road while engrossed in a game like this, have that chat with them too before waving them off – it sounds obvious, but this kind of location-based game can make you forget your immediate surroundings for a few seconds.
As with any game where adults and children are playing, the potential to meet up in the real world is a reminder of the importance of talking to kids about not doing that with strangers. A practical concern, too, is the way location-based augmented-reality (AR) games can sap a phone’s battery life: so reminding kids to keep an eye on their battery indicator is a useful tip.
Anyway, it’s early days for Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Just like Pokémon Go, you can expect new features regularly, as well as tweaks to things that aren’t working so well. It can be hard for parents to keep up with this, but here’s an idea for how you can try: download the game to your smartphone and try it out for yourself. Who knows, perhaps you’ll end up playing it with your children — and even if not, you’ll have a better idea of how it works, and what issues it may throw up.