ARTICLE: “Harry Potter: Wizards Unite” Merging Theme and Mechanics

Wizard casting spell on Hippogiff with a wand
Niantic’s new Harry Potter game
Is Harry Potter: Wizards Unite goofy or genius? Niantic’s new game aims to magically replicate Pokemon GO’s success.

After the huge success that was “Pokemon GO“, Niantic has made the smart decision of “taking what works and expand on it” with “Harry Potter: Wizards Unite“. The game takes advantage of the studio’s augmented reality know-how and combines it with a tremendously compatible IP. Will the game hit big or flop? It’s too early to tell, but if I were to place a bet, I’d say it’ll do very well for itself. However, my queries are not with its success potential, but rather how the developers themselves have made a wise call that other studios have totally botched in the past.

There is nothing worse than a game where the theme takes you to one place while the mechanics take you in the opposite direction. In other words, you cannot make a game called “Bakery Tycoon” and make it a first person shooter with permadeath. Unless you’re going for comedic effect, theme and mechanics should go hand in hand. As obvious as this may sound, many titles in the past have missed the mark (need I remind people of E.T. on the Atari 2600, Back to the Future on the NES, etc.). This may be due to publishers slapping an IP on a pre-existing game or vice versa. One always comes before the other. It is therefore always best to choose your mechanics and your IP at the same time.

However, it is possible to successfully “slap-on” an IP. But in order to do so, one must carefully consider whether it truly is a good fit. Will I be able to feature the characters prominently? Will the player’s fantasy be fulfilled? Will the story follow the pre-established canon? Will the game features support the environment? Will the art style match the source? Will the same demographic be interested in playing the game?

Here are a few examples:

  • Let’s say you’re making a “Mission: Impossible” game. Although it could easily be adapted into a FPS, players would inherently expect to find moments where they can use stealth tactics. It’d be a bit strange to fit such IP in something like Modern Warfare, where the player fights against countless enemies and experiences grand-scale battles.
  • Let’s say you’re considering making a hardcore version of The Sims, with deeper micromanagement and complex interweaving systems. Maybe “Barbie” would not be a good IP to use, as the target audience would most likely be ready for something featuring more casual and user-friendly mechanics.
  • Let’s say you’re transforming “Stranger Things” into a mobile game and juggle various artistic styles. Eventually you decide to go with pixel-art, matching the show’s retro… oh, wait. That one’s been made, hasn’t it.

So, will the new Harry Potter game live up to its beloved IP and it’s ground-breaking predecessor “Pokemon GO”? That’s yet to be seen. For the time being Niantic is walking down the right path. Let’s cross fingers and hope they deliver on expectations.