Pottermore: An Inside Scoop

On July 15th, 2011, those attending LeakyCon 2011 were given an inside preview of the Pottermore website by Melissa Anelli, who is a senior creative consultant on Pottermore, as well as another representative, Jamie, who is the greater authority on the subject of the two. Jamie’s presentation included 86 slides, as well as an exclusive live view of the Pottermore website for the audience.

The presentation went well over its allotted time, and there was a lot shown to an understandably very reactive and very excited audience. We were told at the beginning of the presentation that no pictures would be allowed, so this first shot is the only one I have, but there was nothing said about taking notes and reporting on it.

Please keep in mind that this review includes spoilers. So, if you don’t want to know anything before Pottermore is released, I would suggest that you stop reading right now. Otherwise, continue reading!

About the Pottermore Experience: Beginning

Before reading any further, I would suggest reading my first article about Pottermore, as it has some preliminary information about Pottermore that was released prior to this presentation at LeakyCon. If I double up on some of that information, so much the better.

First of all, as you set up your new Pottermore account. You will not be allowed to create your own username. For example, I might have created “aehanson”. Instead, Pottermore gives you a list of five random Potter-related usernames with a number associated with each one from which to choose. This may sound like a bummer, but child safety has been one of the top priorities for the Pottermore team, so this really makes sense. Not allowing users to create their own username discourages them from revealing too much about themselves to the rest of the public world.

While I do not have screenshots on this website of Pottermore, you can find some at the Pottermore Press Room. When you look at them, picture this: you roll over different layers, starting with Privet Drive, then the Cupboard Under the Stairs, each represented as a “moment” in Pottermore, which ties closely in with each chapter in which each moment is first seen. In each “moment”, you can manipulate the world around you. You can turn on the lights in the cupboard, and more importantly, you can discover and collect new information about each object or related character, plus some more informal reflections from J.K. Rowling about that new content.

From Privet Drive, of course, you are, as Harry is, invited to learn magic at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But, before you go to Hogwarts, you have to visit Diagon Alley to purchase your school supplies. Here is where the experience becomes less encyclopedic (with new information) and much more interactive. You can open a virtual bank account at Gringotts, where you are given a certain number of galleons. These galleons are given free of charge, because the website is, and always will be, free to use. However, it is not clear now how many galleons will be initially given or if it is possible to earn more, and if it is, how that is done. Presumably, the Pottermore team will use the beta phase to work that out.

After you get your galleons at Gringotts, you have to complete your Hogwarts shopping list, by going to each shop in Diagon Alley that is mentioned in the first book. As each book is released on Pottermore, shops that are first mentioned in those books will be added to the experience at Diagon Alley then. Of course, among these supplies is a wand, and as we’ve learned already, there are 33,000 possible wand combinations at Ollivander’s. As we already know, the wand chooses the wizard, so what wasn’t clear before is how Pottermore knows the wizard so the wand could choose him.

That question was answered at this presentation. Just like questions will presented to the user when he puts on the sorting hat, questions will also be presented at Ollivander’s so the wand knows enough about the user to choose him, though different types of questions, probably. This makes sense, because it tends to be that those in Slytherin have dragon heart-string cores with dark woods surrounding them, for example. In the end, I want to make clear that the wand selection process at Ollivander’s is not random, as I previously thought it was, which is awesome.

On the Journey to Hogwarts, just as you collect objects at Privet Drive, you also collect objects on the Hogwarts Express, such as chocolate frog cards, which are then added to your “trunk”. The Entrance Hall follows the Hogwarts Express and then sorting. Sorting, as we know, will be a one-time event. This may upset some people, especially those who have known for ten years or more what house to which they believe they belong, but while we know ourselves better than Jo knows us, she knows the houses better than we do, so I am fine with allowing Jo, and by extension, Pottermore, to be the final authority on whichever house I’m sorted into when I answer the seven or so random questions.

The sorting hat questions are not obvious ones, such as, “Are you brave, smart, cunning, or loyal?” Instead, there are questions like “Four boxes are presented in front of you. Which would you choose to open? Bronze, black, gold, etc.” Not each choice is necessarily associated with a certain house. You may be wondering, “What happens if there’s a tie between two houses?” That is what’s called a “hat stall”. Harry experienced a hat stall too, when the sorting hat believed he could do well in either Slytherin or Gryffindor. McGonagall experienced the same, between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor. Both characters, of course, chose Gryffindor, so we know that the user’s choice plays a factor in what the sorting hat chooses for you. So, it is possible, in the event of a hat stall, that we can choose for ourselves, between two houses, which one we ourselves prefer.

After you are sorted into your house, you receive a welcome message into your house, with more information about it. If you are sorted into Hufflepuff, you receive more information than you would receive if sorted into another house. Of course, that makes sense, because we’ve visited the Gryffindor, Slytherin, and Ravenclaw common rooms during the course of the books, so they have been described for us, but not the Hufflepuff common room. Actually, common rooms will be a great place to leave comments for others in your own house, and the Great Hall will become a place to leave comments for others in other houses. What happens, though, if you’re sorted into one house, but you want to learn more about the other houses? Another thing that is not yet clear, though I presume you’ll be able to share that information with one another somehow.

Also in the Great Hall is the leader-board for house points. How does one earn house points for one’s house? So far, we know that we can earn points through dueling (which is a very interactive experience) and through making potions, the ingredients for which can be purchased in Diagon Alley. House points will continue to be earned during a particular “year at Hogwarts” until the next book is released on Pottermore. So, just before the Chamber of Secrets “moments” are released, the House Cup will be announced, and so on with the remaining books.

Logistical Questions about Pottermore, with Answers

  • When will Sorcerer’s Stone be released on Pottermore? Sorcerer’s Stone will be when Pottermore is. So, when the beta is released on July 31st for a select million users, and officially to everyone in October.
  • When will the Harry Potter ebooks be released? The ebooks will be released in October with Pottermore’s official release.
  • Does one have to buy the ebooks in order to use Pottermore? No. You may read the hardcovers or paperbacks you already own while using Pottermore, or you can simply use the site without reading along (though I daresay that would hinder the enjoyment of the experience).
  • When will Chamber of Secrets be released on Pottermore? Early to mid-2012, not January as I previously supposed.
  • What is Jo Rowling’s involvement in Pottermore? Jo is very involved. It was her idea, and it was created as a “thank you” to the fans. She has written all the new content that will be released on Pottermore, 18,000 words and counting, and all the details in the accompanying illustrations are from canon and have been approved by Jo. Mascot emblems have been painstakingly done and approved by Jo.
  • When Jo said “Follow the Owl” in her announcement, did she mean “follow @theowl” on Twitter? She most certainly did not.
  • Will Pottermore be released in languages other than English? Yes, it will be released in several major languages (I can’t remember which) starting in July, with Japanese coming in October, others perhaps to come later.
  • Will Pottermore be made available for mobile apps? There is a plan to have mobile apps, but those are not available as of yet. The Pottermore team may even incorporate the ebooks into the mobile app experience, but again, not yet.
  • Will Jo print an encyclopedia of all this information one day? It is a distinct possibility, but there are no plans for it as of now, and if it does happen, it’ll be in the distant future, and proceeds will most likely go to charity.
  • Will there be an interactive Quidditch experience? Let me be very clear: this is not going to be a video game, so Quidditch will be not be a video-game-like experience. It will be treated as a “moment”, most likely, as the other “moments” from the chapters in Pottermore.

Exclusive Information About Major Characters

Very briefly during this presentation, Jamie showed some pages of never-before-seen content, at least not by the public eye. I was able to quickly jot down a couple tidbits of information before he moved onto the next slide (to the obvious dismay of the audience).

Vernon Dursley and Petunia Evans met at work. He thought she was “deliciously normal”.

Professor McGonagall’s father was a Presbyterian minister by the name of Reverend Robert McGonagall. More information about her Ministry career as well as early heartbreak will also be revealed through Pottermore. Personally, I find her lineage very interesting, and I can’t wait to learn more.

Where to Go for More Information

Pottermore has three official channels: the blog (insider.pottermore.com), the official website (pottermore.com), and the Twitter account (@pottermore). Actually, of the three, the blog was most recently opened, and desktop images can be found there.

Finally, I might suggest coming back here for more information later, if I am allowed to provide it. Actually, the attendees of LeakyCon were given a “special chance” to get into the beta phase of the website, so I hold high hopes of getting in on July 31st. But, we’ll have to see! Good luck to me!

Update: After reading several tweets from fellow LeakyCon attendees about their concern that they hadn’t received an email from LeakyCon yet, as we had been promised we would, I wrote this through several tweets on my personal Twitter account: “LeakyCon’ers: I don’t believe that there was anything said about getting into @pottermore ‘earlier’ than anyone else. I believe that July 31st is the ‘start’ date for some challenge to determine who gets to be a beta tester. We’re probably not going to get any information ‘earlier’ than anyone else. We’re probably going to get ‘extra’ information that the others won’t have to help our chances to figure out the ‘puzzle’ or ‘challenge’. I personally don’t expect an email from @LeakyCon2011 until after the one from @pottermore. I might be wrong.”

I hope this clears up any misconception that we’re going to get any information early or even get into Pottermore early, because I don’t think that’s the case. But, like I said, I might be wrong too. I don’t pretend to have any inside information, because I don’t work for LeakyCon (Update: I do now) or Pottermore.