Editorial: Pottermore vs. Future Video Games

Yesterday, screen captures and a video were released for the upcoming video game “LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7”. It is set to hit store shelves on November 15th, 2011. Now, I am not an avid gamer. I never have been. That’s probably why I have a Wii and not an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3. I am a casual gamer. I play games for the experience, not for the challenge. Challenging games only frustrate me. Because I’m a casual gamer, I’ve played every video game adaptation of Harry Potter. I’ve also played adaptations of the other fantasy series that I love, including Aragorn’s Quest, which I thoroughly enjoyed, even though it’s really geared more towards a younger audience (casual gamers) and is very easy.

I guess this is why the Harry Potter games really appeal to me. They’re not terribly difficult. I really liked the first LEGO Harry Potter (Years 1-4) game, and I am therefore incredibly excited for the second one. But the question on my mind is: “why stop there?” I included a video in the Deathly Hallows Part 2 game review of EA’s “Thanks for playing” montage. It was included after the credits of the game, and it really brought a sense of finality to the video game series. However, again, I didn’t want it to end there. I want there to be more video games after the last LEGO game is released. But what games would EA (or another company) make? There are no more movies or books. There’s no more source material to adapt.

I don’t see why you couldn’t remake the first four video games. I may be off my rocker when I say this, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be done. Graphics for the first three PC games were so poor. I didn’t like the fourth game. The first Wii game was Order of the Phoenix, and while I played that game both on the PC and on the Wii, I vastly preferred the latter platform. And so, I would love to see the first four remade for the Wii, as well as other more advanced consoles. I think we have enough loyal fans out there who would jump on the chance to play the first four stories again, with a more advanced graphics system and with the free exploration of Hogwarts that the fifth and sixth games boast.

However, video game remakes may be understandably out of the question. Video games on their own can be a hard sell sometimes, especially in this economy, when not paired with the imminent release of the movie from which they were adapted. Since there are no more movies, it is unlikely that there will be any more games, or at least not any remakes of previous games, despite how much I want to see them made. I resign to the fact that the possibility of any remakes is terribly unlikely. I still remain hopeful, though, that an MMORPG will exist someday.

What is an MMORPG, you ask? For those who are less avid gamers than I am, MMORPG stands for Massively Mutiplayer Online Role Playing Game. One of my favorite PC games is Lord of the Rings Online, which is an MMORPG. Many users create characters of a certain class and race–men, elves, dwarves, or hobbits–then use those characters to roam Middle-Earth, creating fellowships in order to defeat evil all over Eriador, or individually gaining points and gold through crafting, if you’re not up for the “challenge” of “fighting” (I’m not).

An MMORPG exists for Lord of the Rings. Why couldn’t it exist for the Harry Potter fandom? The problem is, it already exists, in a way, with the advent of Pottermore. At least, the concept exists in Pottermore, even if it isn’t a fully-fledged video game. What I envisioned with a Harry Potter MMORPG was the opportunity to receive our letters, go shopping in Diagon Alley, get our wands at Ollivanders, get sorted at the sorting ceremony, and go to classes at Hogwarts, all in very casual-gamer fashion. We have all of these things, though the “classes” are replaced by dueling and potions, within Pottermore. The only major difference between the idea of an MMORPG video game and what Pottermore has done, is that we can’t explore Diagon Alley or Hogwarts in 3D, which for a “casual gamer” like myself is absolutely crucial to really have the experience.

Don’t get me wrong, Pottermore is shaping into an awesome experience. However, it is certainly not the same as what I am waiting to see. Pottermore is driven by the stories, subdivided into chapters and moments. A video game, let’s call it Harry Potter Online, or HPO, would be driven by a concept. Granted, LOTRO is driven both by the story and by the concept, but I haven’t played enough of the “story” to really notice. The “concept”, the answer to the million-dollar question, really, is this: “what would it be like if I lived in Middle-Earth?”, or as with Harry Potter, “what would it be like if I went to Hogwarts?” Pottermore is, I think, is a good answer to that question, but I don’t think it’s the best answer available. I do think a game like “HPO”, if done well, could be a better answer, because I think a 3D gaming experience is much more immersive than Flash-enhanced art.

However, would people play a video game without an underlying driving story? Would people play a game that is only driven by this concept of going to class, doing homework, and hanging out with friends–things that many of the fans do on a regular basis anyway? I don’t see why not. “The Sims” is the best-selling PC game in history, followed by “The Sims 2” in second place. Both are games geared towards casual gamers. Instead of objectives, which LOTRO has, though you don’t have to complete them or follow the story, “The Sims” is, once again, concept driven. Players are encouraged to make his or her own choices and engage in an interactive environment with non-player characters (NPCs) [source]. LOTRO also has NPCs, with whom you have to interact in order to gain experience. The only difference is that some NPCs in LOTRO are important to the story, and others are not. Therefore, you can choose to interact with either type of NPC, depending on how casually you choose to play the game.

I firmly believe that a game like “HPO” can be made and can be successful. I do think that there are fans out there like me who want a more genuine experience: the opportunity to create our own avatars (rather than merely play as Harry), to use them to explore Hogwarts (especially the common rooms other than Gryffindor), and as we explore, interact with NPCs such as Professor Flitwick (as we attend Charms class) or interact with other students, other fans, while they are also playing the game. Due to this immersion, I do think a game like this could work.

Of course, I am not, and don’t presume to be, the first person to have ever thought of a Harry Potter MMO. When Pottermore was first announced, many people thought that the “more” part of the name was an acronym for “Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Experience”. As we now know, that is not the case, and even when I first read that before Pottermore was released, I thought it was quite a stretch. Since it was coming from J. K. Rowling, I knew it had to be more of an encyclopedia and less of a video game in function. However, even before the announcement of Pottermore, others were writing about how they thought a Harry Potter MMO would be a great idea. Here are two articles: “Why a Harry Potter MMO Makes Sense“, which gives the top ten reasons why making an MMO set at Hogwarts is a great idea, as well as “Summoning the Harry Potter MMORPG“, which was written over three years ago and thoroughly describes (much better than I ever could) what a Harry Potter MMO could look like.

What, though, does the advent of Pottermore mean for the future of Harry Potter video games, or more specifically, the possibility of an MMORPG?

Well, we already know that LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7, is to be released in November. After that game, though, it’s hard to say what, if anything, could come after it. Also, Pottermore isn’t a video game and shouldn’t be misconstrued as one. It is similar to a video game in many ways. It has some of the same concepts as an MMORPG game would also have, but it is not a video game. It is not 3D, though the art in each moment may have “layers”. At most, Pottermore does include, in the overall experience, a couple of playable Flash games (dueling and potions), but on the whole, again, it is not a video game. Pottermore, then, is different enough in function from a video game that it doesn’t hold the same market as possible future video games.

However, it may be prudent to say that it is necessary for Pottermore to be released fully before something like a Harry Potter MMORPG could happen. I may have forgotten to include this tidbit in my “Inside Scoop” article about Pottermore, but I do remember a comment during the presentation about there being more than just the three wizarding schools in the world, which of course makes sense. There’s Hogwarts, Beaubatons, and Durmstrang, as we already know. However, you may not remember that during the Quidditch World Cup in Goblet of Fire, there is a brief mention of a Salem Witches Institute (or Salem Institute of Magic) in the United States of America.

What if, then, players were given an option to begin their journeys as witches and wizards in schools other than Hogwarts? Personally, I can’t see that the majority of Harry Potter fans would want to do that, but some might, and it would be a great way to expand the experience, since Hogwarts Castle, while quite large, dwarfs in comparison to the vastness of Middle-Earth. However, even if a Harry Potter MMO wasn’t expanded to other schools, I do still think it would be prudent to wait. Rowling may have other things up her sleeves that are as of yet unreleased, that would be important to know when making a game such as this.

In conclusion, there definitely is, I think, a market that can be filled with the production of an MMORPG, but there probably isn’t, unfortunately, enough of a market or demand to warrant the remake of the first three or four video games.