原作者：James Batchelor 译者：Willow Wu
即使有《哈利·波特》这样的强大IP做基础，这也不意味着《哈利·波特：巫师联盟》的前进道路会一帆风顺。Pokémon Go是一款现象级游戏，迄今为止，累积收益已经突破20亿美元。游戏社区仍在稳步发展，不计其数的玩家对下一次更新或者Pokémon Go Fest这样的活动翘首以盼。
当然，《哈利·波特》衍生游戏肯定是有明显的优势——这不仅仅是因为它是有史以来最受欢迎的系列作品之一。这时的Niantic已经累积了Pokémon Go的三年运营经验，再加上去年的Ingress 2。除此之外，游戏背后的团队力量也是不同以往：IP持有方华纳兄弟团队+扩充的Niantic开发团队。事实上，CEO John Hanke告诉我们现在的团队规模比Pokémon Go发行之前大了10倍。
当然，想借Pokémon Go之势的不只有这一个IP。《侏罗纪公园》《超能敢死队》《行尸走肉》都在去年发行了LBS游戏，但没有一个能拥有Pokémon Go这样的影响力。
扩大这类游戏的受众肯定是《哈利·波特：巫师联盟》的目标。除了机制方面的提升，游戏的叙事方面也比Pokémon Go下了更多功夫，《哈利·波特：巫师联盟》主打的是合作而不是竞争。玩家不会被分配到某个团队或者学院中，为地盘而战——大家都是机密任务部队（Statute of Secrecy Task Force）的一员，一致目标是保护魔法世界。
那发行《哈利·波特：巫师联盟》之后呢？Niantic的发展蒸蒸日上，过去四年收购了五家公司——近期，他们收购了英国开发公司Sensible Object。再加上之前的VR工作室Seismic Games，Niantic现在可以同时开发更多游戏，外加继续运营Pokémon Go、Ingress 2和《哈利·波特：巫师联盟》。
一般来说，未来的项目中应该会有原创IP，但鉴于Pokémon Go的成功以及《哈利·波特：巫师联盟》可预见的热度，Niantic肯定会考虑开发更多授权IP游戏。但将IP内容直接套用Niantic的设计模式并不是实现可持续成功的有效方式，Niantic一定会谨慎选择。Pokémon Go能够成功是有它的道理，同样，这么多人期待《哈利·波特：巫师联盟》的正式发行也有其独特的原因存在。
Three years after Pokémon Go, Niantic is gearing up for its next major attempt at capturing the world’s attention with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.
The developer’s excursion into the Wizarding World releases this Friday (June 21), and tasks players with searching the world for magical objects and creatures that must be collected, captured or defeated to keep them secret from muggles.
Even with the power of the Potter licence, Wizards Unite is following in some daunting footsteps. Pokémon Go became a worldwide phenomenon at launch, has since generated well over $2 billion in revenue, and still has a solid and healthy community eagerly awaiting each update or Pokémon Go Fest event.
Of course, the Harry Potter game has a distinct advantage (and not just the fact that it’s based on one of the biggest entertainment franchises of all time). It draws on three years of learning and improvements from Pokémon Go, as well as last year’s Ingress 2, and has a much larger team behind it — both at property holder Warner Bros and the greatly expanded Niantic. In fact, CEO John Hanke tells us the developer is now ten times bigger than it was in the months leading up to the launch of Pokémon Go.
We caught up with Hanke earlier this year to find out more about the company’s expectations for Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, and whether he believes it can surpass the achievements of its Pokémon-themed predecessor.
“We think the game has huge potential,” he told GamesIndustry.biz. “It’s one of the most popular franchises in the world, I think it’s a great game to tackle in AR because of the way the fiction works. We’re excited about it. Beyond that, we’ll launch it and go from there. We’re just focused on the quality part, I’m not too hung up on shooting for this [target] or that.”
In the wake of Pokémon Go’s launch, a hoax video of Harry Potter Go did the rounds on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. While the execution wasn’t too convincing, the notion that Niantic could build on its game concept with a Harry Potter game certainly made sense — which other property could possibly lend itself to Niantic’s formula and be bigger than Pokémon? Hanke agreed that J.K. Rowling’s fiction was a natural fit for the company’s approach to games.
“Harry Potter’s a bigger franchise in terms of global awareness and fanbase than Pokémon was, so there’s huge potential there,” he said. “It’s one of the only big franchises that has more female than male fans. When you look at Star Wars or Avengers or IP like that, they tend to skew male. Harry Potter is the only one that really pulls against that.
“We want these things to appeal broadly, and I think that’s the key to unlocking the social opportunity — to have a good mix of people. You want male and female, and also diversity in age. Potter has that cross-gender appeal, and then you’ve got kids and parents. You’ve got kids who grew up with it — my daughter’s in college now, and she was in the heart of it when she was eight or nine years old.”
Unlike Pokémon, with its cute critters and bright, vibrant colours, Harry Potter doesn’t appear to be trying too hard to appeal to children. That fits with the overall strategy for the franchise; while the books (particularly the first three) are geared towards children, the movies grew darker as the series progressed — a styling that continued with the Fantastic Beasts films.
The mere association with Harry Potter will get children interested, but Wizards Unite’s aesthetics also seem to lean into the darker side of the later films, thus appealing to adults as well (and not just the original Potter fans that have now grown up). Hanke reiterated that the game has been designed to be enjoyed by entire families, so the more mature visuals have been crafted to achieve this.
Of course, Harry Potter isn’t the only famous IP out there trying to capitalise on the popularity of Pokémon Go. Jurassic Park, Ghostbusters and The Walking Dead all got the location-based treatment last year, although none seem to have had the impact of Niantic’s title.
Far from decrying this wave of copycats, Hanke actually welcomes them, although he hopes to see more developers actually advance the premise rather than trying to recreate Niantic’s success.
“I feel like the genre is so new and there’s so much untapped potential,” he said. “Games that follow in the wake of Pokémon Go feel like a waste to me, because there’s so many other things that haven’t been tried yet. I’d love to see people explore the genre and push the envelope in new directions.
“I want the whole concept to succeed. The more people that play games this way, it makes it easier for all of us because it becomes more and more socially acceptable and commonplace for people to do it. We imagine a future where going out and playing a game together outdoors with other people is just as common as going to a movie, going for drinks or going for dinner. For that to happen, the whole industry has to grow. Competition is competition, but it’s good for the industry. It’s good for the world for these games to exist, so hopefully we’ll see a lot of fun creative stuff out there.”
Expanding the genre has certainly been the goal with Wizards Unite. In addition to mechanical improvements, the game has more of a narrative focus than Pokémon Go, and the spirit of competition is replaced by cooperation. Players are no longer split into teams (or Hogwarts houses) fighting for territory — everyone is working for the Statute of Secrecy Task Force, making the entire game one joint effort to protect the Wizarding World.
As our sister site Eurogamer reported when it playtested the game earlier this year, Wizards Unite is not just a reskin of Pokémon Go, with more activities than just battling and collecting creatures. And, as with any games-as-a-service offering, the gameplay is likely to expand and change in the years to come.
Another key message around Harry Potter will be how responsibly the monetisation is handled. Pokémon Go was praised for this, in that microtransactions felt in no way forced or essential to progress in the game. Instead, the items you purchase enabled you to accelerate your progress or kit out your trainer with cosmetics.
Hanke said a “deliberate design goal” for all its titles is to allow players to enjoy the full experience without ever having to buy anything, and this will be true for Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. This is especially important given that the game will still target a younger audience — we recently spoke to Jam City about the challenge of balancing monetisation in its own Harry Potter title, Hogwarts Mystery.
“The monetisation is there, and [Pokémon] monetises pretty well,” Hanke said. “On an ARPPU basis, there are games that are much higher up because they’ve turned up that dial and they go after every last penny for every user. We like to appeal to a very broad audience and have a good conversion rate, so that a fair number of those people are paying, but to not try to design the game in a way that there’s pressure to pay.
“It’s about making your users happy, building a game that’s going to attract a lot of users. That just doesn’t match up with highly aggressive monetisation. It’s a good business decision and it’s a good thing for our users to be light on the monetisation.”
So what lies beyond Wizards Unite? The company has been steadily growing, with five acquisitions in the past four years — most recently, picking up UK developer Sensible Object (and you can read more about that in our interview here). With this and the acquisition of Seismic Games, Niantic is now able to build more games in parallel, while still supporting Pokémon Go, Ingress 2 and Harry Potter.
Naturally, some of these projects will be original IP, but Niantic would be foolish not to consider more licensed titles given the success of Pokémon and the expected popularity of Harry Potter. But the company will choose carefully as simply applying a licence to the Niantic game formula does not an instant success make. There’s a reason why Pokémon Go worked so well, and why so many people are looking forward to Harry Potter: Wizards Unite finally arriving this week.
“Certain IPs definitely work better than others,” said Hanke. “IPs that are set largely in the muggle world, the world that we live in, usually works better than something that’s not. It’d be hard to do Guardians of the Galaxy in an AR game — that takes place in another solar system. Ideas that are fantasy but put it into the real world, that’s the sweet spot.”