Harry Potter GO, and Explaining Games To People That Don’t Play Them

There is no primary source that indicates Harry Potter GO is in development right now. I’m sorry if you clicked the article because you thought that I was going to talk about how Harry Potter GO was going to be amazing. Or how we introduce people that have never tried video games before to come on in and have a go with Harry Potter GO, a phenomenon that perpetuated the literary landscape for a full decade between 1997 and 2007. This is not to say that it might not happen in the future, after Niantic has Pokémon GO in a self-sufficient place, or the developer passes on the GO trademark to another company that could do good things with it. Right now, as of the publishing of this article, there is no such thing as Harry Potter GO.

Now that we have that disclaimer firmly in place, it has come to my attention that Harry Potter GO has been announced, and that the sources and information surrounding it is bollocks on a stick. That hasn’t stopped countless reputable websites from reporting that Niantic had allegedly greenlit a Harry Potter GO app to be put into development following “popular demand”, complete with a fake quote from Niantic’s senior developer Marcus Figueroa, who allegedly said the most inane quote ever: “we figured we’d give it a shot”. Yet taking into account all of the evidence, it seems relevant that people don’t care. They are just reading the news and stirring up into a frenzy over this brand new, completely non-existent game.

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One could simply pin this on people going mental about the GO phenomenon and nip over the pub for a pint and some beer nuts, but I don’t believe that to be the case. The first I heard about this news was from my local popular radio station that plays the Billboard Top 40 on repeat at all hours of the day, followed closely by newspaper sites across the globe. What this implies is that the people that have perpetuated this news have absolutely no idea how video games are made, or how any aspect of video game development works. I could close the article now with a hearty round of “ha-has” in the direction of the ignorant people following this hoax, but that would be a disservice. Instead, I would like to take the opportunity to talk to the people that have no idea how video games are made, or even how they work at all. After all, I would like to think that we are attempting to be a more inclusive medium, and by pulling back the curtain I hope that hoaxes like these will not take the mass media into hysterics over the slightest mention of a craze. They are journalists, after all.

Video games do not operate in the same way as books and films. One of the most crucial aspects to any video game that separates it from other medium is interactivity: the act of a player playing the game. With an exception to perhaps some interactive art pieces and some schools of theatre philosophy, interaction with the medium is the act of consumption of a static thing. The book, film or TV series does not change at all during your consumption of the media. However, you are influenced by that media, and your experience in experiencing the medium is what fuels your discussions surrounding it. The water cooler moments that are experienced when these pieces of media are consumed are exclusively passive in nature: how the thing made you feel, what you took away from it, what parts affected you negatively, etc. While you have a say as a consumer how these things made you feel, you don’t particularly have a say in how it is expressed to you. It happens in front of you in the same way it happens in front of anyone else, and your interpretations of the medium are, arguably, unique in nature.

In the mediums of literature, film, television or even installation art pieces, the media is almost always complete from the moment that the creator takes their hands off of it. Books are printed, television series are aired, films are premièred and art pieces are observed. Regardless of the medium, the final product remains just that: final, static and, for the most part, unchanging. A video game does something slightly different. When a video game is completed, the game is not complete as such. It requires one final thing for the product to call itself finished: the input of a player. A game requires play to be complete, and in doing so, are infinitely varied in way a player can experience the medium. These water cooler moments suddenly become more active: if the objective was to collect a key from a chest, for instance, players will attempt different ways to get that key. Some of these ways will be designed and pre-prepared by the developers, but others will not, and will be discovered by the player in the act of play.

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That interactivity is inherently hard to plan for, and this is where things get tricky. Because everyone interacts with things differently, there are an almost infinite amount of variables that people in the quality testing phases of the game will simply not have thought to plan for. This leads to a particular phase of the creation process that is almost unique to video games: after the game is functionally complete, the developers enter a maintenance stage to account for all of the kinks and bugs that are discovered by players during the act of playing and tinkering with their “finished” product. This process varies in length, and can be as simple as finding bugs in visual effects, to more complicated instances like the way a certain character models behaves in a certain situation that is only made accessible by a certain player action done a certain way. This process is rigorous, tenuous, and takes a long time after the game is finished.

Now, to turn this discussion to Pokémon GO. This particular game is a massively multi-player online role-playing game. What this means is that the game is always on and running, because there are always players accessing the same game space at the same time, and thus the game will always be on to accommodate these players. Ergo, the state of completion that was implied in the previous examples does not quite exist in the same way for Pokémon GO, because the game is only off when everyone stops playing it or the developer stops providing maintenance to it and shuts the game space down. With that in mind, the maintenance period and the development of the game go hand in hand: as more content is released and the game expands on its planned route, more bugs in player experience will emerge, turning into a juggling act of keeping the plates spinning on the end of the poles while simultaneously getting more plates spinning. Sometimes the sticks will wobble, or the plates will fall off, or stop spinning, but it is up the people that are running and developing the game to make it all go smoothly.

The easiest way to think of the situation of Pokémon GO is by describing a restaurant. Other mediums are limited to the individual meals that each patron is served. Their experiences are varied and mixed, but provided that the dishes are made to a certain standard, they will all be experienced in a way that will allow people to leave the restaurant and turn people towards the dishes being served. A video game such as Pokémon GO is more akin to running the restaurant itself: people are demanding more dishes and asking for minor changes to things or replacements to dishes that are simply inedible. At the same time, people behind the scenes are making sure that all of these things are being done in real time, while making sure that the menus are consistently being updated and that the finances are up to snuff to make sure that the experience that customers sign up for is not a single experience, but a continued one.

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With all taken into consideration, it makes the nature of a Harry Potter GO game ludicrous. Pokémon GO is barely leaving its diapers in terms of the experience it can provide players, with so much more on the horizon and so many hurdles to leap over before it even considers trying to handle another game in tandem to Pokémon GO. Niantic is a company that currently only has a maximum of 50 employees, and in a space that demands constant maintenance and consistent performance from a 24/7 gaming experience like Pokémon GO, it would be tantamount to mass execution for them to develop another game alongside its current bunker buster. The level of maintenance required to keep one MMO afloat is a struggle for industry titans like Blizzard or Jagex, the creators of Runescape. For a company that small to open up shop a second time is ridiculous.

That being said, the point of this lengthy spiel was to explain how ridiculous this might be to those who consider video games as comparable to other media. Those in the video game scene will have known the moment the news broke that Niantic running two global MMORPGs simultaneously was absurd. The point of this article was to provide these seemingly obvious facts to those who may not have known. That is perfectly acceptable: after all, video games are only 40 years old, and are yet to find mass acceptance as a global medium outside of their target audeince. With that being said, it is only by discussing these things that we gain understanding to those that do not know, and by analysing hoaxes like these and the reactions to them, we can educate people more things about how our medium operates, so that we can reach the same levels of understanding that other mediums enjoy.

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2 comments

  1. This was a great post! I also sort of rolled my eyes everytime I saw/heard someone spreading the Harry Potter Go rumor recently. It’s a neat idea, but Niantic isn’t going to have the resources available to even touch another IP for at least a few years to come. Especially since they’re still supporting Ingress as well.

    Like

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