Upon its announcement, “Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery” sounded like the perfect video game.
As in, the perfect game. The interactive experience that we’ve all been waiting for since an owl didn’t drop a Hogwarts letter on our collective doormats on our eleventh birthdays.
We all want to wander the halls of the acclaimed school for Witchcraft and Wizardry. We want to learn spells, mix potions, play Quidditch, and explore an ancient, magical castle with a group of best friends.
“Hogwarts Mystery” seemed to be the closest thing to this kind of experience since the 1999 “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” game for the original PlayStation.
Sadly, it hasn’t turned out that way. The real Hogwarts would never attempt to nickel-and-dime its students.
(Or should that be knut-and-sickle?)
We all know what to expect from free-to-play games by now. Paying real-world currency is necessary in order to speed up arbitrary wait times for certain items and events.
In “Pokémon GO”, players can speed up monster capture by paying for lures, Pokéballs, or egg incubators. This is the relatively benign form of free-to-play, as those who throw cash at the game don’t have an advantage over free players. What’s more, Pokemon trainers who refuse to pony up cash don’t run into forced wait moments, so the game never feels frustrating.
The Wrong Way to Make a Game
“Hogwarts Mystery” does things the sneaky way. Story beats are hidden behind paywalls, unless players are willing to put down the game and wait a set number of hours to have another try.
It’s like a cliffhanger in a book, except you’re not allowed to read the next chapter immediately unless you pay a dollar.
This kind of game design is not only immersion-breaking, but it’s also cruel and greedy.
If “Hogwarts Mystery” had been released for a hefty $10 price tag with everything unlocked, plenty of people would have been willing to pay for the game.
Instead, the hope is that a few hardcore Potterheads will be tricked into paying hundred of dollars for this game.
This method of payment is manipulative. Frankly, considering how restrictive JK Rowling has been with the game licenses for her literary universe, I’m surprised that she’d ever greenlight something like this. It’s not like she needs the money.
But, then, Rowling did make “The Cursed Child” a play in two parts. She’s clearly not above seeing the “Harry Potter” universe expand into elitist art media that are aimed directly at her wealthier fans.
For the record, I’m still holding out for “Spellbound”, the witch school simulator from “Stardew Valley” publisher Chucklefish.
That game looks like it’ll be far more my speed, it’ll be sold in a one-off payment format, and it’ll come with delightful retro pixel art as well!