Harry Potter and the publisher's casual vacancy
Jam City tells us how its Hogwarts RPG will help Warner Bros finally attract the masses on mobile
There's a surprising gap in Warner Bros' games portfolio on smart devices.
Despite the fact that the publisher has access to multiple major brands from across the world of entertainment - DC Comics, Lego, and Lord of the Rings, to name but a few - most of its mobile games seem to be squarely aimed at two demographics: core gamers and kids.
The plethora of pocket Lego games satisfy the latter, while the likes of Mortal Kombat X, Injustice: Gods Among Us, WWE Immortals and mobile tie-ins for the Batman: Arkham and Middle-Earth titles primarily appeal to those who already engage with these properties on consoles.
It's a significant missed opportunity given the broad audience it is possible to reach through mobile titles, but there is one brand that may solve this problem for Warner Bros: the magical world of Harry Potter.
"WB Games has some incredible studios focused on mid-core and core mobile game mechanics [but] wanted to have... games based on their brands for a casual audience as well"
Surprisingly, mobile games based in the wizarding world have been few and far between. There are iOS and Android adaptations of Warner's best-selling Lego Harry Potter titles and a hidden object game released to tie in with last year's Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them - but that's about it.
This has already started to change with last month's announcement of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, a title in development at Pokémon Go studio Niantic, and today Warner Bros has announced a new mobile outing for The Boy Who Lived.
Due for release next year, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is being developed by Los Angeles-based studio Jam City and is described as a "mobile narrative RPG" set at the series' central location: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
We spoke to Jam City founder, president and COO Joshua Yguado to find out how such a partnership came about.
"WB Games has some incredible studios focused on mid-core and core mobile game mechanics [but] wanted to have more partners that could provide games based on their brands for a casual audience as well," he tells GamesIndustry.biz.
"We had told them that we were huge Harry Potter fans, and over time we built a concept in partnership with their creative teams and the Harry Potter franchise teams that made sense for the audience, the brand, and our studio experience. That culminated in us bringing this game to market where you can finally play your own Hogwarts story."
Very little is being revealed about the nature of the game, but Jam City says the core concept is that players will create their own character and experience the full life as a Hogwarts student, progressing through each school year. They will participate in magical classes, such as Potions and Defence Against the Dark Arts, as well as extracurricular activities like Duelling Club.
"You want to feel immersed in your character and world, you want ownership over the voice and direction of your character and who they are in that world"
It's a structure that may remind some people of the hugely popular Persona games, and the reference to Hogwarts Mystery as an RPG seems to suggest that this could easily be something that ends up resonating best with established fans of the genre. After all, most mobile RPGs already require some knowledge of the basic tropes - but Yguardo is confident his team's project will forego such experience.
"RPGs at their core are about story, ownership, progression, and immersion," he explains. "You want to feel immersed in your character and world, you want ownership over the voice and direction of your character and who they are in that world, you want to become better and take on bigger challenges, and you want to care about the plot that is motivating you.
"At the core that is what our game is, but mechanically we are making it more simple and intuitive than say an RPG shooter, or first-person action RPG on console, so more casual players can enjoy it and feel powerful."
There's no information on pricing, but it's not hard to imagine this as a free-to-play affair with the journey through various school years stretched out over time in order to engage players for many real-world years beyond launch - arguably something else missing from Warner's mobile offering. This would certainly fit with Jam City's experience with free-to-play titles such as Family Guy: The Quest For Stuff and Marvel's Avengers Academy.
"We have the full breadth of the lore at our disposal. It's a fully realised world that fans would expect from the brand"
The studio is unable to comment on whether events in the game will tie in with those of the books - although given confirmation that "most of the iconic professors from the Harry Potter stories reprise their roles in the game", it's a safe bet that Mr Potter and his friends will be around. It's also unclear whether there will be tie-ins with the remaining four Fantastic Beasts films heading to cinemas, but Warner Bros would be foolish not to use the game as a marketing channel for such a massive project.
Overall, Jam City teases us with its 'more will be revealed soon' attitude. What the team can say is that in addition to being fuelled by their own fandom, Hogwarts Mystery is being developed "in close partnership" with Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment, the Harry Potter franchise team and Portkey Games, the newly formed games label dedicated to titles set in JK Rowling's Wizarding World (including the aforementioned Niantic project).
This does not mean the content will be strictly dictated by Warner Bros. Instead, the Jam City crew retains a fair amount of creative control as they build their dream Hogwarts experience.
"We have a passionate team that takes the lore and brand very seriously and are all experts on the tone, and themes of the world," says Yguardo. "They all love the brand and therefore care very much that it is the best it can be. We then balance that with the brand experts on the Potter franchise team to ensure maximum consistency and authenticity.
He continues: "We have the full breadth of the lore at our disposal. We're not talking much about setting and concept at the moment, but it's a fully realised world that fans would expect from the brand."