SDCC 2019 Exclusive Creators Interview: ‘Wizards Unite’ for Families

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SDCC Wizards Unite

It’s no secret in my town that we are the Pokemon Go Family. We’ve been playing since it first started (I still have some Very Old Pokemon), and we have a community of players that we know well. However, I’m a Potterhead through and through (Ravenclaw 4 Lyfe!). So, I’d been waiting for two years to play Wizards Unite. Having the opportunity to ask all my burning questions from the creators after the Wizards Unite panel concluded meant I could really get into a little more depth about how the game can bring families together. The really interesting part, as a parent, is that the way in which the team conceptualized and implemented the game may not have intended to provide important learning moments for kids, but it brings together everything that geeks love about parenting geeklings.

How does the game’s narrative structure create a sense of self-confidence?

In truth, this wasn’t actually my question, although I really wish it had been. I asked Mary Casey, Executive Director of Product, a question that followed up on her comments during the Wizards Unite panel about wanting a narrative that could bring people into the Wizarding World.

When interviewed, Casey further expanded on managing the narrative and helping people see themselves as heroes:

The world needs heroes. For me, what Harry Potter taught me was that people could come together and you had a place no matter who you were. You could be the quiet geeky person or you could be the person that people thought had their head in the clouds or you could be the Chosen One. You had your part to play and that part was important, and that part was valuable and useful. When we were creating the narrative for this game, we wanted to create a framework for everyone to be their own hero, be someone who could support a team of people taking down a group of werewolves or be someone who could grow what was needed. There are gentle ways to play the game. There are collaborative ways to play the game.

Following up on that question, she responded about the different ways the team foresaw people could play the game:

I live in San Francisco, and I am probably one of the many people in my neighborhood who do a large amount of seed growing. Sometimes I’m there to collect them, but sometimes I’m not. The idea that one person could create something or start something and other people could benefit from that was something that I wanted to achieve. I think throughout the game we see these pathways for players to do that. Being a hero isn’t always about being Harry. Sometimes it’s about being Neville and knowing a lot about Gillyweed. A lot of pathways in the game are more about support and types of playing. I’m a mom too, and that’s really important to me. My son and I can go out to the park and experience something together that’s collaborative, that’s positive that’s healthy, that’s outside without the “I’m so tired! I don’t want to walk anymore!” And now it’s about “Let’s walk to the next greenhouse, Mommy!” or “Let’s go to the Fortress and do a challenge together!” It’s really changed some of our outdoor interactions.

For Casey,  creating the game was about having layers of different things to do. There’s the foundables loop, the potions, ingredients, and professions path. As far as the future roadmap, the game is a shared world and that is the main pillar moving forward.

How did they design the game for differing player demographics?

So, to be frank, I have terrible fine-motor skills, probably about the same level of fine motor skills as a five-year-old child in a lot of ways. I find some of these spells insanely hard to cast well. So, I wanted to know from Alex Moffit, Niantic Product Manager, how the development team worked to navigate the variety of players:

It had to be there from day one. The beauty and fun of working on a franchise like this is that it’s for everyone. Everybody has something that stands out to them. We wanted to create a game that was easy to grasp but difficult to master. You come into this world, and it’s recognizable. It’s got some familiar characters right off the bat. People know that they’re going to be casting spells. But as time goes on, we want there to be more to it. You’re learning new spells. You’re leveling up. That was always part of the design challenge from the beginning—how well a three-year-old can play as well as a 75-year-old.

When he mentioned that sometimes weird wacky things pop up, he explained that “if you’d asked me early on what role would audio play in the game? I’d have said, ‘eh, no big deal, it’s a mobile game. People don’t play with audio on at all.’ Fast forward to now, the voice over that we ended up creating and putting in the game might be my favorite part of the game. It was total, unexpected bit of happenstance. It was so compelling and changed the game that I play with headphones all the time now.”

Bringing the conversation back around to the way the game brings together families and other members of their community, Moffit explained,

What we’re seeing is small groups of 2-3 or 2-5 are working super well for the wizarding challenges. It’s super fun to see who’s going to be the Professor or the Auror and how they’re going to help each other. That’s working super well. Then we’re also seeing some big groups getting together super regularly. It’s in the middle where we need to figure out our own formula. We want to figure out for ourselves what our players like.

How was it trying to work out the types of mechanics in this game?

Archit Bhargava, Director of Product Marketing at Niantic, also  answered some questions about how the game’s mechanics differ from Pokemon Go and the challenges in creating Wizards Unite.

From my vantage point, when we launched Pokemon Go, we wanted to ensure that over time we added as many fun mechanics and features to the game to truly unlock the potential of that story. I feel the same way with Harry Potter. If you think of Pokemon Go, it’s a collection game. With Harry Potter Wizards Unite, as a fan, I really want to believe that the wizarding world is real and that I am truly a wizard who has a role to play. If I draw that thread, there has to be a purpose for me to go out and play. There needs to be something in my persona that I can hone and refine over a period of time. It’s mostly leveling up my skill tree. I’ve chosen to be an Auror in the game and for me, as I’m going through that journey, I’m optimizing for those factors. We wanted to ensure that when we launched the game it was a robust, well-thought-out, holistic game experience. We wanted to ensure that we could pack it up with your ministry id, your ability to share your friend code, your ability to share the experience in many ways. The beauty of these games is that we keep working on these games every day, keep adding to them.

How did this version align with exercise, exploration, and connect more?

Finally, my last question, which Bhargava kindly answered, focused around how Wizards Unite aligns with Niantic’s core values of getting out and connecting more with your community:

The wizarding world works so well with these core principles. There’s this notion that the magic is all around you—all of these cultural markers like museums, art installations are fortresses and inns. The ingredients are grown in different places, so you have to go to all these different places to get them. You have to go to certain places to find certain foundables. You have to walk to do all this. To unlock portkeys, you have to walk more. Finally, there’s this notion of “Together United,” that’s a quote from Dumbledore, together we can do so much more and that’s Wizarding Challenges. In coming together physically with each other and playing together we can achieve this high order payoff, so that’s the Wizarding World feature that worked well.

So, is Wizards Unite as much of a family game as Pokemon Go?

I 100% believe it is. For parents who prefer RPGs, Wizards Unite manages to give you more than just the “catch ’em all” mentality. For kids, I feel that the ability to go out into the real world and be a wizard adds back some of the magic that we’re missing today. And, based on these interviews, the game was designed with precisely that desire in mind.

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