By Jonah B. Firestone
November 14, 2017

In July of 2016, Pokemon Go put augmented reality (AR) on the map. Within 33 days of release, the AR game was downloaded over 100 million times. Over the course of the next month, Pokemon Go went on to break five Guinness world records, including most revenue grossed by a mobile game in its first month and most downloaded mobile game in its first month.

By September of the same year, the number of paying players had declined 79%.

Niantic, the creator of Pokemon Go and Ingress (the original AR game that Pokemon Go was built upon), now plans to create a Harry Potter-themed AR game based upon the same concept. Expectations are incredibly high for the game, titled Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. But it will suffer the same fate as Pokemon Go if Niantic can’t figure out how to properly blend AR into gaming experience.

It turned out that not only was the AR in Pokemon Go a huge drain on battery life, but unnecessary for the game to function. In fact, it slowed the game down and created glitches and bugs that at times made the game unplayable. The AR feature allowed the player to see a Pokemon in the real world through the camera feature on their phones. However, this feature encountered several problems, including the camera not showing the Pokemon correctly or the camera not linking to the game properly. Consequently, many Pokemon Go fans played without AR, and those that played because of the AR stopped altogether.

In my own research on augmented reality and virtual reality use in education, I typically introduce my work as “like Pokemon Go.” This is almost immediately recognized by everyone I speak to, regardless of age. I can attribute my and fellow researchers’ increased success in promoting this type of research directly to Pokemon Go. The students, teachers, and researchers with whom I work recognize AR’s appeal: of seeing a fantastical world overlaid upon the everyday. This experience is what drove millions to originally play Pokemon Go and what continues to foster creation and work on AR platforms and experiences, educational or otherwise.

The Harry Potter franchise has generated more than $25 billion over the last 20 years, which is about the same length of time that Pokemon has been around. J.K. Rowlings’s creation has achieved worldwide success across economic and social lines. Her books have been published in ; Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a script of a stage play, was the highest-grossing book of 2016; and many schools and universities, including my own, have competitive Quidditch leagues.

It is inevitable that combining the technology behind Pokemon Go and the Harry Potter universe will generate millions of dollars. However, lightning has already struck once. Without a more integrated AR experience for players, a Harry Potter game will have a similar initial draw as Pokemon Go, but will suffer from the same dropout rate as non-committed players leave.

In order to prevent this, Niantic needs to more fundamentally integrate AR into its forthcoming game. Players should be able to interact more fully and more often with the creatures described in the Harry Potter universe. Instead of just capturing creatures, players could cast spells that affect monsters, other players, and even existing areas. Also, players could customize their environment in 3D—a capability that is now possible with current phones—and create permanent locations, viewable by others, that are similar to Hogwarts. New platforms—such as Apple’s ARKit, which allows users to create their own 3D models and project them into the real world—should make this task easier than it was just two years ago.

Fuller integration would provide Harry Potter fans with what they crave, a fantastical world in which they can play an active and creative role. And it might help Niantic’s next game succeed where its previous one fell short.

Jonah B. Firestone is an assistant professor of science education at Washington State University.

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