A few months ago, I wrote an article about my favorite Match 3 game – Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells. I liked a lot of aspects. From the game’s mechanics to work with IP. And this was the reason why I decided to start playing a different game from this universe – Harry Potter – Hogwarts Mystery. Hogwarts Mystery is older than Puzzle & Spell (april 2018 vs september 2020) and due to a different game genre, it offers players a totally different experience. And this is the main topic of this article – how Jam City brought immersive and familiar experience into our smartphones.
Environment, story and characters
The first point of this article is of course connected to intellectual property and how authors work with it. If you have seen the original movies or read books series, you will notice the familiar environment, characters and situation from the very beginning. This is of course a very strong selling point in any game, but we can often see that famous IP is used only as “visual skin” for existing proven concepts, without expanding the game’s potential. Especially in a casual and free to play environment. Here I have to mention how the authors approaches the story. One important fact is that Hogwarts Mystery is set before the original Harry Potter story. You will not play with the main book’s protagonists and you will not meet them. And this was a very good step – opportunity to play with a custom character, experience a new adventure and expand the original story. In this kind of game, this concept is attractive and it creates many possibilities how to keep an audience attention. Especially, when the new story and whole game use proved features like mystery, friendship, fantasy and fight of good vs evil. This is what the generation who was raised on the original books and movies is remembers. And they will get it again, in their smartphones.
The game’s core loop is based on simple, but effective energy system. The main goal for players is to progress in a set of tasks. These tasks are always part of a bigger unit – a school year and they are often connected to your Hogwarts studies (learning spells) or student life (making friends, solving mystery). Finishing tasks is an important convert point. Every task is divided into some amount of activities. These activities are fulfilled by simple player’s actions – clicking on objects in a room, simple interactive minigames (like clicking on a screen in the right time, “drawing” a spell with your finger, or quiz-like dialogues). And of course, this all costs you energy. As you progress in the game, tasks contain more activities and they require more energy. Gradually, it’s harder and harder to finish them all in one session. Plus, every task has a time limit. After you start, you have usually a few hours. If you don’t finish the whole task in the time limit, you have to start from the beginning (or you can use gems – hard currency). It means losing invested energy and delaying your progress in the story. Excellent illustration of using a loss aversion principe. Sometimes you can come across a hard time gate. Starting a new task is simply time locked and you have to wait a few hours (“Now I have to study this book, visit me later”). You can use this time to explore Hogwarts or other game’s features (collecting magic creatures, having short battles in duelling minigames or customizing your accommodation and the character’s appearance). Or you can, of course, solve this problem with gems.
Rewarding is an important part of tasks. A progressbar presenting your progress is divided into several parts by stars. Reaching the star will give you a small reward. Every time, you can choose from 3 options, based on your preferences: coins, specific ability points or feeding for your animal companion? It’s up to you what you take. But every time you experience a short flash of strategic thinking. What will be the best value for me now? It’s not complicated, it’s not overwhelming, it’s a pleasant part of the gameplay.
The second important progression part of the gameplay are dialogues with other characters. Focus here is primarily on the story and development of your character and relationships with others. By acquiring ability points (Courage, Empathy, Knowledge) you unlock special dialogues answers and adapt your game character more toward your ideals. Together with visual customization of the character and well known universe this simple system works well and allows a pleasant level of role playing.
Playing Hogwarts Mystery was a refreshing experience in the free to play segment. The game consists of many different features, but the Harry Potter Universe connects everything into one well-oiled machine. Yes, this game isn’t new and the mobile market is pretty challenging to stay on the top. But the quality of the game is significant, also after almost three years after it’s release.