Pottermore Leaves Some Magic To Be Desired
Does Pottermore live up to its name and deliver more? Or less?
Earlier this week, the much anticipated and much discussed Harry Potter interactive fan site Pottermore emerged from a prolonged beta testing phase and welcomed all aspiring witches and wizards to join. But with limited content, restricted interactivity, and a clunky interface, I’m not so sure that the site was ready to throw open Hogwarts’ castle doors.
Several months ago, I missed the chance to be included in the small group of beta users Pottermore accepted, so I was excited to finally be able to explore the site that seemed to elude definition. Is it a game? Social media? eBookstore? Marketing campaign? I quickly signed up and eagerly awaited my acceptance.
And waited. In fact, Pottermore has made some fans wait more than 24 hours to receive access, which is the site’s first mistake. Users aren’t concerned with the technical logistics that go into launching a site like this; they want instant gratification.
Eventually, a registration confirmation email arrived in my inbox. Following its instructions it wasn't long before I encountered Pottermore's second mistake - I was asked to choose my username from a pre-determined list. Technologically empowered and socially savvy users want a customizable, personal experience and are used to getting it. If someone wants their handle to be PotterLovesLoony22 then I see no reason to stop them.
The only logical explanation for limiting usernames is to keep Pottermore a family friendly site, but I think Pottermore has aimed too young with its user experience, and here’s why: the kids that grew up with the books, the first generation of die-hard fans, are now in their early to mid-twenties, and are the most technologically confident and active generation in the world. Consequently, they are Pottermore’s largest target audience and, due to Pottermore’s prescriptive nature, the group most likely to be disappointed by the site.
I’m a member of that first generation of Potter fans, and after waiting for two registration emails and laboring through a sign-up process that felt restrictive, I was already disenchanted with the site. A text message from my brother (“I don’t like that once I sign up they’re going to send me an email letting me know when I can start exploring. I already signed up and did everything, let me explore!”), and conversations with friends confirmed they felt the same way.
When I was finally able to access Pottermore, I began my journey through the first book, The Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer's Stone if you're in the US). I quickly discovered that each chapter has one or more scenes that you can zoom in and out of, and sometimes discover items, but that’s pretty much it. Several scenes are almost completely static with no objects to gather or secrets to unlock. Very rarely can you actually engage in a bit of game play. Such limited interactivity was really underwhelming, and I found myself randomly clicking around on the images, hoping to unlock some greater functionality, but with no luck.
Beyond the chapters, there are elements that are more interactive like casting spells or brewing potions, but the interface still has some bugs. Several times my crushed snake fangs got stuck in mid-air, held in-limbo by other graphical items on screen, or the image of my wand would stay at rest on the table while some invisible something shot lightning bolts at the cauldron. Needless to say, my potion was not a success.
But where the content interactivity fails, Pottermore’s social skills shine. At the end of practically every bit of content (which there is lots of, from standard descriptions of people and places to exclusive content from Rowling herself) there is a section to comment and even add fan art. Once you’ve been sorted into your house, your common room includes a message board and a leaderboard for House Cup points. You can connect with friends and duel other members. The only feature missing is interconnectivity with other sites like Facebook and Twitter, but in spite of this, Pottermore has the right social platform to eventually become the ultimate place for Harry Potter fans to connect.
I quickly blew through The Philosopher’s Stone, partly to write this article, partly to discover what other features the site had, and partly because it was fun. When I tried to move on to The Chamber of Secrets, I discovered that the section doesn’t even exist yet.
Rapidly devouring Harry Potter content and then waiting for the next installment seems to be built into the brand DNA, but I wish they had considered delaying Pottermore’s wide release until there was more than one book uploaded.
So, Potter fans, we wait again. Due to my lackluster first experience with Pottermore, I’m not sure if I’ll even check back in again when The Chamber of Secrets opens up.
Who am I kidding? I’ll be there with my mirror and Parseltongue translator app in hand hoping that, like the books, Pottermore will improve and advance with each installment.