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In the mobile gaming space, the terms “geolocation” and “augmented reality” are often interchanged without much thought given into what they actually mean. But make no mistake the two are vastly different concepts and after spending the past two weeks in three completely different places, I came to the realization that in order for Harry Potter: Wizards Unite to succeed on the scale many have projected it to, it is going to require to be more geolocation-based and less augmented reality (AR).
The Case for Regionally Exclusive Content
If we are being honest, there are not many AR games on the market. The best known AR game is Pokemon Go, but AR has virtually no role and in fact, AR mode is more of a hindrance to progression not to mention a major battery drainer. It would be more accurate to say, “Pokemon Go is the best geolocation game on the market.”
The thing Niantic was able to do with Pokemon Go so brilliantly is to create a unique user experience based on where in the world you were playing the game. Ironically, this was also one the title’s biggest weaknesses. Since Pokemon Go’s summer 2016 launch and subsequent success, several other geolocation titles have come to market including Jurassic World Alive.
Unlike Pokemon Go, Ludia (developers for Jurassic World Alive, JWA) developed their game such a way as to give all its players virtually the same experience regardless of where they were located and again, AR really plays no role outside of taking photos of your favorite prehistoric creature in the modern world. For instance, my ability to find a Tyrannosaurus Rex on the map was not limited to my ability to travel outside my local area. In fact, there are no dinosaurs a player could find across the globe (say London), which I cannot find within a five-mile radius of my house in Southern California.
This equal-opportunity play style was wildly – pun intended – popular amongst rural gaming enthusiasts who suffered through, or in many cases quit playing, Pokemon Go in the game’s infancy due to the lack of content available to them. And it’s something anyone can understand.
This unequal playing field is often pointed to as one of the major reasons some players choose to use third-party geolocation apps which mask their true location and travel to other points in the world where the chances of encountering a more rare or regionally-exclusive Pokemon increases. This action is commonly referred to as spoofing and rampant spoofing caused a massive fracture in the Pokemon Go player base.
Despite JWA’s lack of regional exclusives, the conflict between spoofers and non-spoofers was also an issue because of the PVP element to the game where being able to target only the best creatures from your house gave you a decided advantage over those who played the game, as intended to be played, by physically going out and looking for the best dinosaurs.
Based off my personal experience playing both Pokemon Go and Jurassic World Alive, people are going to cheat/spoof no matter how spawns are allocated in Wizards Unite. Sadly, even with nothing of value at stake there are those who will look to gain an unfair advantage over everyone else.
Therefore, does it matter if Harry Potter: Wizards Unite has regionally-exclusive content?
You see, during my two weeks on the road I found myself opening up Pokemon Go significantly more often than Jurassic World Alive to check spawns around me and this is coming from someone who barely plays Pokemon Go at home. The simple fact is, being somewhere new meant there were different Pokemon spawning and that created a sense of excitement that just isn’t there when playing in a familiar setting. In contrast, when I opened Jurassic World Alive, I knew there would be nothing new spawning that I wouldn’t be able to dart back at home and so during the limited amount of time I had to sneak a peek at a game on my phone, Pokemon Go got first dibs.
As great as giving everyone in the world the same experience in a geolocation game sounds, it really defeats the purpose of creating a game focused on getting the player base out of the house and visiting new places.
I understand that being able to travel outside of your local community is a luxury that not everyone has but for those times when you are able to visit distant family, take a school field trip, or travel abroad, opening the Wizards Unite app will regain some of the magic it is sure to lose after playing for a year in the same location. And even if for just a weekend getaway, that spark could be just enough to keep people playing long after its expiration date.