One year ago I was in Salem, Massachusetts on a ghost walk. Pokemon Go had been out for less than 24 hours and the guide had already altered the route to accommodate more hot spots for Niantic’s wildly successful app. He said he’d quickly become tired of people taking detours from the walk to hunt down Pokemon.
As my brother and I drove around the next day, we saw kids perched in obscure places—empty lots, church steps, next to community center dumpsters—and now we had to wonder if they were looking for Pikachu. I told my brother, “You know, there’s only one other franchise that could elicit this kind of response.” And now Niantic is going to test that theory.
Warner Bros. has confirmed that they are working with the company to develop a similar augmented-reality game based on the Harry Potter universe for 2018. There is already a signup page for email updates on the game currently titled ‘Wizards Unite.’ The Wall Street Journal reports that the game makers have raised $200 million in a funding round with Spark Capital to develop what I’m sure will be a phenomenon for a month and a half.
“The beloved Harry Potter stories have captured imaginations worldwide for more than 20 years and soon we’ll turn the fantasy into augmented reality, allowing fans and their friends to become wizards and witches,” Niantic CEO John Hanke said in a statement.
Pokemon Go was the beginning of a very good year for Nintendo, who had managed to stir up players with the miniature NES and SNES Classic Editions and their newest home console the Nintendo Switch. Pokemon Go wasn’t Niantic’s first go at mobile games. Their Pokemon adventure was largely based on the framework for their previous AR team sports game Ingress, launched in 2012. When Pokemon Go launched, the game soon became a phenomenon. Before the game went live in North America, players were using backdoors to access the earlier Australian servers, crashing the game constantly.
The real madness began when the game finally made its way stateside. Because hot spots—real-world locations where users convene to play the game—were created based on places that were already popular, some small businesses loved the sudden traffic boom while other public spaces had to fight against congestion. Toronto mayor John Tory had to reach out to Nintendo to get kids to stop crowding the city’s ferry terminal.
It was quickly becoming difficult to suss out fact from fiction as Pokemon Go tall tales floated around. The game was actually used by armed robbers in Missouri to attract victims and, in several other cases, coincidentally led players to the sites of undiscovered dead bodies. It was not unlike the schoolyard rumours I heard when I first played Pokemon Blue, but those all just applied to how you could somehow find Mew hidden in a crate with the right button code. Pokemon Go often felt like a Pandora’s Box of sorts.
Niantic has continued to update the game with more Pokemon since its 2016 zeitgeist, and confirmed that they will continue to even after Wizards Unite becomes a thing. Stumbling onto a dead body feels much more in line with Harry Potter’s level of intrigue, magic and mystery anyway.