In fact, the more you think about it, the more surprising it is that we haven't heard official word of a Harry Potter MMO by now. After doing some poking around, the most likely suspects to take on this project would either be Warner Bros. (which owns the rights to the franchise) or Electronic Arts (which purchased a license from WB to make the movie video games). Both companies have MMO studios at their command -- Turbine, BioWare, Mythic -- and both have the resources to make it happen.
So why does Harry Potter make perfect sense for MMO-adaptation? Hit the jump and I'll run you down the top 10 reasons! And if you post a positive comment after this column, I'll add five points to the house of your choice (go Hufflepuff!).
Right now Harry Potter is as close to the zenith of popularity as he'll ever be again. The franchise has made more money than you could possibly fathom, the final movie is due out this summer (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2), the Universal Orlando Resort Harry Potter area has been packed since launch, and except for potential source materials, J.K. Rowling has said that the series is over and done.
I'm not saying that Harry Potter fever is going to go away within a year or two, but it's hard to imagine a future in which people are more worked up about the franchise than they are now. The phrase "strike while the iron is hot and magical" comes to mind.
I'm hard-pressed to think of another popular fantasy series that's been this hugely successful across several forms of entertainment -- and one that hasn't already been tapped for an MMO. Narnia maybe? Twilight? No matter what I come up with, Harry Potter still comes out on top.
Harry Potter is, quite frankly, the golden-egg-laying goose of IPs. The very name alone carries with it the promise of insane profit and a host of fans, both of which could provide a solid foundation for an MMO.
For all of J.K. Rowling's faults as a writer (and yes, she does have them), world-building is not one of them. I know that I first became entranced with the hidden magical world of wizards, witches and Hogwarts based on the strengths of the details and history that Rowling conjured. Great stories are told in elaborate worlds, and Harry Potter is certainly not lacking in this regard.
Yet for all of the adventures that are told in the seven novels, we see but a fraction of the wizarding world that's out there and are privy to only a sliver of the truth behind all things. Room for expansion and exploration will beckon to players who wouldn't mind seeing these things for themselves.
With the strange lack of a Harry Potter MMO, KingsIsle Entertainment stepped in and cornered the market with the thinly veiled homage/copy/ripoff/inspired-by Wizard101. I'm not bagging on Wizard101 by any means, but you can't argue that its creation had nothing to do with Harry Potter. It's all about providing a Potter substitute in the absence of the real deal -- and to give KingsIsle credit, the team went above and beyond a mere knockoff to incorporate unique gameplay and an ever-expanding world.
But the point I want to make here is that Wizard101's phenomenal success is a strong indicator that an MMO market for Harry Potter does exist (just in case you were doubting it). The field is big enough for both Wizard101 and Potter, in my opinion, and if Harry Potter does become an online RPG, it'll have to thank Wizard101 for forging a path first.
I feel that this is another important strength that Harry Potter brings. It's undeniably fantasy, but not in the traditional medieval, Lord of the Rings, or Dungeons & Dragons sense. In fact, I've seen people openly sniff in disdain at high fantasy works while fully embracing Harry Potter and never seeing the irony.
I don't think fantasy is overplayed in the MMO genre; I just think that a specific and often-copied type of fantasy is. Harry Potter's fantasy world is set in our modern world, albeit one with a heckuva twist. It has dragons and spells, sure, but it also has time travel, a sports league and homework. It's a different take on fantasy than we're used to seeing in MMOs.
Let's spend a few points looking at how the series lends itself well to MMO conventions. For starters, Hogwarts instructs students in several schools of magic, each of which has a very specific flavor and purpose. You see characters learning about subjects like transfiguration, potions, charms, herbology, and the Defense Against the Dark Arts, and most characters tend to lean toward one or two of these subjects.
So if you have a game in which all of your characters are, essentially, magic users, then it makes sense to differentiate characters between types of magic instead of the tired "warrior/healer/DPS" trinity. I could see the game either asking players to choose a major and minor school of magic to be their specialties or opening it up to a more free-form character build in which you can learn from multiple schools within certain parameters.
Over the course of the series, the characters go through seven years of schooling at Hogwarts, growing in power, ability, knowledge and skill as they do so. In MMO parlance, they're leveling up. Even after they graduate, they have the option to go into advanced training or to choose a specialized job, depending on how they did.
This might be a great opportunity for the developers to break free from having us climb up to level 50, 75 or 100, instead slowing things down somewhat while still retaining a familiar element of structure with the years format. The endgame could be the much larger world following players' Hogwarts experiences, giving us a much different experience instead of more of the same.
Really, once you get going with looking at Harry Potter through an MMO lens, it just doesn't stop. The final direct comparison I'll make in this list is the fact that Rowling uses Hogwarts houses much the same way that devs use factions in MMOs: to create artificial conflict, promote competition, and give characters a sense of identity and belonging.
And can you imagine if every year the devs ran a year-long contest between the houses, much like in the books -- contests in which the winning house on each server would win not only the cup but a year-long buff of some kind? That would be something to see!
While the Harry Potter series certainly has a lot of combat, destruction, and death, the novels aren't all about that -- a fact that I hope any would-be devs would note. The stories are just as much about discovery, growth, Quidditch, mysteries and exploration as anything else.
With all of the magical abilities given to the players, I'd love to see challenges that would force them to use these skills not merely to kill whatever lies in their path but to overcome obstacles with a wide variety of clever means.
Finally, the best case I can make for a Harry Potter MMO is that the fans are downright desperate to keep the story going. Nobody likes it when a good thing ends, which is why geeks keep reviving long-dead franchises as trendy retro t-shirts. If we're not going to get any more movies or novels, an MMO may just be the best option to pick up the Potter torch for a while.
Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.