Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Pottermore, As Good As A New Book?

Back in June 2011, Warner Bros. whipped the Harry Potter fandom into a frenzy when they started teasing a new project from Potter author J.K. Rowling. Speculation ranged from a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) to a Harry Potter social network. Popular HP fansites such as Mugglenet and The Leaky Cauldron were involved so any service in direct competition to a fansite seemed unlikely. All Rowling's camp would reveal is that it was NOT an 8th book; however, they claimed it to be equally as exciting as a new book release. 

This statement further fanned the flames and ignited longstanding potterphiles into euphoric excitement. Rather than being wrapped up in the excitement, I awaited the announcement with cautious optimism. Pottermore was sure to be interesting and unique; however, I certainly didn't expect it to approach anything close to another HP book.

Pottermore began a staggered launch in mid-August with users gaining access to the site by participating in the "Magical Quill Challenge." Me being a huge HP fan, I completed the Magical Quill Challenge and got into the second wave. To my surprise, I was sorted into Ravenclaw. I always thought myself a Gryffindor, but I can't complain with Ravenclaw. The sorting itself left a little to be desired, but more on that later.

For those unfamiliar with Pottermore, the official website states as follows: "Pottermore is an exciting new website from J.K. Rowling that can be enjoyed alongside the Harry Potter books. You can explore the series like never before and discover exclusive new writing from the author. It is FREE to join and use, and is designed to be safe for people of all ages." 

Pottermore also promises to be the exclusive outlet to obtain the Harry Potter books in ebook format. 

The main draw for the site and dedicated Potter fans is the original content from J.K. Rowling herself. Currently, only Sorcerer's Stone (SS) is available on the website. This isn't a word for word copy of SS; rather, it is an interactive companion to be read alongside the hard copy. There are pictures, collectables to find, and secrets to unlock. The most treasured secrets (though easily unlocked) are select tidbits from Rowling regarding a character's backstory, a particular writing choice on her part, etc... For a huge Potter fan like myself, this information is gold. 

Additionally, users can compete for house points, brew potions, learn spells, and even duel against fellow witches and wizards.

Unfortunately, Pottermore seems to have hit a snag. The website was expected to launch to all users in October 2011, yet it still remains closed to the general public as of February 1, 2012. My hunch is that the beta testing didn't go as smooth as WB hoped. I have to hand it to them for conducting extensive testing and offering multiple opportunities for beta users to share feedback. 

There were a few points I decided to share with WB. Perhaps it's simply a sign of my age and maturity, but I have found Pottermore to be rather underwhelming for the adult Potter fan. 

Let's start with the original content from J.K. Rowling. Even though I absolutely love the content itself, I find it a little disconcerting that Rowling seems to have opted against the idea of releasing a hard copy encyclopedia and is instead publishing the information solely through the Pottermore website. For years Potter fans have longed for an encyclopedia containing all the backstory that has been shrouded in mystery for more than a decade. As an adult, I would strongly prefer to have this information readily available in one place. Currently, the only way to obtain the information is to click through the interactive story of SS. Even if Rowling and Scholastic only released it in ebook format with a basic font and spacing, I would prefer that over the current method.

Secondly, there should be at least some sort of incentive for obtaining house points. At the moment, the house points only serve as bragging rights to the other houses. I don't expect a signed copy from J.K. Rowling, but Pottermore should definitely consider offering small trinkets for users who reach certain levels or complete specific tasks. A bookmark, HP poster, or even a free ebook are just a few ideas. In a world of jobs, school, cell phones, Facebook, gaming, literature...Pottermore has to offer at least a small reason for users to spend valuable seconds of their time brewing virtual potions on a website. 

Additionally, the sorting ceremony needs tweaking as well. Pottermore has clearly implemented a mathematical formula to keep the houses even. There are currently just under 686,000 users on Pottermore with each of the 4 houses containing between 170,000-172,000 members. Although not confirmed by WB, this appears to indicate someone could score "mostly Ravenclaw" and "somewhat Slytherin," but if Slytherin needs a boost in number, the user would be sorted into Slytherin even though they are truly more of a Ravenclaw. While I understand why they chose to keep the houses even, I'm a little confused as to why they wouldn't simply allow a "true" sorting and then weight the points depending on a house's total numbers. For the most part, the questions themselves are fantastic. They were written by Rowling herself and it shows. 

Unfortunately, there are a small number of questions that seem completely unrelated to a specific house. I encountered two of these questions during my sorting: Heads or tails? and Moon or stars? Both questions offer only two possible "answers" and I see no way how they could be related to one of the 4 Hogwarts Houses. To make matters worse...the sorting is final. Users cannot be re-sorted once the Sorting Hat makes a decision. I suppose users could register a new user name under a different email address, but that seems more trouble than it's worth and near impossible at the present time (due to the closed beta).

Finally, Pottermore needs a mobile application. If WB wants this to truly succeed, users need to have Pottermore access anytime and anywhere. If you don't have flash (which is essentially any Apple device), then you'll only have limited access to Pottermore. WB needs to offer a feature-rich application containing all the same tools and functions of the website.

It may sound like I'm being overly harsh, but I should definitely point out how grateful I am to WB and J.K. Rowling for caring about the fans enough to put together such a project. Harry Potter would have been relevant for generations to come even without Pottermore, yet this is just nod to the fans and a catalyst to carry HP to future generations. The website itself features a great design and has been carefully crafted in a way that accommodates almost anyone. The potential, support, and resources are there for something much greater than what is currently available. In no way do I expect to spend hours a day on Pottermore; however, I would love to see significant changes giving a working adult reason to visit the site once or twice per week. I will continue to keep an eye on for any announcements regarding the official launch.


logankstewart said...

I was only mildly curious about Pottermore after first hearing about it. Once it was announced, I lost interest. Like you, I'd much rather have a physical encyclopedia or an annotated collection of books or something, not clicking on a screen for everything. It's kind of a bummer that Pottermore hold exclusive ebook rights, too. Hopefully that won't always be the case, but who knows?

How's JS&MN coming along for you?

Jonboy said...

I'm still just a few chapters in. I've been reading Steve Jobs biography as well so I think I'm going to finish that first. It's a fascinating read so far. Even if you aren't a fan of Jobs, you should definitely read it. Doesn't sugarcoat his flaws, but makes sure you know his accomplishments as well.

logankstewart said...

Alas, I can barely stomach biographies, even from people I am very interested in (Tolkien, Bob Dylan). Enjoy, though. And make sure to review it!

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