Balancing monetization and narrative in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery

Gamesindustry.biz talked to Josh Yguado, president of Jam City, the studio that developed the mobile RPG Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery.

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The biggest Hogwarts mystery prior to the launch was whether the developer would be able to combine the free-to-play monetization strategies with a compelling narrative-driven RPG experience.

The game’s performance shows that the studio succeeded.  As of March 2019, the title amassed 45 million downloads globally and brought in $100 million.

So, how does Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery monetize?

Eurogamer cites an interesting example. Early on, you get trapped in Devil’s Snare. To release a character, you need energy. In the best traditions of free-to-play, you only have a limited amount of it. So, once you run out, there are two ways to replenish it – to wait or to pay.

Obviously, the progression halts here. It seems like the business model destroys a lot of the game’s appeal, which is that it tells an actual meaningful story in the Harry Potter universe. According to Yguado, though, there is no conflict between the way the title monetizes and the way it goes on with its narrative.

In the words of developers, the periods of games between the pauses are like TV episodes. And the pauses themselves are like cliffhangers. If having to wait between episodes and seasons is normal in other media, it can be ok in games.

However, the pacing of the game also deliberately slows down making players complete multiple repetitive tasks. It is a necessary game design decision that buys time for the developers to create new content.

Yguado agrees that it’s challenging to strike the right balance between in-game tasks and the story. “I won’t say that at any point we have it right, I think we’re always trying to get it right.

The success of Hogwarts Mystery doesn’t mean that Jam City is going to only pursue licensing opportunities.  In fact, the studio intends to keep a 50/50 balance between their own IP and titles based on famous franchises.

The main lesson of Hogwarts Mystery is that a story-driven experience is an efficient tactic to maintain player engagement over a long period of time.

Yguado says that even the studio’s puzzle, strategy, casino and parlour games will utilize deep narrative as a retention tool.

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