Why 'Harry Potter: Wizards Unite' Stumbled Next to 'Pokemon Go'

Harry Potter Wizards Unite - Niantic - PUBLICITY-Black-H 2019
Courtesy of Niantic

Niantic's latest game doesn't come close to competing with its predecessor, which, three years after launch, is still the second-highest grosser on the mobile market.

Uh oh, it's not magic.

Niantic Inc.'s Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, the free-to-play AR mobile game, generated $12 million worldwide in its first month of release, according to a new report from analytics firm Sensor Tower. While that's a big number for an AR game (the second-best launch of any such title), it's a far cry from Niantic's previous AR title, Pokémon Go, which earned a staggering $300 million in its first month.

"I think there’s three main reasons as to why this happened," Lewis Ward, IDC research director of gaming and VR/AR, tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It’s a bit too derivative of Pokémon Go; there’s a significant learning curve that can be confusing to noobs (new players); and the monetization model seems to be overly aggressive."

Wizards Unite launched June 21 with a muted $1.1 million and 3 million installs in its first weekend, quite different tallies from the $28 million and 24 million installs of Pokémon Go in 2016. Overall, worldwide digital revenue grew two percent in June, year-over-year, to $9.2 billion, Nielsen's SuperData Research firm reported Tuesday. That figure was boosted by a nine percent increase in revenue from the mobile market. Despite being released more than three years ago, Pokémon Go was the second-highest grosser over the period, while Wizards Unite didn't crack the top 10.

"While the technical AR mechanics are better [in Wizards Unite], at the end of the day, gamers are largely still walking to specific local hotspots to collect things and perhaps engage in multiplayer battles," says Ward. "There’s a real question as to whether the core mechanics are different enough from Pokémon Go to attract a large base of users and whether that mechanic is a good fit for the Harry Potter universe."

While Wizards Unite may be a bit of a disappointment compared to its predecessor, it is still a success for a new AR title. Pokémon Go did get off to a hot start in 2016, reaching an early peak of 28.5 million players in the U.S. that year before falling back down to 5 million by April 2017. However, a resurgence occurred in May 2018 with the game hitting its most monthly active players, 147 million worldwide, which coincided with a number of updates to the title and in-game events, such as the two-week Battle Showdown at the beginning of that month.

"Niantic has a history of pushing out significant updates to its games, and I’m sure they’re busy working on improvements now, so it’s too early to say Harry Potter: Wizards Unite won’t ever become a top 25 mobile game," says Ward. "It’s clear, though, that Niantic and its partners missed the mark out of the gate, and it can be really tough to recover from a lukewarm reception in the highly competitive mobile games market."