Harry Potter Hogwarts Cash Grab

Like Potterheads the world over, I rejoiced when Portkey Games officially announced two Harry Potter apps last year. Harry Potter Wizards Unite (the Pokemon Go style app) sounded more intriguing, but I was interested in Hogwarts Mystery as well.

I promptly followed the HPHogwartsMystery Instagram account and pre-registered for the app as soon as I could in order to stay up to date on all the news. I feel no shame in admitting I, quite literally, squeed in joy when I received the email alert that the game was available. At my desk. At work. #potterlife

I was expecting a rich, interactive game, along the lines of the platform games I grew up with (think: the games released for each Harry Potter movie, or Lego Harry Potter). What I got was an insultingly obvious cash grab.

This is a long review, so I won’t be at all offended if you only hit the points that are of interest to you. In fact, I’ll even provide you a review map. It’s like a site map, but only for this review. You’ll find it strategically placed after every major section so you can jump around to your heart’s content.

Overview | Gameplay Video | Major Issues | Cash Grab | Data Hog | Simplicity | Good Points | Wrap Up

Overview

I rushed over to Starbucks to download the app where I actually get decent signal. Within moments, I was diving into the game and creating my character. That, at least, was fun. There were minimal configuration options, but the game made it clear that you’d be able to update your character’s appearance later on, and I was, at least, able to piece together something vaguely resembling me.

Hogwarts Mysteries Avatar
Yes, I’m a Slytherin

Unfortunately, my experience with the game went downhill from there. It starts out with a ridiculously easy tutorial. Granted, I understand that tutorials are to be expected, and that this game is rated E, so, at 30, I’m not necessarily the target audience. But the entire tutorial was just about following along and tapping on whatever the big finger indicated.

"Hint Finger" in the Tutorial

I worked my way through the tutorial, expecting the gameplay to improve once it was over. Sadly, while the pointing finger finally disappeared, the game still features a lot of hand-holding, like highlighting the shape of a spell every time you cast it.

Around 20 minutes in (if I recall correctly), I ran out of energy, right in the middle of escaping from the Devil’s Snare. So I was stuck on the screen shown below, waiting for my energy to replenish at a snail’s pace of one every four minutes. Of course, you’re welcome to pay for energy, but the conversion rates are terrible (see below).

Devil's Snare
It never occurred to me that I’d be negatively reviewing this game, so I didn’t take screenshots. This one comes from 9to5mac.com. Click the image to read their review.

I set the game aside, and waited for my energy to replenish, feeling gypped that I’d only gotten to play for 20 minutes. If I had known at the time how the game would continue, I’d have been thankful I’d gotten to play that long.

Over-eager as I was to continue playing, I hopped back into the game about 20 minutes later, only to find that I still couldn’t finish the Devil’s Snare section, because I immediately used up my available energy on the “Tug at Vines” prompt. Feeling annoyed, I set my phone aside again, and was finally able to escape the Devil’s Snare about an hour later.

I played a bit more while at work and on the way home, going through the first potions lesson, if I recall correctly, which completely drained my energy again. But when I got home, I discovered something almost as bad as the energy cash grab, the game is an absolute data hog!

Overview | Gameplay Video | Major Issues | Cash Grab | Data Hog | Simplicity | Good Points | Wrap Up

Gameplay Video

I recorded my playthrough of the second Wingardium Leviosa lesson so that I can refer to various items in the gameplay. I apologize for the changes in quality. I didn’t realize that the screen recorder I used changes output size if you don’t flip back to portrait mode while recording. And this isn’t exactly something I can just re-do.

Overview | Gameplay Video | Major Issues | Cash Grab | Data Hog | Simplicity | Good Points | Wrap Up

Major Issues

I have three major issues with the game at this point. In order of severity:

  1. It’s just a cash grab
  2. It’s the biggest data hog I’ve ever played
  3. It’s overly simplistic

Cash Grab

It’s insulting how big of a cash grab this game is. It’s a slap in the face to every Potterhead who was excited by all of the fabulous teasers Portkey Games has released in the past six months. But calling it a cash grab is just an overview of the issue. You can actually break this problem into 2 separate issues: the amount of time you can play with a full energy bar, and the conversion rates.

Playing into both of these issues is the fact that nearly every task has a time limit that puts the pressure on you to buy gems so you don’t run out of time. I had that happen to me yesterday while trying to make the Wiggenweld potion.

Play Time

This morning, I just barely (I had two energy left) made it through the Wiggenweld potions lesson which got me roughly nine minutes of play time (around eating breakfast). I got lucky, because completing the lesson completed Chapter 4 and my energy bar refilled. Of course, I had a two-hour wait for the next main story event (which I could also unlock instantly for 55 gems).

It took me a few minutes to remember that the lessons are listed separately. So I went back and looked, and I had the Wingardium Leviosa lesson available. Sadly, the first lesson took me roughly four minutes to “play” through (around getting dressed) and left me with only 1 energy.

Available tasks

I just played through the second Wingardium Leviosa lesson (check out the video if you haven’t already), or at least, I tried to. I got through two minutes and 16.5 seconds before I ran out of energy. That’s abysmal.

I’ve played my share of games where you have to wait for energy, stamina, etc. in order to play, but they generally include multiple ways to gain stamina during the game, and give you a good 10-15 minutes of game play before you find yourself waiting for energy.

Conversion Rates

A full energy bar (currently, 25 energy) has provided me with nine, four, and two and a quarter minutes of play time so far today. That averages to five minutes of play time per 25 energy, or five energy per minute. Although, keep in mind that that’s probably being generous considering that while I was playing this morning, I wasn’t giving the game my full attention.

Now, let’s take a look at the gem packages and conversion to energy. I did some math, but feel free to skip past it.

Gem and Energy Packages

Here are the breakdowns:

25 gems for $.99 = 3.9¢ per gem
130 gems for $4.99 = 3.8¢ per gem
275 gems for $9.99 = 3.6¢ per gem
575 gems for 19.99 = 3.5¢ per gem
1,500 gems for $49.99 = 3.3¢ per gem
3,125 gems for $99.99 = 3.1¢ per gem

While that doesn’t seem like a huge savings, as an example, if you were to simply purchase the $.99 pack 101 times, you’d be getting 600 gems less than the $99.99 pack.

10 energy for 20 gems = 2 gems per energy
30 energy for 55 gems = 1.83 gems per energy
60 energy for 100 gems = 1.67 gems per energy

The savings here are a little lower. If you were to purchase the 20 gem pack five times, you’d be only be getting 10 energy less.

So what does this really mean?

Let’s look at the scenario if you were to buy the most expensive gem pack, and utilize the highest gem to energy conversions.

With 3,125 gems, you can convert 100 gems to energy 31 times for 1,860 energy, as well as convert 20 gems to energy once bringing your total to 1,870 energy. This translates to approximately 5.3¢ per energy.

Utilizing the average play time of 5 energy per minute, you get 374 minutes or 6.23 hours of play time. Meaning you’re paying roughly 27¢ a minute or $16.20 an hour. But what about the energy that you earn while playing?

Over the course of your 374 minutes of play time, you will also earn 93 energy, which adds 18.6 additional minutes of play time. I’m going to round up to 19 for ease. This means you’ll have 393 minutes of play time, or 6.55 hours, and you’ll pay roughly 25¢ a minute or $15.26 an hour.

But what if you spent less?

With 25 gems, you can only convert to energy once, earning you 10 energy. This translates to 9.9¢ per energy. You end up with only two minutes of play time and are spending 50¢ per minute, or the equivalent of $30 per hour!

And those 55 gems you need to refill your energy bar (which I’m sure will go up as your max energy increases)? The closest you can get is to buy three 25 gem packs and spend $2.97. Which means you’re spending $3 for five minutes of play time, or 60¢ a minute!

Let’s compare that to a Playstation game. Using Game Lengths‘ average game length information, the average play time for the games I like to play is 40.775 hours. And at $60 a game, that’s only $1.47 an hour.

I really don’t mind a game that has in-app purchases that allow you to get through things faster or purchase additional outfits, etc. But I have a serious problem with games that essentially force you to pay to play.

Possible Improvements

The conversion rates are easy fixes. In theory. I’m not actually sure how hard it would be to change the programming. It’s really a matter of decreasing the gems to energy ratio so you get a better value for your money. Maybe a 1:1 or even 2 energy per gem?

I’d also be more than willing to buy a one-time Pro mode. Say, $20 to eliminate the wait times. They can even keep the coin purchases to buy clothing, etc.

The play time would be immensely improved by just including other ways to gain energy. There are a small handful (I’ve come across 5 so far) places where you can occasionally gain extra energy. For example, sometimes there’s a house elf resting in the dungeons. If you tap on him? her? you get an energy.

If there were many more opportunities like that to gain energy, then you’d be able to play longer. But at the very least, Portkey Games needs to get gameplay up to 20 minutes per full energy bar.

Data Hog

I was a little surprised to see this warning when I first opened the game: This game downloads data while playing. We recommend playing on Wifi.

Data Warning

But I shrugged it off, assuming, that, like most games, it wouldn’t be a big deal. After all, even Pokemon Go didn’t chug through data badly, and it tracks every move with GPS.

So I played to my heart’s content…well, I played as much as the game let me. *grumble* On the train home, my data warning popped up. I have mine set to 5GB just so I stay aware of my usage.

Once I got home, I decided to have a quick look at my data. Somehow, in roughly 30 minutes of gameplay throughout the course of the day, Hogwarts Mystery manaed to use 871MB of data! In comparison, Instagram, which I’m on ALL THE TIME, and regularly upload photos and videos through, has only used 2 GB since April 12!! That’s beyond ridiculous! Even watching a few videos on YouTube has only used 277MB.

Needless to say, I will ONLY be playing Hogwarts Mystery at home. Well, assuming I continue playing for much longer.

Possible Improvements

I really don’t know that this can be improved. It would probably mean a complete overhaul of the game, and I don’t really see that happening.

Simplicity

As I mentioned earlier, I understand that this game is rated E. That means it’s basically available to anyone who can read (because reading is a HUGE part of this game). However, Portkey Games has to be aware that a large portion (probably a majority) of Potterheads are well over 18. So to create a game that caters to the under-12 age range seems a little odd.

Let me provide some examples.

  • Approximately 50% of the game (so far) has been tapping through dialogue. While an effective way to get through the story, it’s also “interactive” in only the most rudimentary sense.
  • Of the remaining 50%, about 25% has been tapping on anything that is outlined in blue in order to get through your lessons (check out my gameplay video if you haven’t already to see what I mean).
  • Every time you get to cast a spell, the wand movement shape comes up and a twinkle (for lack of a better term) traces through the shape reminding you how to do it. (See timestamp 4:23 in my gameplay video)
  • There is almost no challenge. It’s impossible to fail at the dialogue or tapping items. As far as I can tell, it’s impossible to fail at casting a spell. The only things that I’ve seen you can fail at so far are when you (very occasionally) have to choose an answer for a quiz or when talking to a friend, or when you have to “focus”. (See timestamp 00:51 in my gameplay video).

If Portkey Games is going to do everything they can to squeeze some money out of us, they should at least give us a darn good reason to keep playing. But all this hand holding is more annoying than helpful.

Possible Improvements

It would be interesting to have difficulty levels. For example, maybe if you’re on Hard, the spell shape doesn’t show up, you have to remember it. Or perhaps you have to tap things in a specific sequence, or pattern.

Overview | Gameplay Video | Major Issues | Cash Grab | Data Hog | Simplicity | Good Points | Wrap Up

Good Points

The game isn’t wholly bad. There are some good points.

The graphics are pretty nice for a mobile game. I’m also impressed by how battery-friendly it is. Best I can tell (considering how little I play at a time) battery consumption is roughly equal to, or a little below, a typical game.

The story line seems like it will be really interesting. I want to know what happened to “my” brother, and am eager to find out what the meaning of the visions are. That isn’t really a spoiler, by the way. The visions are introduced in Chapter 2 or 3.

It’s great, also, that we get to see Hogwarts in a different time than the series. I really look forward to meeting Tonks and Bill.

Ignoring the play time issues, I’d be really eager to play through this multiple times to see how making different decisions affects the game. For example, do you get to be better friends with Ben if you choose to be in Gryffindor?

It’s really sad that the positive aspects of this game are so completely overshadowed by the major mistakes made in its creation.

Overview | Gameplay Video | Major Issues | Cash Grab | Data Hog | Simplicity | Good Points | Wrap Up

Wrap Up

If you read through my entire review, thank you! You’re awesome. If you jumped here to get a summary of my thoughts, you won’t be disappointed.

The Good: The storyline and the graphics.

The Bad: It’s a cash grab and a data hog, and it’s really simplistic.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Gameplay ★★☆☆☆
There’s more bad than good, really.
Storyline ★★★★★
It’s keeping me playing despite all the problems, so I have to give it a 5.
Graphics ★★★★★
They’re better than I typically see in mobile games.
Value ☆☆☆☆☆
Even though it’s “free” the (lack of) value in this game is ridiculous.
Fun ★★★☆☆
I’m still playing, so I guess that says something.
Difficulty ★☆☆☆☆
You do have to think a little bit when you choose the answers to questions.
World Interactivity ★★☆☆☆
It looks like more locations will be available later in the game, but there isn’t much to interact with.

Ultimately, yes, I’m still playing, but it’s because I’m a Potterhead, and what to know how the story turns out, not because I’m really enjoying the game. We’ll see how long “Oh my God, A Harry Potter game” and “I want to know what happens” win out over “Oh dear God, this game sucks balls!!”

I’m not going to tell you not to play this game, because what bothers me, may not bother you, but I hope I’ve provided you with adequate information about the pros and cons of Harry Potter Hogwarts Mystery.

Do you intend to play? Have you played it? If so, leave me a comment with what you think of this long-awaited, much-anticipated game.

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