Peter Rossetti is director of product at Zynga.
Back in the old days of licensed IP games, the marketing statement was always ‘Play the movie.’ On paper, this approach makes sense as fans are (unsurprisingly) fiercely loyal. But as we’ve become more accustomed to connecting with our favorite characters and series from various platforms and inputs – having a unique, immersive experience is now on par with authenticity.
This year, Zynga is launching Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells, the first match-3 puzzle game based on the Wizarding World, licensed by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and published under the Portkey Games label. Our approach is to provide players with an authentic celebration of the source materials that is both accessible for the audience and connects them to their favorite elements of the series.
By infusing the core themes of magic, progression and camaraderie into a central match-3 gameplay mechanic that appeals to a wide audience, we’re hoping to give players a new, engaging way to celebrate and experience the original series that continues to captivate fans worldwide.
Honor the Audience
Spanning virtually every age, country and demographic, the Harry Potter fanbase is vast. In our initial plans for Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells, we wanted to create a gaming experience that would be just as accessible for everyone, while paying homage to the source material.
We wanted to create a gaming experience that would be just as accessible for everyone, while paying homage to the source material
Given the popularity of the match-3 puzzle category, as well as our team’s expertise in this genre, it was a clear fit for the broad accessibility we wanted to achieve. However, there was one caveat: we would need to elevate and expand upon the Match-3 genre in order to integrate the ‘surprise and delight’ wonders of the Wizarding World, connect fans with their love of the original series and deliver a great gameplay experience.
Just as the Harry Potter series has elements of action, comedy, drama and suspense, we’re incorporating other gameplay mechanics to enable a fuller experience for players. For example, they’ll earn XP through their actions, bringing depth to their player progression.
Similarly, players will connect with story elements not typically associated with the genre; they’ll encounter iconic moments from the Harry Potter series as narrative sequences between puzzles, and can participate in quests and events that celebrate this magical universe.
Taking cues from Guild mechanics in other genres, the social features will enable players to bring a competitive, league element to their experience, while rallying with other players who love the Wizarding World.
Looking back to the first book and film, Harry was constantly in a state of wonder as every encounter in the wizarding world offered jaw-dropping moments of surprise as he acclimated to his new life. For example, Harry first encounters Chocolate Frogs on the Hogwarts Express as he’s getting to know Ron; it’s a moment of humor that sets the tone for their ongoing friendship, which becomes a central theme throughout the series.
In thinking about our core gameplay, we wanted to infuse these elements of wonder and delight into the player experience. We’ve replicated this moment by bringing the Chocolate Frogs onto the game board as a moving hazard that players must overcome, reconnecting them with that feeling of humor and offering a taste of the havoc that magical objects can wreak.
We’ve infused these memory triggers throughout the game, both to build an immediate affinity as well as to authentically uplevel the experience. Players will gain access to spells like Wingardium Leviosa and Accio to solve puzzles and obliterate hazards, and continue to obtain and upgrade new spells as they progress through later levels
They’ll encounter key moments from the series throughout the game, told through issues of the Daily Prophet and storytelling sequences. But the world is also celebrated through the details. Players will collect cards in the game that reference key characters and Wizarding World elements, and build themed albums to unlock rewards that will help them complete challenging levels of gameplay.
Our team feels a deep responsibility to the original Harry Potter series and its legions of fans to create a game that truly celebrates the Wizarding World
Accessible UI With Elevated Activities
With the increased options, complexity and activities we’re bringing to the core match-3 gameplay, we took very specific measures to ensure our UI is accessible and clear.
We’ve been very deliberate with the entire design, from the font size to the use of iconography, to break down any barriers to entry and enjoyment. To organize the different elements of the game, we’ve built a 5-panel interface to provide players with a clear path to access the Profile, Club, Events, Shop and Play aspects.
Any IP that has its own fan conventions – let alone theme parks, a vast digital experience (who hasn’t been ‘sorted’ on WizardingWorld.com?) and a renegade sports league (we do have several team members who’ve played Muggle Quidditch competitively) – has a fan community that is eager to connect.
At Zynga, we’ve seen great engagement for social mechanics that offer players the ability and incentive to connect around their favorite fandoms. With Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells, we’ll be bringing similar competitive challenges to social activities that build on central themes in the books, like House pride, and helping your teammates.
Our team feels a deep responsibility to the original Harry Potter series and its legions of fans to create a game that truly celebrates the Wizarding World. By extending the title outside of the traditional parameters of match-3, we’re building a game that immerses players in the characters, locations and story they love.