Harry Potter: Magic Awakened, which launched in mainland China (first market worldwide) on iOS, Android, and PC on September 9, 2021 has had the most successful video game launch of this year in the country. Harry Potter: Magic Awakened was developed by NetEase with support from Portkey Games and is an RPG game with card-based combat that takes place in the Harry Potter universe several years after the second wizarding war. The game was first announced in October 2019 by Warner Bros. and its subsidiary Portkey Games which is responsible for overseeing the development and publishing of games based on the Harry Potter IP.
The title debuted at #1 on both the iOS game download and revenue charts, holding those positions for 7 days in a row. We note that it is the first non-Tencent published game to achieve this milestone in China since Onmyoji (NetEase) in 2016. Onmyoji is also a card-based RPG and we note that the same producer and development team behind the 2016 hit also helped to develop Harry Potter: Magic Awakened. According to Sensor Tower, NetEase’s total mobile game revenue increased 38% MoM and 26.2% YoY in September 2021, at least in part due to the successful launch. We attribute the success of the game to a strong pre-release and onboarding campaign, unique gameplay innovations, deep social integration and of course the popularity of the IP.
Harry Potter IP
The Harry Potter IP has long been popular in China since the first novel was published there in August 2000, three years after the English version. According to Beijing Youth Daily, an estimated 200 million copies of the Harry Potter books have been sold in the country. While the final novel was released in 2007 and the final movie was released in 2011, the launch of Magic Awakened has bought the Harry Potter IP back into the spotlight. This was also aided by the re-release of the first Harry Potter movie in Chinese cinemas last year and the opening of Universal Studios Resort in Beijing last month that also includes a Harry Potter area. As more information about the game was revealed over the past year, such as the unique European picture book art style and the ability to play as a student in Hogwarts, we saw interest in the title increase significantly.
Pre-release and onboarding campaign
NetEase ran a strong pre-release marketing campaign for the game which led to 15 million pre-registrations. The pre-release campaign allowed players to download the game two days prior to its launch date and access certain parts of the title. Marketing campaigns were launched on popular social media sites and players were invited to join the game through a Hogwarts acceptance letter. This was a top trending topic on Weibo prior to the games launch with over 1 billion views. Once players downloaded the game they could create a character, go through the sorting hat ceremony, decorate their dorm, chat with other players and invite friends to join them. This approach to onboarding was captivating as it led to players sharing their sorting hat experience on social media platforms such as Weibo and WeChat before the game had officially launched, driving more gamers to download the title and join the same house as their friends.
Unique Gameplay Innovations
The core gameplay builds on traditional CCG and RPG games to create a unique PvE and PvP experience. While Onmyoji was primarily turn based, Magic Awakened introduces real time battles in its story mode. It also allows players to move around the battlefield as they utilise spells, with the position of the user playing a role in spell effectiveness. Special cards have also been introduced into the game which allows players to summon legacy characters and animals from the Harry Potter universe. NetEase also included numerous mini games and other modes in the title to increase the appeal of the game and reach a broader audience, as well as cater to core fans of the IP. Users can play matches of quidditch, duel other players in a PvP mode, compete in a rhythm dance mode and there is even a forbidden forest roguelike mode. This variety, as well as the innovations in CCG gameplay, was received well by players.
Social system – bedroom
Deep Social Integration
We believe that the deep social integration in Harry Potter: Magic Awakened has also been a key aspect behind the success of the game, with it playing a role both during the pre-release and post release stage. Prior to the launch, gamers utilised the in-game social network to share their experience of the sorting hat ceremony and their memories of Harry Potter. Post launch, the in-game social network expanded significantly to include categories for in game events, houses, clubs and other segments which allowed players to easily discover and share content that was related to the part of the game they were playing. Players could access discussion groups, walkthroughs, videos and more within the internal social network, and then share those experiences to real world social networks. This encouraged people to use the in game social network in a similar way to how they use social networks outside of games.
In-game social network – hot topic discussion
The game has continued to perform well since launch and was also the #1 most downloaded game on iOS during the National Day holiday on October 1. However, it was not without some criticism and the prospect of long-term operational challenges. Complaints include the aggressive nature of in-game monetization, with players having to spend a lot of money to obtain high level cards. Another complaint concerns a one-time purchase in-game item that later converts into an ongoing subscription. Some players have also stated that while the game is true to the novels, some parts can be considered unrealistic or immersion breaking. For example, players can obtain certain spells that would normally be off limits for students as well as others that were considered unforgivable curses in the novels. NetEase has already tried to address some of these concerns, such as limiting the number of times that users can use unforgivable curses.
NetEase already has plans to expand the game world to include new locations and introduce additional gameplay elements. NetEase and Warner Bros. have also confirmed that they will bring the game to international markets at a later point, starting with Asia this winter. NetEase’s greatest asset continues to be its strong self-development capabilities, which has allowed it to partner with key companies such as Warner Bros., Marvel, CCP Games and others to adapt their IP to mobile devices. This allows IP holders to reach the lucrative China market and for NetEase to expand its overseas presence. NetEase currently generates around 10% of its game’s revenue from overseas with plans to grow this to 50% over the next few years, with self-developed titles based on global IP playing a notable role.