The Harry Potter: Wizards Unite game sadly hexes itself

Commentary: The Harry Potter game's biggest stumbling block is its maddening paywall.

Clifford Colby Managing Editor
Clifford is a managing editor at CNET, where he leads How-To coverage. He spent a handful of years at Peachpit Press, editing books on everything from the first iPhone to Python. He also worked at a handful of now-dead computer magazines, including MacWEEK and MacUser. Unrelated, he roots for the Oakland A's.
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Clifford Colby
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Dismissing a Confoundable to collect a Foundable.

Screenshot Clifford Colby/CNET

I love almost everything about playing Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. In terms of animation, storyline and gameplay, it beats the sensation that was Pokemon Go every way but one. The game, codeveloped Niantic and WB Games, feels much richer, with more items to interact with and collect -- wizards, magical potions and ye olde Inn. But after days of playing Wizards Unite, one fatal flaw became apparent. 

It's too easy to cap all your free storage space when interacting with All the Things from this wild and wonderful world, not without paying for more at multiple steps along the way. I can't free up space by using ingredients to brew potions because I lack required ingredients. And I can't gather the necessary ingredients because I have no free space to store them. 

I can delete items to free up space, of course, and I can buy vault extensions to expand my capacity for $5 (you get 10 more spots for "spell energy"), but something feels off with the balance of the wizarding game, if playing for a handful of hours pushes me to make purchases to keep playing.

I'm not against buying items. I've upgraded my bag and bought Pokeballs in Pokemon Go. I've purchased key lockers in Ingress too. And I don't mind managing my inventory by ruthless pruning items to stay under a cap. But the range Harry Potter: Wizard Unite gives you to play before paying feels much smaller than in Pokemon Go and Ingress, Niantic's first two games. The new Minecraft Earth takes a different approach and gives you unlimited storage.

That other Harry Potter game


I've run out of space.

Screenshot Clifford Colby/CNET

To be fair, microtransactions are often an issue with free-to-play games, with developers looking to find the right balance between letting gamers play and making money from their game. For example, the first Harry Potter mobile game -- Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery -- upset a lot of players when it launched with a "cash-hungry model" that turned off a lot of players.

The Wizards Unite store, named Diagon Alley, offers everything from an Anti-Calamity Kit for $4.99 to Vault Extenders, starting at $2.

Still, gaming wizards are willing to pay. According to market research firm SensorTower, over its first weekend, nearly 3 million players installed Harry Potter: Wizards Unite on iOS and Android devices and spent $1.1 million. In comparison, SensorTower noted, 24 million players installed Pokemon Go during its first four days, racking up $28 million in player spending.  

The firm projects the wizarding game will earn $10 million in its first 30 days. Pokemon Go collected $206 million in its first 30 days.

Time to pay?

Is the game interesting enough that I'll pay to play? I'm not sure yet. 

For me, the richness of the game may work against it. I don't really want to spend my time managing items and Foundables and Portkeys when I'd rather be doing what the game does best: playing.

Originally published June 28, 2019.
Update, June 29, July 3, July 4, 2019.