Monday, September 26, 2011

Thoughts on Pottermore

For some who are not aware, J.K. Rowling partnered with Sony to create an interactive experience for Harry Potter fans. Having been on for 48 hours, hear are my thoughts:

  • New material; there are a ton of new images to look at including some of Rowling's personal comments and notes. For example, it is revealed on the site that Professor MacGonagal was once married.
  • Mouse and Button Listeners; i.e. the individual pages of the site. As you go through you see scenes of some of the chapters. Bits of the scenery moves when you move the mouse over it. You can collect Chocolate frogs, books, other stuff for house points and what not. With the up and down buttons you can interact with a different layer of the same page. It's cool.
  • Nice layout, with how everything is displayed.
  • There is some complex formula at work that sorts you into a house, and gets you a wand.
  • At the moment you can only practice casting spells, basically following a pattern with your mouse and clicking on integral parts of the spell.
  • Potions. You can brew various potions and they have to be exact or they go wrong. You add in the wrong ingredient, your cauldron could explode and you lose house points. Or it just fizzles if you are too slow. The wand shooting lightning at the potion to let it brew... that's kind of odd.
  • House Competition; in the Great Hall you can see how many points each house has. Currently Ravenclaw leads Slytherin 54,974 to 54,866.
  • Server space. This is the biggest flaw at the moment. There are currently 477,385 people registered for Pottermore and that is only with limited registration. The IT guys at Sony or whoever maintains the back end failed to anticipate the inordinate amount of traffic the site gets. The site often goes down for minutes or hours at a time because there are so many people trying to get on and have fun. Pottermore is going to need to drastically increase the number of their servers so the site doesn't crash all the time.
  • Commenting. It's limited to 150 characters or so and thus makes it hard to see if someone responds to you. Especially if 1000 others comment at the same time. Additionally, though I don't know for sure, I believe Pottermore employs some sort of selection sort method that checks every word you comment against an existing dictionary. While the upside is that everyone has to use proper English and there will be no l33t speak shenanigans, if you want to use words in another language or even a word like "Nazgul" (which some images of the book 1 chess pieces do resemble), it gets flagged for moderation. With thousands of people all commenting; it is sure to eat up a lot of processes. Great for ensuring no little kid sees swearing I suppose. Which could be their aim.
  • Limited friend capability. Currently with those you friend, you can only send them an item as a gift and, when the dueling feature is up, engage in duels with friends. There is no direct communication. No way to say hi or whatnot. Again, probably protecting minors, but not so great for those who want to talk to those that send friend requests. Unless you know them outside of Pottermore.
  • Feedback. It asks how much you like the site. It doesn't ask for comments or about problems. It just has you select how much you like certain features, like how the site looks. 
  • The House Cup and points. With near half a million users and climbing, house points are going to become exceedingly large. There is nowhere saying when the House Cup will be awarded. It might be a quarterly thing, it might not. Right now it is just an arbitrary competition based on who participates the most on the site by either picking up random goodies or making potions.
  • Potions: This problem is related to the site crashing. The potions made require over an hour of brew time where you let the potion sit. With site crashes and bandwidth issues, it means that a lot of potions go bad and you have to start over. Also, aside from giving potions to friends, you cannot do anything with them.
Conclusion; while the site design and interacting with the site is cool, especially with the inside details of the Harry Potter universe, the servers set it back. Yes, it is still in beta, but the IT side of things should have anticipated the need to have more servers. The limited communication I don't approve of, but Rowling and Sony may be restricting this to protect minors. And from what it seems, the goal is more to roleplay and interact with the site than others, except in magic duels. But... right now it seems like an attempt to take from some online fan rpg elements and make it into a semi interactive site. But it is still under construction. Currently the house point competition could go on forever, the potions are useless except as a way to get points. Reading new stuff is cool. So the main criticism is of the design and IT side of things. And sooner or later ads will be introduced. How else is this going to be paid for?

My piece of advice to J.K. Rowling though? Run from Sony and make a deal with Blizzard. Sony is great for hardware stuff, radios and computers and game consoles and whatnot. Not good at software. They have been hacked multiple times the past year and if security is anything like theirs, it is easy to hack. Blizzard on the other hand has worked with things like Battlenet for over 11 years, plus World of Warcraft. They have 12 million users, and thus know a things or two about server management. Switch to them and let them host your site. Things will go much smoother traffic wise. Plus, they are more creative than Sony in regards to games and challenges. They'd be able to have everything running smoothly and then some.


Craig M said...

Some pretty strong words against Sony huh? I don't think they are as bad as you make them out to be.

Also, I don't think Blizzard would run anything like Pottermore. I think they like to stick to their own IPs.

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