The Good and the Bad
Pottermore is J.K. Rowling’s new Harry Potter website. As she explains in the video below, it’s a new, interactive website built to be a reading companion to the novels. It’ll also be the only place to buy the electronic version of the Harry Potter series.
The public won’t be allowed access until October, but since August beta users have been given access and allowed to explore, commenting all the while in an effort to improve the site.
I was lucky enough to receive a beta account to Pottermore, but I’m rather lukewarm towards it. There are definitely some great things going on, but a couple of drawbacks as well. I mean, it’s worth exploring but I don’t know if I’ll go back now that I’ve completed the first book (the only one beta readers have access to).
What I Like About Pottermore...
1) The art is beautiful. Important moments of each book are shown in detail rich paintings, and users can zoom in twice on the image. Each zoom level shows in sharp detail either the foreground, midground, or background of the images.
2) The moments are animated, of a sort. Things move, be it a cat’s tail in a hallway or letters from Hogwarts floating around a room. But what I love was how the moments reacted to the mouse. Rolling over candles lit them, rolling over them again put them out. Spiders danced on their webs, crates moved, and books flew. All the movements are small things, but you never know what will move and what won’t, so it makes admiring the art more enjoyable due to the interactivity.
3) Rowling’s extra material is absolute amazing. When I heard Pottermore would have expanded material, her notes and the like in it, that’s what made me decide to try to become a beta user. And it was exactly what I wanted. I got back stories on characters, and amazing information on the Hufflepuff Common Room. I was sorted into Hufflepuff, so I didn’t get to see similar information for the other houses, but I’m sure it was just as good. What was also fantastic was the information on wands.
4) The questions for receiving a wand and being sorted were written by Rowling herself, based on her world notes. I was surprised by how in depth there were, with questions along the lines of ‘what would you fear most? being ignored, an eye at key whole, being alone, monsters, the dark’. Some of them I found really personal, serious questions, and I wonder if maybe they were a little to adult for the children I know will be interested in the site. But from an older perspective, they were amazing because the questions felt real, based on the facts of Rowling’s world and not how others perceive it. Though I’m still not sure on how I feel about being a Hufflepuff, most other quizzes place me in Ravenclaw and I’ve grown very used to being an Eagle.
5) Shopping. There are so many canon, meaning Harry Potter world, books that users can find
and explore. It might just be that because I’m a book lover that this excites me, but there are also other items that users can get just because they want to. Most don’t have any use, aside from enjoyment and potion making, but it’s nice to have the option to explore Diagon Alley fully.
...And What I Don’t Like
1) I was stunned by the silence of the website. There was no background music, despite the wonderful scores all the movies have had. There aren’t even sound effects. When I zoom in on a fire, I’d love to hear crackling. When I shake a box, I want to have a hint as to what is inside. There are lots of owls around, where is the hooting?
2)Throughout the moments, you collect items. But that’s it. There is nothing else to really do but collect things. There are a ton of articles to read, but most are taken directly from the book and thus uninteresting (I skipped preatty much all of them). There’s maybe one or two pieces of new information per chapter, and chapters have 2-3 moments.
3)There was also no active story. While the moments followed the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, I went through without reading anything about a story except for the excerpts that started and ended each chapter. Which were less than a sentence in most cases. The story was in the information on characters, places, and objects provided in a sidebar. But the links don’t show until you roll your mouse over the sidebar, and there is no prompting to even look at the sidebar. The art of the moments is too cool. There needs to be links to content in the artwork I believe, to actually give people a story to follow. Otherwise, if you’ve never read the books, you’ll be lost.
4) Money. The shops have lots of things to buy, and you’ll need to buy supplies for potions (brewing them correctly earns house points, but brewing is painfully hard as there is a time limit that doesn’t properly allow for you to memorize the direction correctly and brew), but every thing is over one Galleon. While you do find money exploring, it’s only token pieces here and there. You spend it at a much high rate than you earn it, even for frugal spenders.
5) Spells. It took me ages to figure out how to do them, because the instructions were painfully hard to understand. And even after having figured it out, they are still painfully hard to cast. A beam of light travels through letters, which have to be activated to propel the light forward to the next one to complete the spell. Letters can be activated by either clicking them or typing them. But the letters are scattered all over the screen, with no hint as to which letter the light will travel to next , making clicking on letters in time near impossible. Typing has a similar problem, it’s hard to notice what is next in time to act. It might help if the words were real, not the pseudo-latin spell name (though I like that) and if every letter of the spell was used, instead of select ones, which may or may not be every other.
6) In today’s society where personalization and customization are important, it’s surprising how lacking of it Pottermore is. You can’t choose your own screen name, there’s no way to fill out a character profile (even of some made up Hogwarts student), and avatars are also very limited. You get lost in a sea of people who look like you, and not even being able to be known by a name linked properly to you. If your name is NimbusBlue877, how does that relate? You don’t have the option of playing Quidditch.
7) There is nothing to go back to, like I mentioned before. I completed going through book one, was fascinated but not thrilled, and it feels like that was the point of the website. Now what? Brew endless potions, thought it’s hard to do and costs money? Duel, though spell casting is aggregating (and down while I went through the book, which took me all of three days)? I gained friends, but they’re rather superficial. They asked to be my friend, I said yes, but there really is no way to interact (aside from gifting a potion I brewed or challenging them to a duel). The common room has a bulletin board, but not a forum to encourage lengthy, on-going conversations. Or even silly games like Word Association or Would You Rather?. And that ability to download HP e-books? Not up yet. So when it is I might go back, but only for those two minutes or so.
So that list of con’s is a wee longer, but I really was blown away by the art and the better extra content pieces, so I consider the tally about even. Would I recommend you go? Only if you’re a die hard Harry Potter fan. But check out HOL too. It’s a virtual Hogwarts, complete with graded classes (for free) and an active community. It’s all fan run however, and lacks authenticity.