Saturday, July 16, 2011

Harry Potter: A Missed Opportunity

I ended an era last night, as many did.  For me, the Age of Potter began when my daughter was in the 6th grade and we read the first (then new) book together.  This cultural phenomenon that we shared in was kept up by six more books and eight movies, coming out a-pace, and even topped off with a family pilgrimage to the Magical Mecca in Orlando.  Living several states apart now, we were unable to see the last movie together, but we talked about it some before hand.  When we finally got our seats in the IMAX cinema last night, on my right hand was a red-headed proxy who must be about my daughter's age.  While she wasn't dressed as some fans were in Potter garb, she was very enthusiastic, quite knowledgeable about the story world, and wanting to talk.

All these ingredients tossed into the cauldron came to a simmer last night and this is the potion that came out:.  From the standpoint of a table top gamer, Harry Potter represents the greatest missed opportunity of the past generation.

Many people of my generation remember when D&D was everywhere.  Not only on shelves everywhere and widely played, but in commercials, movies, conversation, sermons, talk shows, and eventually with a cartoon series, and secondary lines of books, toys, a board game, and an electronic game.  It had a moment of culture-wide saturation.  It was perhaps the second closest thing we had to the of Pottermania today, surpassed only by Star Wars.  Gamers (and perhaps some executive at Hasbro) look back on this and in their nostalgia (or money lust) wonder why we couldn't have that same level of appeal today.  (Everyone could get together a game any time they wanted!  No gamer left behind!)  Here was a world and a story that appealed so much to so many, that it's credited with reinvigorating the book industry on a supra-Oprah level, whose fans play dress up and play a variety of games and with lots of toys, but no official HP RPG was made in the great merchandising explosion that followed.

First, I would like to know why this didn't happen.  Second, I propose that, if it had been made and promoted decently, it would have been the Second Coming of the table-top role-playing game.  Third, I have a proposal about how it should have been done.

The only options I can think of for this failure are it was a failure of imagination and no one thought of it or someone did think of it and by a failure of imagination, another blocked it.  Failures of the latter kind could have taken place if a person in power said no because TTRPGs don't make the kind of money they used to or because they didn't want it competing with another of their lines (is it a coincidence that of the two licensees, this is in Hasbro's line, not Mattel's?)

Finally, what shape should such an RPG, targeted at a new audience for RPGs that is so ready-made, focus on?  Hogwarts, of course.  The magical place that young new players would have wanted to go so they too could be wizards and witches, wide-eyed in the world that Rowling painted for them, doing things they dreamed of.  I can clearly see with my retrospective eye, each year after a new book or movie, another boxed set coming out.  Hogwarts: The Role-Playing Game, Year 1.  Mortellan of Greyhawkery is not so crazy, after all.  Did Mike McArtor have this in mind when he created the wizardly Acadamae of Korvosa (students pictured below) in Pathfinder's Golarion?  Well, I certainly ran a game set there that took his work and developed it in an explicitly Hogwartsian direction, and it seemed to appeal.  I think it would have made a lot of money for the world-wide Harry Potter franchise, and I think it would have brought a lot of new players into table-top role-playing that would have eventually tried out D&D, Pathfinder, the Harry Dresden RPG, and so on, bringing more customers to the industry and increasing the circle of players.  For the people who need more players or more customers, it's a shame the snitch was missed.


  1. I waited to respond to this so that I could do my homework. I spoke to someone who worked for many years in film licensing and merchandising biz here in LA.

    I explained to him the nature of the rpg business, print runs, profits per unit, distribution channels, etc. The bottom line was that a big brand like Harry Potter will license out darn near any kind of product, but the key is profitability. Sadly, rpgs are not profitable enough to justify that kind of license.

    This is especially true since rpgs often have a great deal of derivative artwork and fiction. Someone would have to oversee that and unless the profit was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, well, why bother?

    It's such a same. A game can be profitable, but unless it's going to net the franchise at least a mil no one will touch it.

    This is, of course, just the opinion of one licensing professional and the mileage of others may vary.

    So sad and such a lost opportunity...

  2. Also, J K Rowling, not big on sharing her world or its secrets both of which would be required for an RPG.

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys. I've heard interesting possibilities that both pro and con your comments (see today's new blog-post) and wish I had a hard scoop that I could repeat and substantiate. The possibilities multiply, but the real story eludes our certainty.

  4. i had a oonversation over the weekend about how great it would have been to have a game at hogwarts. I am 40 years old and it gives me goosebumpbs. It is a shaame.

  5. It's pretty much all I'm thinking about right now...