Sometimes being one of the biggest Harry Potter geeks in your circle of friends pays off in the end. Just this week I received a special ‘welcome email’ allowing me access to the Pottermore Beta website to assist in its development. Let me tell you, with millions of fans around the world competing for the same thing, getting special access wasn’t easy.
Let’s start from the beginning. A few months ago the term ‘Pottermore’ was revealed to the world – a new addition to the saga, designed to allow fans to immerse themselves once more in the world of Harry Potter. Before the floodgates are due to open in October, the Pottermore website allowed a select number of fans to gain early access. To do this though, you were expected to jump through all sorts of hoops including seeking out secret instructions on a specific date (at an unspecified time) and taking part in the ‘Magical Quill’ competition.
The effort was well worth it. You enter a stunning and interactive online world designed to bring your Harry Potter experience to life like never before. Before I go any further, I recommend updating your browser and Flash capabilities before you start. I made the mistake of using an old version of Firefox which left me scratching my head as I tried to navigate an empty image. If you find the experience to be a little confusing, it’s likely your software is the problem.
Your Pottermore homepage comes loaded with all the good parts of being a witch or wizard in the world of Harry Potter. You can buy your wand, be sorted into a Hogwarts house, earn house points, and collect potions, spells and other magical items. However, there’s not much you can do with any of this until you begin reading through the chapters and letting the story unfold. In each chapter you will have the opportunity to focus on individual characters, creatures, books, objects and places rewritten by JK Rowling herself.
As you make your way through beautifully realised illustrations, you have the opportunity to pick things up and see the world come to life. While the experience starts off a little slowly, you’re soon buying books, finding your wand and being sorted into your houses. As you zoom in on each scene the images change to reveal new focus points and more things for you to collect.
The setting has obviously had a lot of work put into it, but it’s the extra details on the Harry Potter saga you’re really after. In this respect, it doesn’t disappoint. The website gives you backstories on various elements within the series, along with commentary from JK herself who describes her vision behind it all. Better yet, every now and then a ‘ghost plot’ will reveal itself giving you even more of an insight to the world JK spent the best part of a decade crafting.
Unfortunately, there aren’t as many details or as much commentary as I (or any of the commenting fans) would have liked. Plenty of characters and other elements of the stories are merely touched on in each stage of the website. In fact, it’s almost frustrating clicking on the different features you are presented with and only getting one liner descriptions. I think many will be expecting more.
It’s also very buggy, but that’s to be expected in a Beta version. After all, the reason we have early access is to identify things that might make the site better for the wider Potter community. Hopefully the many comments left on each page like “add some music and sound effects”, “explain the characters more” and “show more pictures of things” will be taken into consideration.
That said, Pottermore provides fans with a truly unique social networking opportunity. The fun begins when you’re sorted into your house – I became a Slytherin after many years of being a fandom-stated Gryffindor. You can add friends and interact with them as you learn spells, earn house points and do many other things you’ve only ever read about.
The slightly more cynical side of me is aware this might be some kind of stunt to generate more sales now the saga is over. But the fan in me is having too much fun to care. Right now I’m taking it slowly so I’m only at the halfway point in book 1. Keep an eye out for my next blog to learn more on Pottermore.