Yer a Wizard, 5G: How Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is showing that we need 5G for a true immersive gaming experience

Will Harry Potter: Wizards Unite prove the gateway to the ultimate AR immersive experience? Or is 5G the true portkey?

Game play of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite in front of the Ericsson HQ
Game play of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite in front of the Ericsson HQ

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It was three years ago this July when a strange group of people began to gather at the little park by me---everyone from packs of twelve year old boys to business men and mothers pushing strollers. They all had their necks craned down, their eyes and fingers trained on their mobile phones. They showed up every day that July. Words rarely exchanged; sometimes, someone cheered. They tapered out over the years…but I have a feeling they might be showing up again. AR gaming is back.

AR gaming never really went away, of course, but I think it never was as big in the general consciousness as July 2016 when Pokémon Go first became playable. The internet quickly became covered in pickachu memes and the app had about 7.5 million installations in the US alone during its first 24 hours. For many, that whole summer was more or less dedicated to ‘catching them all’—when they weren’t complaining about server issues that is.

Players couldn’t connect to the server as the popularity of the game exploded. Updates reportedly caused some players to lose their progress completely. The player’s digital avatar occasionally glitched heavily.

That didn’t stop the millions of Pokémon fans and newbies alike who fell in love with the game and, according to SensorTower, Pokémon Go has grossed over $2 billion worldwide.

The app developer Niantic is back with a new AR game that is also based on one of the most popular franchises in popular culture: Harry Potter.

The game, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, was launched the end of June in select markets and is still being rolled out around the world but I gave it a try outside of Ericsson HQ the other day.

You play as an official member of the wizarding world and the Statute of Secrecy Task Force, hunting down Foundables, which are people, things, and even memories displaced all over the Muggle world. I encountered everything from a troll to a Bludger, the ball used in the wizarding sport of Quidditch. Once you find one, you need to send it back to the Wizarding World by casting a variety of spells.

So far, what has stood out the most to me is that actual AR elements are much more advanced than Pokémon Go. But there is still kinks to iron out. Loading takes time, and latency is still a bit behind. And it can feel a bit lonely at the moment.

Niantic has already started experimenting in more social AR games with two demos called Codename: Neon and Tonehenge.  Here’s a clip from Codename: Neon that you can check out here. 

But John Hanke, founder and current CEO of Niantic, has said that 4G just isn’t ready for these multiplayer games.

 “We’re actually really excited about 5G,” Hanke said in a speech at the Mobile World Congress in February. “We’re really pushing the boundaries of what we can do on today’s networks. We need 5G to deliver the kinds of experiences that we are imagining.”

And why do they need 5G? Well, it will help hugely with advancing the user experience when it comes to gaming. 5G is fast. Like really fast. From a peak speed perspective, 5G is 20 times faster than 4G. This means that during the time it took to download just one piece of data with 4G the same could have been downloaded 20 times over a 5G network. Looking at it another way: you could download close to 10 games before 4G could deliver even the first half of one!

5G also means low latency, as in a matter of milliseconds. We’re talking about going from 20 milliseconds to 5 milliseconds—a difference of 15 milliseconds, or the length of time it takes a humming bird to beat its wings. The difference might not seem large, but in many forms of gaming, competitive and non, you would notice. Every aspect of games (or even life!) has its own built-in latency timing. It takes at least 20 milliseconds before your brain registers something you’re seeing on the screen, and more to understand and decide on how to react. Then it’s more delay before your brain translates into action, and more delay before that action is shown on screen, and so on.

That’s been the finding from our ConsumerLab report ‘Ready, steady, game!’ that AR gamers are excited about the promises of AR, but disappointed by the delivery.

Almost 4 out of 10 AR gamers agree that AR gaming will be more interesting with better and more immersive games, access to lower-cost AR glasses and better batteries. Almost six out of ten AR gamers list immersive experience as a key driver for playing AR gamers.

For me personally, I can imagine totally falling in love with a game that truly overlays an imaginary world over our real one. Imagine if Niantic teamed up with a franchise like Final Fantasy and turned our real-life grocery shops into fantasy ones that sold potions or weapons? Taking the game play beyond collecting into a true role-playing experience could be amazing.

In the meantime, will Harry Potter: Wizards Unite be the game that fulfills the promises of a truly immersive AR game? I guess the summer will tell!


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