Harry Potter: Wizards Unite - what parents should know about the mobile game
Only 24 hours after being launched in the UK and US, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite — the ‘new Pokemon Go’ — was downloaded more than 400,000 times. Now, millions of children and adults alike are ‘swishing and flicking’ their way through the Wizarding World of the Harry Potter universe.
Here’s what parents need to know about the latest popular mobile game.
What is Harry Potter: Wizards Unite?
Like Pokemon Go, Wizards Unite is an Augmented Reality (AR) game. Using geolocation and a camera phone, players can interact with the world around them using it as the game’s canvas. Wizards Unite is free to download and has been given the PEGI rating 7, due to some mild violence and in-app purchases.
The player is cast in the role of a witch or a wizard who must try to restore order against a phenomenon known as the Calamity, which is destroying the barrier between the magical and muggle (non-magic) worlds. The Calamity has scattered magical objects and beings across the real world; it’s the player’s task to ensure that these items, called ‘foundables’, are returned to the magical world so that they're not discovered by muggles.
This involves battling evil entities called ‘confoundables’, increasing your magical skills and — most importantly — interacting with other players and the world around you. Have a look at the gameplay trailer below:
How do children get going with it?
When opening the app for the first time, your child will be asked to create an account with the option of signing in with a Facebook or Google account. For children under 16, who might not have Facebook or Google accounts, parents will have to create a Niantic parents’ account, which allows you to change the safety settings.
At sign up, the game asks the player for their date of birth (without any further verification) and requests access to the phone’s GPS and camera. Children will need to give consent for this if they want to play the game, but Niantic guarantees that the data is handled according to data protection regulations (GDPR) and will not be used in any way other than to enhance the gaming experience.
Does my child need to give their personal data?
Your child will be asked to enter their first and last name, but this will not be visible to anyone else. They then have to enter a username, which will be shown to the gaming community. Make sure your child keeps their username free of any personal data - for example, references to where they live or go to school.
Beyond this, all other details are optional, but children may give away more information than they need to when they fill out their profile page which is called their Ministry ID.
They don’t have to upload a profile picture, but children can either choose from a catalogue of stock images featuring their favourite characters or take a picture of themselves and decorate it with frames, stickers, moving text etc. As they progress, they will be rewarded with more effects, which might encourage them to upload a picture of themselves. For the time being, the image isn’t visible to anyone but the player, but this could change in future updates.
Will the game cost anything to play?
As with many free-to-play games, you can expect to find paid-for features. In Wizards Unite, it’s possible to enjoy all sides of the game without paying a penny — however, it can be a lot more difficult.
For example, to complete missions you need so-called ‘spell energy’. Many mobile games use the finite ‘energy’ or ‘lives’ model which means that once you’ve used these up, you either have to wait for it to be replenished or speed the process up by spending paid-for in-game currency.
In Wizards Unite, however, energy doesn’t replenish over time. The player either has to check in at ‘inns’ daily or complete daily challenges to collect a small amount — or pay for more. Your child may find this frustrating if they had planned to spend the afternoon playing.
Players can buy Gold — the game’s own currency — in bundles ranging from £0.99 to £99.99.
In addition to energy, Gold is also used to buy ‘keys’ which unlock ‘Portmanteaus’— the game’s version of loot boxes (virtual treasure chests). It’s important, however, to note that these loot boxes aren’t like the ones found in many other games. They can be opened without spending money, it’ll just take a lot more time.
Portmanteaus contain undisclosed items and power-ups but need to be unlocked — if you’re familiar with Pokemon Go, they’re like Eggs. They are found scattered around the game map and are opened by using a key and then walking a set distance, either 2km, 5km or 10km. You will be given silver keys when levelling up or after completing certain challenges, but each can only be used on a single Portmanteau.
Are there any risks?
Wizards Unite urges players to explore the world around them. Its predecessor Pokemon Go received a lot of praise because it got children moving around as hatching eggs would require them to walk a certain distance. The developer has carried this feature over to Wizards Unite.
Bear in mind that if your child is walking to specific places to capture ‘foundables’, there are certain risks involved. They might forget to check whether it’s clear before crossing a road or end up in places they shouldn’t be. The game does make it clear that players need to be mindful of where they’re walking.
Since Wizards Unite is such an immersive game, it’s easy for your child to get carried away and lose track of where they are and how long they’ve been playing for.
It’s a good idea to agree some boundaries with your child about where they’re allowed to go and where they should stay away from.
Who are they playing with?
As with any game with a social element, chances are that they will be playing with people they don’t know. Although this in itself is not dangerous, let your child know about the potential risks.
There’s no in-game chat or other form of communication within the game itself, so there’s less chance that your child will get in touch with strangers who don’t have their best interest at heart. The game does have a ‘Friends’ system and the people your child chooses to add will have access to some of their information — like username, stats and achievements — but not sensitive information like your child’s real name or location. More than anything else, the ‘Friends’ system is there so that your child will receive more rewards when they take on a fortress with their friends, rather than connecting players on a personal level.
With games like these it’s common to communicate with your squad on platforms independent of the game itself, like Discord which follows a different set of rules. You can read more about third-party gaming communication in our Discord Parent Guide.
If a group of players are planning a raid on a Fortress, there’s the chance that other players will be at that same spot. It could be a way for your child to make new, like-minded friends, but remind them that they shouldn’t agree to meet people in private.
Are they spending money?
If their character runs out of ‘energy’ in the middle of a gaming session, they may be tempted to speed things up by buying more using real money. Similarly, if they don’t feel like waiting around to get more Portmanteau keys by levelling up: one simple click and the wait is over.
The app communicates with the App Store or Play Store, depending on which device your child has, so check if your card details are saved on there without any further security measures. You will want to avoid nasty surprises on your bank statement! You can adjust your settings so that purchases must be verified.
Are there any parental controls?
If your child is under 16, you can create a Niantic parents account which will allow you to adjust the features you want your child to use.
Is the game safe for children?
Wizards Unite will be a hit with any child who’s fantasised about receiving their Hogwarts acceptance letter and joining the ranks of witches and wizards.
There’s plenty of fun to be had for children (as well as adults) and, all in all, the game seems to be pretty safe.
Here are a few things you can do to help your child stay safer when playing the game:
- If you’re unsure about whether you would like your child to play it or not, try to look up some gameplay videos on YouTube to get a sense of what kind of content it has.
Download the game yourself and give it a go before deciding whether it is suitable for your child.
Play together so that you can show them how it works — it could be a lot of fun!
Make sure they do not include any personal details in their username or enter extra information that is not needed on their profile.
Explain to them that if they’re walking around looking for ‘foundables’ they need to be aware of their surroundings.
Accompany your child or make sure they have friends with them if they’re going to a Fortress raid.
If your credit or debit card is saved on the Apple or Play Store, make sure that a password or fingerprint is required to confirm any payments so that your child doesn’t accidentally rack up a huge bill. You may prefer to remove the card details altogether.