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Interview with Matt London: Writing Hogwarts Mystery

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Introduction

GamePress recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Matt London, original writer for Hogwarts Mystery, to talk about the game, writing in the Harry Potter universe, and the future of Harry Potter games.

We previously recapped the two panels he was part of at LeakyCon Boston 2019, as well as the entire convention experience. We suggest reading the panel recap first for context if you missed it before, as the interview references information Matt London shared then.

Below is the full transcript of the interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

Writing for the Potterverse

It’s really exciting to see you’re here because our readers are Harry Potter fans who like mobile games, so—

Matt London:

Perfect match.

I went to your programming last night and today as well. You’ve already spoken a lot about making that game, which honestly sounds like a really exciting opportunity. It sounds like you basically got to make officially licensed fan fiction.

Matt London:

Something like that, yeah.

There was something really—I knew how few people in the world had been given the opportunity to write in this world in an official capacity, and I didn’t take that responsibility lightly. You know, it was really important to me to be truthful to the source material and to be truthful to the fans who had this series as part of their lives for so long.

A New Medium for the Wizarding World

[Hogwarts Mystery] is such a different medium than a lot of the Harry Potter stories have already been told, particularly in that it’s a narrative, but it’s a narrative in the typical mobile game energy system sort of thing, where you do a little bit and then you stop.

A lot of players are experiencing this story in really short spurts. Was that something you took into account when writing the story for Hogwarts Mystery?

Matt London:

Of course. It’s-We always think about what is the most common user experience going to be. And we knew it was going to be very serialised and very spread out over a long period of time that people would be engaging with the story. 

And so there’s little things that you can do when you’re writing to take that into account, whether it’s recapping, catching a player up on where they were in the narrative before the scene that they’re in.

And it also allowed us to do some of the things that I think fan fiction does much better than traditional fiction, which is explore those little moments, slice-of-life things that, in a fast paced movie, you would just skip. 

But in a game like this, where you’re experiencing the story over—you know, the game’s been out for, you know, over a year, almost two years—there’s this long period of time that players are living with the game, and as a result, we get to explore little moments that you might not get in any other kind of art form.

So it’s great to kind of like, represent characters that way, make you feel like you really are a student at Hogwarts and sometimes you’re fighting dragons and saving the day, and other times you might be cramming for a potions test. 

Pacing Story in a Mobile Game

I think you were asked this a little bit in the earlier talk today, but how did you feel about how the monetisation affected the pacing? Was that something that you ever considered—like “I would prefer it be not serialised”? And be able to have an option for somebody to just say, “I want to buy the whole story and go through it.” Or was that never something that—

Matt London:

I think there’s a version of the game that could be like that. I think there’s a version of the story that could be like that. It was never really on the table to create the game any other way. 

I know that the mobile industry right now, I think is going through a lot of fluxuations in terms of just like what’s working, there’s not a lot of consistency there, it’s hard to predict the trends that are happening. I think that overall players in general are evolving. 

You can see that really prominently with Wizards Unite, actually. You look at the response to Pokemon Go, the response to another massive franchise with Harry Potter and Wizards Unite, and those games are not being received in the same way. And I think a big part of that is just the evolution from 2016 to now, how people are engaging with their phones and AR, and just games in general. 

So, you know, I think that there’s a lot of experimentation being done right now to figure out, like what’s the next way in which we’re gonna really hook people in and get them excited to play the game. 

You know, like I would love to see an adaptation of Hogwarts Mystery that’s very literary, like a full book. I think that would be a fantastic thing to create, but we never thought that the game would be that.

Striving for Inclusion

One of the things I heard you talk about today and yesterday was about wanting to make the cast more inclusive. Which, I personally love, and I think this particular convention is the audience that is very excited about stuff like that. 

I do think we’re seeing that progression happen slowly with some of the other Potter titles too, not just this particular game. Wizards Unite’s students are not all white, and we now have a black president of MACUSA in Fantastic Beasts.

There have been people who are like, “hey, that’s not enough, that’s too slow,” and there have also been, “that’s too much,” like the Cursed Child backlash with a black actress playing Hermione, and so it’s a really interesting dynamic and it’s, I think—for fans who are excited about this, [they are] really curious: Is this something WB is pushing forward? Is WB interested in that? Or is that something that your team was like, “hey, we’re gonna be inclusive”?

Matt London:

I can’t speak in any official capacity for WB. I’m not a representative of that company, but, I know that there was absolutely no one in the entire process while working on Hogwarts Mystery who was opposed in any way to diversity and representation. Everyone wanted to pack in as much as we could. It was important to us to reach as big of an audience as we could. 

On a personal level, I think it’s really important to represent, you know, as many different types of players in the game as possible. You know, I think that there’s—things have been very narrow in terms of who gets to see themselves in video games for a really long time. And I think that it’s appropriate to aggressively course correct. 

And I think that, you know, it’s not an uncommon phenomenon for somebody who’s privileged to see equality as oppression. It just feels that way when you’re so used to privilege. And so I think some people react, um, poorly to that. You know, that kind of representation. But frankly, I think that’s their problem. 

And for the rest of the world, you know, people are finally getting to see themselves in the entertainment that they enjoy. So to summarise, everyone was on board with this plan, it was a passion project for me to be able to get that stuff into the game, and I don’t really pay much attention to people that criticise it.

Looking at it now, are there any ways that you think that the Potterverse could become more inclusive? Like which stories are missing to you? Do you see holes in that still?

Matt London:

I don’t feel like it’s really my place to cast judgement on what other creators are doing. I know that they technical aspects of creating a game are very challenging and very expensive, and often people are doing the best they can and trying to put in as much as they can, and still release a game that will keep their company going, you know? [laugh] 

So, I’m not going to—I can’t—you know, I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to make tough decisions about losing a quest line that I loved and adore, or cutting a character that I think was going to be really valuable to the fans simply because the realities of production, you know.

So, I give people a lot of credit even when they maybe fall a little short because I know the people that I know in the industry are doing their absolute best to be as inclusive as possible.

Will There Ever Be a Harry Potter MMORPG?

You talked about this game being more of a sim than a full RPG. When I was very young, I was running RPG sites where you write your story, you know, and I think that’s something that the fandom has wanted for a long time.

And so that’s part of why people like Hogwarts Mystery because they get to be in the story finally, but it’s also—there’s some limitation because you’re in a set story. Do you think we’ll ever get a full RPG?

Matt London:

I certainly hope so. I hope we find—I hope we get a big Harry Potter RPG at some point. I think it would be an amazing gift to the fans. One thing I know from having created a Harry Potter game is that it’s very difficult to make everybody happy, and that often the game that you create in your head is never going to be matched by anything people can actually implement. 

In fact, I remember reading some threads online where people were speculating about what Hogwarts Mystery was going to be, and just knowing, even back then, before the game launched, like some of the things not only would be very difficult to implement from a technological standpoint, but wouldn’t even be that fun, you know? [laughs] 

It’s like very boring moments that are drawn out and long and have no real reward to them. It’s just one of those things where I think sometimes people wish for something, and it doesn’t quite get delivered the way they hope it will, but I don’t think that means that people are going to stop making games. 

I’m very excited to see this next sort of—the next big game that Portkey [Games] puts out. I think will be pretty exciting, whatever it is and whoever makes it.

[Editor's note: an open-world RPG set in the Harry Potter universe is rumoured to currently be in the works, but no official confirmation is available.]

Writing Fan Fiction

I know you’ve mentioned fanfic quite a lot. Have you written fan fiction of your own?

Matt London:

I’ve been a writer for a really long time. And I definitely have had moments where I’ve written sort of like, you know, fan fiction type stories. Not for Harry Potter, really, but for some other things. 

For aspiring authors or people that love to write, I think it’s an incredible way to experience playing in someone else’s world. I remember one of my writing teachers years and years ago, the science fiction author Kim Stanely Robinson who wrote Red Mars and The Years of Rice and Salt and many other incredible novels. I mean, he’s a grand master. And his first book—he said his first book is just a Huck Finn pastiche.

And, you know, to him it’s like—this is a guy with no shortage of great ideas, but he felt that like, why worry about getting a plot right? Why worry about getting a character right? Your first time out the gate? Just pick a story that you love, make it your own, and learn to write that way. 

And I always took that to heart, like that is really powerful advice coming from such an expert. And so I thoroughly encourage people to go out and appropriate people’s work, appropriate my work, write in worlds that you find inspiring. And it’s a great way to give a new perspective onto like a work that you already know and love. 

Women in Gaming

I think one other thing you mentioned very briefly was about adult women being a significant portion of gamers, despite the stereotype of gamers being—

Matt London:

Adolescent men.

Do you want to talk more about that? 

Matt London:

Yeah. You know, there’s been—for a long time, there has been this focus put on one particular demographic in gaming. And I think companies in general kowtow to that market, and I don’t think that that market is fully representative of gamers as a whole. As a result, I think it’s important to look at where other games are, you know. 

When I was first approached about Hogwarts Mystery, I was living in New York. My partner was in the publishing industry. I was writing books, working in the publishing industry. And one of the things that struck me was just how many of the 25-45-year-old women that were working in publishing were—had gotten into the industry because they were inspired by Harry Potter when they were young. 

And [they] were going to bed at night playing Candy Crush and playing Candy Crush on their drive—on their commute to work. You know, and just, like, having mobile gaming being just a constant part of their lives. 

And, it was just this big aha moment for me. I was like, “oh, I know exactly who the player for this game is.” And what I realised as I worked on the game is that it’s not unique to Harry Potter. The industry as a whole draws in audiences that most console games do not. 

I think that the industry as a whole is getting a little bit better at this. You’re finding games that are sort of approaching things from a slightly different angle. There’s a game announced just yesterday, actually, called Chorus, which was written by David Gaider who wrote Dragon Age 1 and 2, and it’s a narrative musical video game of like, oh my gosh, you get to like, create a musical? 

It’s so cool to see people playing in different spaces like that. I think it’s super important that we create content for all of these players that have been so underserved for so long. They deserve their games too. 

And the truth is, what ends up happening is you get criticised for it. You know, people play Hogwarts Mystery and say, “oh, it’s boring,” or “oh, it’s too easy,” or “oh, it’s too slow,” or “this energy system sucks.” 

And the truth is maybe the game’s not for you. Maybe the game is for somebody else who, you know, Call of Duty or Gears of War doesn’t appeal to them.

Conclusion

Thank you. Before we conclude, was there anything else you wanted to talk about?

Matt London:

No. I feel good. Do you feel good?

I feel good. Thank you so much for sitting down with me and talking for a bit.

Matt London:

My pleasure.

About the Author(s)

Thræn is a Wizards Unite writer for GamePress and life-long Harry Potter fan.