Sony's E3 Keynote Debut of Wonderbook is Wasted Potential

Wonderbook is a potential educational gold mine, tossed aside for accessory justification.

By , Contributor

Ah, Wonderbook. The wonder of books. That's what Sony pitched hard at their E3 press event, taking a ten-minute slice of their stage presence to tout the technology and their deal with Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. Never mind that Rowling didn't even record a video to showcase her excitement, and instead a text crawl popped up on screen that she probably didn't even write.

Well, here's what I “wonder,” Sony. You have this technology that brings books to life. Players grab a specially designed tome to interact with the Potter universe via PlayStation Move and Eye. Images on the page become 3D models on TV which can be interacted with and the kids can cast spells to expunge the Potter-esque foes. Great idea, in concept.

Unfortunately, Sony's idea failed one specific check: words. Their books, which need to be designed with the sub-platform Wonderbook in mind, don't have words, or at least nothing of educational significance. They don't require enriching levels of reading. Players follow the story of a third-rate Hogwarts reject on their quest to learn stuff about magic.

Now, imagine that idea, but placed within an actual Harry Potter book. Players take the role of a small, almost insignificant side character, but, here they play along the stories they know with new angles. You develop an arc that occurs around Harry Potter, but still close enough that you're within the world of Quidditch or Hogwarts. You interact with specific iconic locations.

More importantly, the book has words. Kids need to read to find the next game, encouraging them to reach those interactive plateaus as a reward. There's a new story for them to digest, and new sections of the world for them to explore, both with their own mind and with the games. You don't need much for the technology of Wonderbook to function, outside of game code. A small icon on the page is all it takes to spring something to life; Nintendo has been capable of doing such a thing on their handheld 3DS since launch, Sony longer so with things such as EyePet.

I can see a place in the future where Wonderbook becomes a part of libraries and schools, a fun way for kids to learn not only about Potter, but other topics, authors, and subjects. There's too much meat on this idea's bones to merely cast it aside for a cheap one-off we will have forgotten about in a year or two post-release. The whole thing comes off as a desperation move in a so-so E3 presentation, a means of keeping their loosely popular Move controller alive.

They're throwing away an idea worth millions, if not billions at a conceptual level, for something that is only a fraction of its potential. I'm letting them have it with, you know, a small cut I guess, just to see kids reading a freakin' book, not playing idiotic mini-games barely worth the paper they're printed on.

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Matt Paprocki is a 13-year veteran of the video game, movie, and home media scene. He has written thousands of reviews, has been published on a variety of websites, and contributes his thoughts daily on a diverse range of topics.

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