The ultimate pop-up book

Wonderbook seems to be the butt of many E3 jokes this year. Aggrieved core gamers feel that Studio London’s latest casual endeavour should have been sacrificed in favour of a greater Vita push. They’re half right – we’ve already criticised Sony and said that its lacklustre Vita display was a huge mistake – but while the demonstration could have been more concise, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Wonderbook was arguably the most important product on Sony’s pre-show press conference stage.

For those that glossed over the news, Wonderbook is a brand new peripheral designed to work with the PlayStation Eye. The physical book – which we’re assuming will be available as part of a software bundle – uses augmented reality to bring stories to life. Instead of being bound to the page, Wonderbook is able to transform novels into fully interactive experiences. In short, it’s able to make reading enjoyable for a new era of technologically aware children, and that’s a pretty powerful selling point.

But while certainly innovative, Wonderbook would be meaningless without the content to back it up; yet Sony has managed to secure the biggest children’s author of all time, J.K. Rowling, to collaborate with the product’s first title, Book of Spells.

Who'd let a Muggle use the wand?

It’s a deal that’s already prompted mainstream press coverage in the UK. The Sun – Britain’s biggest selling tabloid newspaper – picked up on the Wonderbook announcement, describing the product as the “Kindle for kids” in an article that will be read by an estimated circulation of around 2.5 million people. Perhaps the decision to promote the title during the biggest gaming convention in the world wasn’t such a bad move after all?

Book of Spells ties directly into the Harry Potter universe and features original writing from author J.K. Rowling. The game sees you work through an enchanted textbook as you learn and read about the history of various spells from the world of wizardry.

Arguably the most refreshing thing about Books of Spells (and the Wonderbook initiative in general), is its desire to do something different with the motion controlled experience. Book of Spells uses the PlayStation Move controller to augment a wand into your hand and allow you to interact directly with the words on the page. Indeed, the concept is a million miles away from the sports and fitness games that have dominated the motion controlled space to date.

But most importantly, it shows Sony is willing to innovate in the casual market again. The success of Nintendo Wii has caused some pundits to forget that Sony was once the leader of the mainstream arena. Titles such as Buzz and SingStar were the industry’s very first venture into the lucrative casual space, but with Move the platform holder’s been playing catch-up. That’s not to say titles like Sports Champions and Start the Party are abject failures, it’s just that they’ve been done before.

Jumping off the page

Wonderbook allows Sony to target a new audience, with a product that’s incredibly unique. The collaboration with J.K. Rowling gives it immediate gravitas, and while the concept’s unlikely to appeal to the hardcore audience, it’s almost certainly going to be PlayStation’s biggest casual hit in a while.

Earlier in the year we speculated that 2012 was poised to become PS3’s most mainstream year yet, and titles like Book of Spells are certain to ensure that. Sony’s press conference outlined that there’s still plenty in the pipeline for core gamers, but with the right marketing and price-point, Wonderbook has the potential to become the platform’s most important product yet.