Controversial ‘Hogwarts Legacy’ Game Crucial for Warner Bros.

Illustration of a video game controller overlayed with Harry Potter glasses
Illustration: Cheyne Gateley/VIP+

In a transitional period for the studio, Warner Bros.’ video game arm is at last stealing the show.

“Hogwarts Legacy,” an open-world game belonging to Warners’ Wizarding World franchise that’s set a century before the events of the “Harry Potter” books and films, is shaping up to be a massive hit for Warner Bros. Games and developer Avalanche Software, which used to make games under Disney.

Ahead of its full release today, “Hogwarts Legacy” broke Twitch’s record for peak viewership of a single-player game with 1.3 million people watching streams of it Tuesday, after the game became available for those who preordered the deluxe edition. The game had already topped Steam’s wishlist chart and ranked high among top preorders on PS5 prior to this and has since accrued quite positive reviews.

Just like how Netflix’s own “Witcher” series has been a hit for the streamer, “The Last of Us” has also delivered big ratings as HBO’s first adaptation of a video game, showing how much this medium has increased in stature at parent Warner Bros. Discovery.

While this early success for “Hogwarts Legacy” is great for WB Games, it’s especially crucial for Warner Bros. The Wizarding World franchise has been toiling with trouble brewing over the past few years.

The “Fantastic Beasts” prequel films to “Harry Potter” all performed under every film in the prior series, with 2022’s “The Secrets of Dumbledore” coming in as a franchise low domestically and globally.

Such an outcome can’t be pinned on the pandemic, as Warners’ “The Batman” was a big success that ranked among 2022’s top performers upon its March release. Instead, a potion mixed from poor reviews, the replacement of Johnny Depp’s role and “Harry Potter” creator J.K. Rowling’s doubling down on views widely regarded as transphobic cast a negative spell over the latest “Fantastic Beasts” entry.

High sales for “Hogwarts Legacy” would represent a total heel turn for the franchise after two additional “Fantastic Beasts” films were likely paused amid a reshuffling of priorities at Warners that also led to the studio putting “Wonder Woman” on ice.

This early popularity for the game is especially significant, as the controversy surrounding Rowling’s comments on gender identity has worsened, leading to calls from the LGBTQ+ community to boycott “Hogwarts Legacy.”

Warners isn’t new to dealing with the Rowling backlash. While the author was credited as a writer and producer on the last “Fantastic Beasts” film, a “Harry Potter” reunion special made for HBO Max in 2021 only featured Rowling via archival footage that showed a conspicuous “Filmed in 2019” disclaimer. By contrast, stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson all returned to film the special with other cast and crew from the movies.

As for the game, a similar distancing has been shown. The FAQ on the game’s official site makes it clear Rowling was not directly involved in the development of “Hogwarts Legacy” beyond members of her team consulting with Avalanche to keep the game consistent with the franchise’s universe.

That fact and the addition of a seemingly trans character to the game remain overshadowed by Rowling’s entitlement to royalties as the owner of the franchise, which she has bragged about publicly while continuing to engage in heated squabbles on Twitter.

Still, it’s difficult to imagine this will matter much to Warners if the game is a hit, especially since 2023 will also see the release of “Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League,” the next DC title from WB Games after last year’s “Gotham Knights.” Releasing in May, the game is sandwiched between DCEU theatrical films “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” and “The Flash,” the latter of which is also mired in controversy due to star Ezra Miller’s bouts with the law and mental health issues, though Warners has expressed confidence in the superhero picture. Miller appeared in all three “Fantastic Beasts” films.

WBD is continuing to finesse its own streaming rehabilitation after the surprise news Wednesday that the company plans to keep Discovery+ as a standalone service in addition to its plans to offer a new SVOD product that combines it with HBO Max. This makes it essential for the company’s content arms to chart the best path forward for all the IP at its disposal as WBD seeks to resolve $50 billion in debt and become profitable after WarnerMedia was spun off from AT&T and merged with Discovery last year.

Even if Rowling has become She Who Must Not Be Named, “Hogwarts Legacy” may just help the Wizarding World and Warners divine such a path.