Hogwarts Legacy breaks record before official release, despite controversy

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New York

The world of Harry Potter is getting new life.

Hogwarts Legacy – the new open-world video game by Avalanche and Warner Bros. Discovery, CNN’s parent company, will be released Friday, to much anticipation.

The single-player game has been five years in the making — experts put its budget at $150 million. The game already broke a record on Twitch for being the most-watched single-player game, played by streamers who got the game early. And it’s the No. 1 pre-sale this week on gaming platform Steam.

“Open world style games are a really a big deal in the games industry,” said Joost van Dreunen, an adjunct professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business who was formerly CEO of games market research firm Super Data Research. “The expectations are quite high not just from the consumers, but also from the game makers themselves.”

Warner Bros. has had 20 years of experience putting out Harry Potter video games — but those were based on the movies. Not every game was a blockbuster hit, despite the fandom around the Harry Potter franchise.

Hogwarts Legacy is based on Harry Potter but is set in the late 1800s, well before the action in the Harry Potter books take place, and opens the Harry Potter World beyond Hogwarts Castle. Players are witch or wizard avatars that complete missions to gain skills such as flying on a broom.

“They definitely put out some big titles and worked with some big franchises, but their games have been hit and miss,” Dan Martin, general manager at videogamesnewyork says of the Warner Bros. games.

The game’s release has been delayed twice — building excitement from Potter fans but then fizzling. Videogamesnewyork, a New York City store that sells modern and retro video games, is ordering just enough games to their store based on pre-orders.

“We’re not over-ordering or under ordering. Only because we don’t know what to expect,” said Martin.

Part of the game’s expectation is based on controversy surrounding Harry Potter’s creator — J.K. Rowling. The author has repeatedly made anti-trans comments, and some of the movies’ actors have spoken out against them. Some gamers also are boycotting Hogwarts Legacy over the controversy.

“It’s not a commercial risk so much as is a cultural one,” van Dreunen said of the game’s release.

The game features a trans character, a first for the franchise. Though the Hogwarts Legacy character Sirona Ryan does not explicitly say she is trans, dialogue in a scene suggests it: “[It] took them a second to realize I was actually a witch, not a wizard,” the character said.

Warner Bros. Discovery said creating diverse characters was a high priority in order to encompass all people who play the games including the LGBTQIA+ community.

The company says J.K. Rowling is not involved in the Hogwarts Legacy game. But she does stand to make licensing royalties. Some fans have been turned off to the franchise because of Rowling’s comments, others say they won’t let that get in the way of experiencing a new world of Harry Potter.

“There was a time when I thought it was going to impact my view on the whole Harry Potter world, but I am able to separate the situation with JK Rowling with the Harry Potter world,” said Camila Rodrigues, a Harry Potter fan who says she plans to buy the game.

Despite the controversy, gaming experts anticipate a blockbuster release — easily selling 10 million copies, according to some estimates. In some ways, the game is a re-branding opportunity for the franchise.

“It perhaps has room to develop something new, to iterate on the existing relationship with its fan base,” said van Dreunen. “Perhaps making it into this big production video game allows the franchise to kind of save itself a little bit from the drag it’s been experiencing culturally.”