The future doesn’t look bright for Hogwarts Legacy. The upcoming Harry Potter game was supposed to be the franchise’s first major video game adaptation, but a series of controversies have dampened the RPG’s outlook. It’s a troubling sign when a one-year delay is the least of a publisher’s worries.
Warner Bros. is currently on the defensive as it works through waves of bad press that suggest the company will be on damage control until the game’s 2022 launch and beyond to keep it in the public’s good graces.
The unfortunate truth is that the troubled game may already be past saving.
Hogwarts Legacy has struggled with one major problem since its announcements: J.K. Rowling. The Harry Potter creator and author has become a controversial figure in recent years, expressing views about gender identity that are widely considered transphobic.
In September 2020, Warner Bros. Games President David Haddad attempted to distance the game from her beliefs but was careful not to condemn Rowling outright. Haddad instead noted that she has “the right to hold her opinions.”
While that’s always true, her opinions have undoubtedly caused harm to a vulnerable community. Rather than apologizing or attempting to understand why fans have taken issue with her beliefs, Rowling has stood by her statements and painted herself as a victim of “cancel culture.”
Those actions have alienated longtime fans of the series, already hurting Hogwarts Legacy’s potential for success. Considering Rowling’s reaction to her critics, it seems as though she won’t be backing down soon either. That means that Warner Bros. currently has a nuclear bomb of a game it’ll have to defuse the next time Rowling rolls out a problematic Twitter thread.
The latest wave of backlash against Hogwarts Legacy came after a politically loaded YouTube channel belonging to the game’s lead designer Troy Leavitt resurfaced. Leavitt’s content includes anti-feminist rhetoric and ties to the controversial GamerGate movement, further eroding the confidence of those who were already wary of the project. In one 2018 video, Leavitt said Warner Bros. is aware of his content and did not see it as a detriment to the company’s vision.
The messy situation has now left Avalanche Software and Warner Bros. struggling to regain players’ trust in a project that feels doomed by negative reactions. A March 2 report from Bloomberg notes that Avalanche plans to include a more inclusive character creation system that separates voice and body type from gender. That could serve as a show of good faith that the game won’t share Rowling’s own beliefs that trans women are not women, though including optional character customization isn’t necessarily the same thing as having trans representation.
Judging by the initial public response to this latest news, the feature won’t heal all wounds. The problem doesn’t appear to be with the game itself, but with the problematic creative forces around it who stand to gain from its success.
“Trans people and identities are not a PR shield,” games reporter Kate Gray responded to Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier, “and moves towards progressive ideals do not undo the hurt caused by the series creator, nor the team's designer whose harmful views were outed recently.”
Warner Bros. faces an uphill battle with no easy solutions. There’s nothing it can do to fully remove Rowling’s presence from Hogwarts Legacy. She’ll always be associated with the franchise, even if she’s not a driving force behind one particular adaptation. The best it can do to regain any lost trust is take a firm stance on these issues and commit to more meaningful inclusion that goes beyond better character creation, whether that be adding trans characters to the game itself or hiring a more diverse staff.
At the moment, Warner Bros. is playing it safe by tiptoeing around controversy. It’ll have a hard time getting away with it in an age where people are more vocal than ever about social issues. The backlash isn’t going anywhere, so some serious soul-searching is needed if the company hopes to salvage the troubled game’s reputation. If it’s not willing to, then Hogwarts’ legacy may be more tainted than that of Salazar Slytherin.
Hogwarts Legacy is slated for release sometime in 2022.