Despite Boycotts, ‘Hogwarts Legacy’ Was the Bestselling Video Game of 2023
Harry Potter must have some hidden horcruxes, because reports of its banishment into cultural obscurity have continually proven to be overstated. Public opinion toward J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world has been a rollercoaster. From the beginning, the books stirred up controversy due to their inclusion of magic and supernatural elements. Condemnation from Christians and conservatives increased with Rowling’s later revelation that Dumbledore—the archetypal wise mentor in the story—was gay (a plotline made more explicit in the Fantastic Beasts prequel series). Many people boycotted the novels. Nonetheless, Harry Potter became the bestselling series of all time.
The narrative took a sharp turn when Rowling became one of the most prominent, outspoken critics of transgender ideology. Suddenly, the author came under attack from a different segment of the population. Progressive Potterheads sought to distance the stories from their creator, and the Museum of Pop Culture (MPOP) in Seattle even scrubbed her name from its Harry Potter exhibit.
The volatile public opinions toward J. K. Rowling became a central story in the lead up to the buzzworthy video game Hogwarts Legacy. Prior to the game’s release, there were protests and calls for a boycott. Video game journalists were forced to issue public apologies for choosing to review the game, and major outlets like IGN dedicated portions of their reviews to addressing Rowling’s personal views rather than the game’s graphics and mechanics. There appeared to be a sense of solidarity in opposition to the game.
But just as previous boycotts did little to prevent the books’ unprecedented sales, months of outrage proved ineffective in inhibiting the game’s success. In fact, Hogwarts Legacy exceeded expectations and finished 2023 as the bestselling video game of the year with more than 22 million copies sold. Twitch streams of the game broke viewership records.
Some of the impressive sales total is perhaps due to the game’s cross-platform availability on PC, PS5, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch (whereas The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, the 3rd bestselling game of the year, was a Nintendo Switch exclusive). But Hogwarts Legacy’s availability is only part of the story. The online discourse leading up to the game’s release signaled that the artist cannot (or should not) be separated from the art and that J. K. Rowling’s personal views were a primary concern for gamers (despite Rowling having had no direct involvement in the game’s development). Now that the dust has settled, the reality of the situation suggests something far simpler: the vocal minority on social media never represented the mindset of the wider public, most of whom had no interest in joining the frontlines of a culture war and were merely looking for a fun game to play.
Harry Potter has always been an interesting case study for cultural trends and mentalities. As one of the biggest pop culture phenomena in history, it transcends many of the rules and limitations of most entertainment properties. Even so, the discrepancy between the online narrative (fueled by boycotts, cancel culture, and a loud vocal minority) and the actual data of the situation (more than 22 million games sold) suggests we might do well to accept prevailing internet opinions with a grain of floo powder. With magic wands and creatures, Harry Potter is easily recognizable as a fantasy; with the success of Hogwarts Legacy, the internet may have been exposed for being just as fantastical.