Guest Opinion Article
By Rachit Moti
CEO and Founder of Layer Licensing
During the gaming boom of the ‘80s, a new trend of video games based on popular films and TV shows started to emerge. For the next 30 years, practically every blockbuster film that hit cinema screens had a movie tie-in game, from Batman and Beauty and the Beast to A Bug’s Life and The Lion King.
Some of these games were incredibly successful, with many of the superhero adaptations spawning persistent spin-offs. Other games based on entertainment IP, such as GoldenEye 007 on the N64, are regarded as some of the greatest video games ever released.
But most studios struggled to balance game development with hectic film production schedules, which often resulted in lacklustre titles. The adaptation of ET was so bad they literally buried it. This, coupled with the rising costs associated with creating modern video games, meant that licensed games started to wane in popularity from the late 2000s onwards.
There were some notable exceptions to this rule, such as Alien: Isolation, Marvel’s Spider-Man and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, which all resonated with audiences and sold well. But the recently released Hogwarts Legacy has reached a level of success that was previously unprecedented for an IP-based game.
Hogwarts Legacy is the biggest game launch in Warner Bros. Games’ history, with launch sales in the EU bigger than every Call of Duty game released in the last six years. It’s still got plenty of room to grow, too. The game is currently only available on PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC, with releases for the Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch still to come.
Hogwarts Legacy looks set to mark a turning point for the popularity of licensed games. Video game industry insider Jeff Grubb has already claimed that licensed games are set to become the industry’s ‘next big thing,’ as publishers look to find ways to ensure their AAA titles are a surefire hit in this challenging economic climate.
So, why has the launch of Hogwarts Legacy initiated such a decisive moment? A big part of this is timing; the last attempt to adapt the Harry Potter IP into a video game was all the way back in 2011. EA’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 was critically panned across the board at launch, with one prominent gaming website calling it a ‘generic and almost broken shooter.’
Millions of Harry Potter fans have since been left crying out for over a decade for an opportunity to explore Hogwarts, and developer Avalanche Studios delivered. Hogwarts Legacy is the first game to let fans truly live out their magical fantasies by creating their own witch or wizard, getting sorted into one of the four Hogwarts houses, exploring Hogsmeade and battling goblins using iconic spells learned in classes.
Better yet, Avalanche Studios pored through all the source material from books and official Wiki websites to ensure that even the most diehard Harry Potter fan would come away from the game feeling spellbound. If you compare that to a game such as Rocksteady’s Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, which has left DC fans so unimpressed that it has allegedly since been delayed into 2024, then the link between Hogwarts Legacy’s respectful use of the source material and its success becomes all the more clear.
One gaming website went so far as to rank the things about Suicide Squad that make no sense. This includes making Harley Quinn, who is typically seen in films and comic books wielding a baseball bat, almost flying around Metropolis with a machine gun; a wild deviation from what fans expected from the IP. Developers can’t simply attach any prominent IP to a game and expect guaranteed success, especially when it doesn’t match up with the source material.
There’s also the fact that the strong sales of Hogwarts Legacy are partly based on it being based on one of the biggest entertainment IPs in the world, and there was a huge demand for a quality video game from its fans. Developers working on their own IP-based games will find replicating that level of success challenging.
But even in the case that developers are working on a game with a much smaller IP, there are many things they can do to make it work. As Avalanche Studios did with Hogwarts Legacy, developers should work closely with the IP holders to create gaming experiences that aren’t just faithful to the identity of the franchise in question, but which carefully align with the expectations of the fan base while still offering something new.
The success of Hogwarts Legacy shows that while large IP contracts are in huge demand and have massive potential for lucrative gains, the importance of remaining faithful to the original IP with high attention to detail, and providing fans with a fresh experience that cements their existing understanding of the world, is paramount for the future of licensed games.
Rachit Moti is the CEO and co-founder of Layer Licensing, a marketplace program for IP licensing in the interactive entertainment industry. Layer matches IP profiles with game profiles based on commercial, audience and other criteria to simplify the task of finding and contracting with suitable licensing partners for video game and digital entertainment creators. To learn more or register on the Layer Licensing platform, CLICK HERE