As Multiple Products Are Discontinued, What Direction Is the Wizarding World Franchise Taking?
December marks the end of the calendar year, but it also spells some bad news for players of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and those who have purchased books through Pottermore Bookshelf, both of which are getting shut down for good on January 31, 2022. That’s not to mention subscribers with a Harry Potter Fan Club Gold membership – also referred to as Wizarding World Gold subscribers and referred to as such within this piece – who stand to lose a host of benefits with the end of that membership option this past October.
The news isn’t good, especially when we consider that Pottermore, before rebranding as Wizarding World Digital, recorded £31.5 million in sales in the fiscal year ending in March 2019. Wizarding World Gold membership was marketed as a must-have for fans of the franchise, yet many were wary of purchasing it. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite brought its dragons to San Diego Comic-Con back in 2019, but developer Niantic more recently frustrated fans of the game with its announcement that it would be adding new features in the weeks before its closure.
What happened? It’s difficult to say for certain. Some of these decisions may have been motivated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which set back everything from productions of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to fan conventions. This might be the case for Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, given that much of its premise was built around moving through the real world – something that became much more difficult in the face of public health measures meant to stop the spread of the pandemic. It might have been driven by fans’ decisions in the wake of views expressed by author J.K. Rowling, or it might have come amid casting controversies related to the Fantastic Beasts film franchise.
What is for certain is that the fandom isn’t going anywhere, and neither is Warner Bros.’s involvement in it. In the past few months alone, we’ve gotten announcements about everything from a reunion special to a game show, a release date, title, and plot details for the third Fantastic Beasts film, and more. (That’s right; fans can now venture into the fictional Forbidden Forest in real-life Cheshire, and did we mention that there’s still Hogwarts Legacy?)
With all of these great things on the horizon, is it simply a case of “too much too soon” for the expansion of the Wizarding World franchise, or are we as a fandom not used to having good things come to an end? (Both are entirely possible.) Taking a step back, though, let’s assess things in some more detail. First, we know that it’s been over two years since Wizarding World Digital was called Pottermore; the change was made in October 2019. Wizarding World Gold membership came along with it, and the whole experience seemed to streamline branding for the franchise. Getting rid of the Pottermore Bookshelf, as tied to the “Pottermore” identity, could be part of that, or it could be a reflection of readers’ preferences.
In relation to Pottermore Bookshelf, two things come up. The first is that it doesn’t appear to be an issue of profit. The Bookseller writes that the site continued to have “strong sales from Harry Potter e-books and digital audio,” with revenues rising 3.2% over 2019 in the fiscal year ending in March 2020. Though this is right around the same time that the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, Pottermore Publishing has since partnered with Google and continues to be known as Pottermore Publishing on its official site. The second is the issue of copyright. Looking at a thread on the Ars Technica forums, one user mentions that the books were “DRM free” – “DRM” meaning “digital rights management,” or a way for copyright holders to protect content that others have downloaded. Back in 2012, the CEO of Pottermore, Charlie Redmayne, discussed the decision to keep Pottermore’s content free of DRM, as reported by Good e-Reader. (Amazon, however, added DRM to its Harry Potter e-books back in 2014.) This decision could be tied to a desire to prevent piracy, but current users with Pottermore Bookshelf accounts are able to download that content until January 31, 2022. In theory, those users could still share it.
Moving from Pottermore Publishing to Warner Bros. Games, we have the case of Wizards Unite. Warner Bros. Games, as Portkey Games, developed the application alongside Niantic, and it could be that the companies have chosen to focus their efforts elsewhere. With Hogwarts Legacy likely to be released in 2022, this is a safe bet. Most of what we know right now about Hogwarts Legacy has come from the rumor mill, but behind the scenes, there have been issues related to some of those working on the game with developer Avalanche and changes related to mergers on the Warner Bros. end. It makes sense that Warner Bros. would want to focus on putting together the best possible product, considering the hype the game has received since before it was ever confirmed. The mobile games Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery (from Warner Bros. Games and Jam City) and Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells (from Warner Bros. Games and Zynga) are still going strong – so much so that Puzzles & Spells surpassed the revenue brought in by Wizards Unite after just four months. (Harry Potter: Magic Awakened, another mobile offering from Warner Bros. Games, is doing well for itself too, with TalkEsport writing that it has brought in over $228 million in revenue.)
Finally, there’s Wizarding World Gold. It was a good idea, but it seems that it wasn’t popular enough. The promise of “special subscriber events” might have been more alluring if not for all the events that had to be canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and getting the occasional enamel pin at a discount probably wasn’t enough to justify “just $74.99 (US) or £59.99 (UK) per year,” to quote its introductory press release. Other perks at the time of launch included access to Harry Potter e-books – now also a moot point. In short, it seems that Wizarding World Digital might have come to the realization that you can’t put a price on fandom. (Not owning merchandise doesn’t make anyone any less of a fan, and gatekeeping isn’t a good look on anyone.)
With suggestions that Warner Bros. is looking to expand its Wizarding World footprint in the real world – including expanding the Warner Bros. Studio Tour to Tokyo, Japan – what we’re seeing right now could be indicative of a priority shift for Warner Bros., Pottermore Publishing, and Rowling’s representatives at the Blair Partnership in relation to the franchise. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it’s too soon to judge what this will mean for fans and their enjoyment of all these future offerings. Of note, Wizards Unite and Pottermore Bookshelf will shut down for good on the same day, January 31, so it wouldn’t be surprising if that date turns out to be more than a coincidence.