The first Harry Potter novel did not arrive in bookstores in China until 2000, three years after the English-language version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone became a global phenomenon. Like elsewhere, the JK Rowling novels were a hit in China too. The first three instalments sold about 1.5 million copies and probably many millions more if you count pirated versions.
The government was a fan as well. In 2017, the Ministry of Education added the Harry Potter novels to an official list of recommended reading for primary and secondary school students. So it’s fair to say that millions of school children got a taste of the Hogwart’s-based fantasy series from a young age.
Today the devoted fan base lives on, with a Harry Potter-themed mobile phone game taking top spot in downloads last week, surpassing Tencent’s hugely popular title Honor of Kings. It also ranked as the highest income-earning game of the week, according to mobile data and analytics platform App Annie.
Harry Potter Magic Awakened is a role-playing game produced by Tencent’s gaming rival NetEase (in conjunction with Warner Brothers, which owns Portkey Games, a label dedicated to creating new Wizarding World mobile and video games).
The release of the new title also coincided with the opening of the Universal Beijing Resort, which features the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as one of its key attractions.
When Reuters visited the new park on opening day, it met 27 year-old Beijinger Pi Tiantian, who pointed at her male companion and said “This one really likes Harry Potter.”
The mobile game is set in an all-new Potter universe, with the original characters now grown up. Each player is granted entry to the sorcery school as a Muggle-born wizard or witch and starts their magic training by attending the Sorting Hat ceremony (which determines whether the player will pledge allegiance to the houses of Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw). As the game progresses, the players will learn new spells, attend wizardry classes and compete in different challenges. All the characters talk in English but there are bilingual subtitles.
Reviews for the game have been polarising. Some gamers are delighted by the high-quality graphics and the expansive story lines. The game is also said to be very playable, even for novices. “All the small details have won the approval of fans for their authentic IP, like the Sorting Hat ceremony and the owls that interact with the players. These little details reflect NetEase’s sincerity in creating a Harry Potter mobile game. And that is also the main reason why it has exploded in popularity,” notes Yiyu Guancha, an entertainment news portal.
However, not all of the franchise’s fans were satisfied. Many commented that the game tries too hard to make money from the players, creating storylines that destroy the essence of the original novels. For instance, a so-called ‘killing curse’ is an easy-to-get card as long as the gamer is willing to pay the required amount. “It is unforgivable that something so evil [the killing curse] was adapted into a card so casually. The years of struggle to fight Voldemort [Potter’s arch-enemy], and the sacrifice of so many lives, is made to look like a joke,” one particularly obsessed fan of the books complained to the Global Times.“The truth is that NetEase only wants to make money, and it has no intention whatsoever of inheriting or promoting the magical world of Hogwarts,” another wand-waving critic lamented. “It is just typical Muggle behaviour,” another netizen concurred, using the ultimate in Potterworld put-downs.
Undeterred, NetEase launched another mobile game this week, again based on a British literary classic that features a famous wizard. Prepare yourself for a busy month on social media as Chinese admirers of Gandalf react to how the sacred territory of JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth is monetised in The Lord of the Rings: Rise to War…
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