Well, this is awkward. Recently the Harry Potter New York retail store has announced new virtual reality experiences for their location in Manhattan. In addition to their Butterbeer bar, guests will soon be able to partake in two unique virtual reality experiences based on the Harry Potter franchise.
“Chaos at Hogwarts” and “Wizards Take Flight” will debut exclusively at the flagship store on July 15, 2021. This experience was created by WarnerMedia in partnership with the creative teams at Wevr and Keylight and VR industry leaders Dreamscape Immersive.
For the sake of this article, we are going to zero in on “Wizards Take Flight”. In this experience, six guests will board broomsticks and fly over London and fight against Death Eaters. Keep in mind, your broom is equipped with all kinds of haptics (zaps) and special effects that happen during your flight. Sounds unique, right?
Not if you work for Universal Creative. You see, they’ve been quietly working on their own virtual reality Harry Potter attraction. Where you fly on a broomstick. In a room with six people. That has special effects while you ride. Is it the exact same ride? No, it is not. However, it is extremely similar and therein lies the rub.
Why would Universal create a virtual reality attraction, you say? Isn’t virtual reality normally something you do at home with Oculus Rift or maybe at a local strip mall? Why would you want to travel to a world-class theme park to do an experience virtually instead of a dark ride or a roller coaster? Great question for the heads of Universal Creative who still don’t understand that more screens don’t equal more fun. Especially when those screens are strapped to your head. Hey, not my nickel. Not my problem.
Anyhow, here is where things get murky. You see, Universal Creative now has a long-standing relationship with Warner Brothers over the Harry Potter franchise. It’s been a win-win for both companies. As part of that relationship, there are certain things both Universal and Warner Brothers can and can’t do.
For example, Universal can’t just go build a new Harry Potter attraction or even a merchandise stand without the approval of Warner Brothers. In other words, let’s say Universal wants to add a Butterbeer cart to Diagon Alley. They can’t just do that on their own. They have to approach WB with the plans, the sketches, the business need, etc. Then they both agree (or disagree) to move forward on said new Harry Potter project and move on.
Likewise, Warner Brothers can’t create a new Hagrid’s motorbike coaster and call it their own. Not as a standalone attraction, nor as a license to another theme park like Six Flags. Universal has exclusive rights to Harry Potter rides and attractions within a certain “zone” of their theme parks. Notice I said rides and attractions. I didn’t say experiences.
One could argue that the Harry Potter New York store goes far beyond just a merchandise location. It’s a Harry Potter “experience”. Therefore, it doesn’t step on the toes of anything Universal has exclusivity over. Thus, does a virtual reality broom “experience” create a conflict of interest? Depends on who you ask. Is it technically a ride? Not really since you don’t actually go anywhere. Thus the New York Harry Potter virtual reality “experience” sits in this gray area that allows it to even exist. In other words, we aren’t talking about lawsuits of any kind.
What I’m hearing is that Universal Creative was totally blindsided by this until about a month ago. Keep in mind, the Harry Potter New York VR experience has been in development for well over a year (at least). Meanwhile, the VR broomstick attraction Universal Creative has been designing (that Warner Brothers has been involved with) has been in the works since 2017.
You’d think they would at least casually mention that in one of the meetings they had with Universal since there’s a strong chance someone on the team from Warner Brothers is giving approval for both projects. Did they have to? Clearly not, but it puts a strain on the relationship between Universal and Warner Brothers and Disney.
Now, you must be wondering, why does any of this matter? Put yourself in Universal’s shoes for a minute. The Harry Potter VR experience in New York will be the first to market in the United States. Let’s say the public doesn’t like it. Would you be willing to try another Harry Potter VR experience in Orlando if you didn’t like the first one? Or maybe you loved the one in New York. If you’re a huge Harry Potter fan, why would you want to fly to Orlando and do the exact same attraction you’ve already experienced in New York?
Well, that’s because they are totally different Harry Potter VR broom attractions. Similar tech, similar visuals, similar story… but not the same. Now Universal is behind the eight ball. They now have to convince Harry Potter fans that their VR broom attraction is not only different but better than the one in New York. That takes time and marketing dollars. Even then, you’re likely not to reach everyone with that message.
Could this cancel the project? Highly doubtful. You may have seen an article recently on Orlando Parkstop that the Harry Potter VR broomstick ride has been relocated from Universal’s Epic Universe to Universal Studios Florida. That’s totally true and at least as of the writing of this article, those plans are pushing ahead with an expansion of London/Diagon Alley. As of right now, Universal’s Harry Potter broomstick attraction will take the place of the Fear Factor Live stadium. Since this VR broomstick has been in development for so many years, the odds of scrapping it are extremely slim.
As always, nothing is official until Universal ssys it is. Therefore, take this article for what it’s worth.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you think there’s room for two Harry Potter virtual reality attractions within the United States? Should Warner Brothers have at least tipped Universal off that they had given the green light to another Harry Potter VR experience? Does virtual reality even belong in a theme park? Would love to hear your thoughts.
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