Troy Leavitt is a lead designer at Warner Bros. development studio Avalanche Software currently working on controversial Harry Potter game Hogwarts Legacy. He also ran a reactionary YouTube channel focused on attacking feminism and social justice for over a year.
This information was first provided by Did You Know Gaming? contributor Liam Robertson, who highlighted the channel Friday evening on Twitter. An accompanying screenshot shows a small portion of Leavitt’s YouTube channel, with video titles such as “The Injustice of Social Justice,” “In Praise of Cultural Appropriation,” and “Are Thoughtcrimes Becoming Real,” the latter a reference to George Orwell’s dystopic sci-fi novel 1984. Right-wing commentators often use the book’s authoritarian “Big Brother” government as a comparison point in their criticism, likening the fictional surveillance state to real-world equality movements.
Among Leavitt’s other videos are lengthy defenses of both John Lasseter, the Pixar co-founder who left his position at Disney in 2017 after allegations of sexual misconduct, and Nolan Bushnell, the Atari co-founder who Kotaku’s reporting found to have fostered a toxic work environment for women. In some of his videos, Leavitt expressed support for Gamergate, a movement that fostered harassment against women and other minorities in the gaming industry, and criticized Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women series as an “uninformed fringe position.” Leavitt discussed his opinions on Gamergate in-depth during a 2017 interview, saying, “Gamergate, while painful at times, on the whole proved to be a good thing,”
Leavitt didn’t respond to Kotaku’s multiple requests for comment in time for publication.
A veteran developer, Leavitt got his start as a consultant on games like 1996’s Twisted Metal 2 and 1997’s Jet Moto 2, eventually moving onto a long stint at Disney. He contributed to a variety of licensed games and directed several Disney Infinity expansions before leaving the company in July 2016.
Leavitt published his first video to his YouTube channel in September 2016, sharing a steady stream of content until his last upload in May 2018. It’s since accrued over 24,000 subscribers and 2 million total views. While the channel hasn’t been active recently, Leavitt’s Twitter profile still links to it, alongside his status as a Hogwarts Legacy developer. In one video, Leavitt claims that he made his employers at Warner Bros. aware of the channel after being hired at Avalanche Software in February 2018 and that they didn’t seem too worried about its content.
“Some of you have expressed that, due to my commentary on some game industry controversies and my sympathies for the Gamergate movement, that I might have a difficult time should I ever want to return to professional game development,” Leavitt said. “I’m happy to say that, even though I disclosed my YouTube channel to WB Games, it didn’t appear to be an issue for them. Not that they endorse anything that I’ve said, of course, but at least they seem more concerned with making good games than with pushing some kind of a social justice agenda, so there is hope.”
Warner Bros. declined to comment when contacted by Kotaku for a statement on Leavitt’s views and involvement with Hogwarts Legacy.
Hogwarts Legacy has already drawn concern from fans due to controversy around its source material. J.K. Rowling first established the Harry Potter universe, a multimedia franchise known today as the Wizarding World, with her 1997 debut novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The series has since gone on to spawn several more books, feature film adaptations, spin-offs, extensive merchandising, and even a stage play, making Rowling a multi-millionaire in the process. On the back of this notoriety, the British author has waged a tireless campaign against transgender rights, which in turn caused both the developers at Avalanche Software and players looking forward to Hogwarts Legacy to express concern over her potential involvement with the game.
In September 2020, Warner Bros. added a section to the official Hogwarts Legacy FAQ explaining that Rowling is not “directly involved” with the game apart from providing the rights to her Harry Potter franchise. When contacted by Kotaku around that time, Warner Bros. pointed us towards a statement the company gave to Variety in June 2020 concerning Rowling’s anti-trans statements.
“The events in the last several weeks have firmed our resolve as a company to confront difficult societal issues,” the company said. “Warner Bros.’ position on inclusiveness is well established, and fostering a diverse and inclusive culture has never been more important to our company and to our audiences around the world. We deeply value the work of our storytellers who give so much of themselves in sharing their creations with us all. We recognize our responsibility to foster empathy and advocate understanding of all communities and all people, particularly those we work with and those we reach through our content.”
Later that month, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment president David Haddad reportedly told employees during a private Q&A that Rowling was “entitled to express her personal opinion on social media.”
Many fans have expressed concerns over Leavitt’s involvement with Hogwarts Legacy since his YouTube history came up a few days ago, spurred on by the controversies already surrounding the upcoming game. Several users on popular gaming forum ResetEra have asked moderators to ban Hogwarts Legacy discussion altogether due to both Rowling’s influence on the franchise and Leavitt’s work as lead designer, a request moderators seem to be taking seriously.
Video games are made by massive teams of people with vastly different backgrounds, viewpoints, and opinions. Even as lead designer, it’s very unlikely Leavitt has single-handedly infected every aspect of Hogwarts Legacy with an anti-feminist agenda. That said, it’s obvious why folks might be wary of interacting with a game developed by someone with his beliefs, adapted from works that have been sullied by their creator’s own bigoted worldview. Harry Potter might not be my personal cup of tea, but I feel for those who have seen something they cherished growing up become such a minefield of intolerance.