PARIS, France - The "Harry Potter" universe welcomes its latest edition on Friday, the "Hogwarts Legacy" video game, which provides a big test of the resilience of a franchise hit by criticism from some LGBTQ activists over the views of author JK Rowling.
The Scottish writer has been plagued by threats and controversy since she publicly took issue in 2020 with the trans-inclusive phrase "people who menstruate" being used instead of the word "women".
Many accused her of transphobia for putting the emphasis on biological sex over notions of gender. She denies the charge.
The video game's release has prompted some to call for a boycott but thanks to pre-orders it is already sitting at the top of sales charts.
"It's not that this particular title has reprehensible things in it," said Will Overgard, a Seattle-based gamer and streamer who called on his followers not to buy the game.
"It's that supporting this title says 'A-okay' to some very, very, very questionable personal stances from (JK Rowling)."
Some specialist news sites, like TheGamer in Canada, are refusing to cover the release, though they have stopped short of calling for a boycott.
All that has done little to dampen enthusiasm among gamers for Hogwarts Legacy, which has been garnering rave reviews.
'Dream come true'
"It's the game that everyone has been waiting for," said Quentin Seigneur, a 31-year-old French entrepreneur who has been a fan of the franchise since the first book was released in French in 1998.
He described the forthcoming game as a mix of Harry Potter's universe and the "open worlds" of the "Grand Theft Auto" video game franchise.
"We'll finally be the wizard we've all dreamt of being," he said.
Video games related to the franchise have not traditionally been huge hits -- the last attempt, 2019's "Wizard's Unite", failed to find an audience and the publisher halted sales last year.
Players of "Hogwarts Legacy" get to spend time as students at the famous wizarding school, with courses in magic and multiple quests to complete.
"The books and films always invited us to imagine the ways our story might be different if we were in Harry's shoes," Alan Tew, director of the game, produced by Avalanche studio and US giant Warner Bros, told AFP.
"And we knew it would be a dream come true if fans could be put in the same situation."
Warner Bros did not respond to an AFP request for comment on the controversy surrounding Rowling.
Tew told AFP it would be possible to choose gender in the new game, which is set to feature a trans character.
"In the character creator, you will choose whether others refer to you as a witch or wizard," said Tew, adding that the choice would affect which dormitory you were in.
- 'Holding their noses' -
The backlash seems not to have affected the popularity of the books or the shows and films based around them.
Book publisher Bloomsbury said sales of the wizarding tales leapt during pandemic lockdowns before falling back again, reflecting the broader pattern of book sales.
"For me, Harry Potter was an escape from the world," said Kyle Thomas, 32, who read the first book 20 years ago.
"I still listen to the audiobook every year, it's still my favourite book," said the Canadian, who was visiting London to see the play "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child".
LGBTQ gamers in the United States were split on the issue, said Cody Mejeur from the University of Buffalo.
While some wanted full-on boycotts, others were less militant and were thinking of buying the game second-hand to avoid giving money to Rowling.
Others, said Mejeur, loved the franchise and the idea of the game and would probably buy it while "holding their noses".