EA Star Wars Game Off to Forceful Start in Quest to Catch World of Warcraft

In a galaxy far, far away, Electronic Arts’ new Star Wars game may conquer Activision Blizzard’s World of Warcraft.

The new multiplayer online game has gotten off to a strong start, but has a long way to go if it plans to challenge the fan base World of Warcraft has amassed over the last six years.

So far, Electronic Arts has confirmed that Star Wars: The Old Republic has registered more than one million players since officially launching on Dec. 20. In that time, those players have created 1.66 million characters and logged more than 60 million hours of game play, which is roughly the equivalent of watching all six Star Wars movies more than four million times.

It’s a good beginning, but the game has a lot riding on it.

Star Wars: The Old Republic, which was developed by Electronic Arts-owned BioWare, cost hundreds of millions to build and took several years to develop.

The critical question is whether it has enough star power to attract players away from other titles, namely World of Warcraft, which has built a dedicated subscription base.

Today, World of Warcraft has about 10.3 million subscribers, and a year ago it was able to sell 3.3 million copies of its latest expansion pack in the first day of it being available. A fourth expansion pack, adding even more content, is expected in the near future but currently has no launch date.

Still, some analysts believe a takeover by Star Wars is possible.

Last month, Activision Blizzard said its membership base fell nearly 10 percent to 10.3 million, down from 11.4 million in March. Each subscriber represents a massive recurring revenue stream of roughly $15 a month, so that’s a tough loss to swallow.

The games in this category are not found on Facebook and they are definitely not free.

They are deep, story-telling experiences with high-end graphics that players pay a lot for. Star Wars is charging $60 for the initial software download, plus one free month. From there, it will cost the players an additional $15 a month for access, which is on par with others.

Last month, Lazard Capital Markets’ Atul Bagga downgraded Activision from “buy” to “neutral” after hearing about the drop in subscribers and after getting the results of a survey that polled 381 online gamers.

The study, which was conducted by Lazard in conjunction with Peanut Labs, found that Star Wars may benefit as World of Warcraft gets older, reports GameSpot.com.

Of those who are currently playing World of Warcraft, 50 percent of respondents said they plan to buy The Old Republic, and 95 percent of the survey’s respondents who were also participating in the Star Wars beta said they would buy the game.

Today, Electronic Arts is trading higher, up 1.8 percent, or about 37 cents, to $21.08 a share. Activision, which is also being supported by the strong launch of Call of Duty, is down about 3 cents to $12.17 a share.

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Nobody was excited about paying top dollar for a movie about WikiLeaks. A film about the origins of Pets.com would have done better.

— Gitesh Pandya of BoxOfficeGuru.com comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”