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Game publisher Electronic Arts‘ massive online role-playing game, Star Wars: The Old Republic, could be delayed until 2012, the company’s chief financial officer, Eric Brown, told investors today.

The Old Republic is Electronic Arts’ Hail Mary pass in online games and aims to rip users away from rival online games, such as Blizzard Entertainment’s seven-year-old game colossus World of WarCraft. If Electronic Arts succeeds, it will have persistent revenues coming in from subscription fees charged to users. Electronic Arts’ game is expected to be a subscription-only premium title.

“In terms of timing, we haven’t given a street date yet,” Brown said. “We won’t do so for some time, possibly at our next upcoming earnings call towards the end of October.”

Electronic Arts also has to be wary of timing its release too close to the release of Blizzard Entertainment’s upcoming Diablo 3 online game. Blizzard Entertainment chief executive said the company is not committing to a 2011 release date for that game, which puts both Diablo 3 and Star Wars: The Old Republic in a similar release window. Star Wars: The Old Republic might have to show down against Diablo 3, a more casual but still free-to-play online game that has an equally large fan base.

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World of Warcraft has more than 11 million subscribers and has dominated the subscription-based online gaming industry since it came out in 2004. The game is a massive source of revenue for Blizzard Entertainment, which charges gamers around $15 each month to access the game’s persistent world.

Electronic Arts chief executive John Riccitiello said Star Wars: The Old Republic needs 500,000 paying subscribers to break even and 1 million subscribers to be profitable. If Electronic Arts gets 1.5 million to 2 million subscribers, it will be enough to “make it look like a great investment and justify the purchase of BioWare Pandemic (the developer behind The Old Republic),” Riccitiello said. Electronic Arts bought BioWare Pandemic for $800 million in 2008.

The company is targeting a third fiscal quarter launch, or the last three months of the year, Riccitiello said on the company’s most recent conference call to discuss earnings. But he said the launch could move to the fourth fiscal quarter if that is what testing results mandate.

via IndustryGamers

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