Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA) is about to release what could become the best-selling video game of the year.
Star Wars Battlefront is a first-person shooter from Electronic Arts' DICE studio, the longtime maker of the popular Battlefield franchise. It's slated to make its retail debut on Nov. 17, about one month before the release of next Star Wars film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Given the fervor currently surrounding all things Star Wars, Battlefront seems likely to smash Electronic Arts's expectations, which have been fairly modest.
Around 9 million or 10 million copies
To date, management's guidance for Battlefront has been conservative. In May, CFO Blake Jorgensen said Electronic Arts expected to sell around 9 million to 10 million copies of the game, based on the relative success similar titles have had in the past.
Battlefield doesn't carry the Star Wars branding, but it offers a similar experience -- both games are team-based, first-person military shooters. Generally, those games sell around 15 million copies. Some Battlefield players could be turned off by the science fiction theme of Battlefront, but many longtime Battlefield players seem likely to convert.
The other game worth keeping in mind is the original Star Wars: Battlefront. That game was released in 2004, about eight months before the release of the film Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. It was made by a different game studio, released by LucasArts, and was a slightly different sort of game (a third-person shooter), but it does offer some hints as to what level of success can be expected from this new Battlefront. It sold 9 million copies.
In July, Electronic Arts raised its full-year guidance. Management said Battlefront played a key role in that shift, but declined to update its expectations in terms of unit sales. Notably, Battlefront will be exclusive to the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC -- owners of the older Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles will not be able to play the game. Unfortunately, that may eliminate many potential buyers. But not too many.
Demand for Star Wars has been unprecedented
Two years after their debuts, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have combined to sell perhaps 40 million units (the PlayStation 4 has sold more than 25 million; Xbox One sales have not been officially confirmed, but estimates peg the number at between 10 million and 15 million) and millions more may be sold this holiday shopping season. In March, Electronic Arts released the most recent installment in the Battlefield series, Battlefield: Hardline. According to the company, about 80% of the game's sales were for the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One platforms.
Star Wars mania has undeniably pervaded popular culture, and the game should benefit from the release of the latest film. Ticket sales for The Force Awakens have already smashed existing pre-sale records, and some analysts expect the film to eventually generate as much as $2 billion worldwide. Fans excited from watching the latest trailer could turn to Battlefront to satisfy their Star Wars itch in the weeks leading up to its launch.
There's other evidence to suggest Battlefront should perform exceptionally well. Earlier this month, Electronic Arts ran a test of the game's servers, allowing players to try the game for free. It wasn't meant to advertise, but rather ensure that Electronic Arts' online infrastructure could support it. Over 9.5 million players participated -- more than any other beta test in Electronic Arts' history -- with two-thirds achieving the max level cap (suggesting they had invested at least several hours). This was particularly impressive given that the game was only available to play for a few days.
Electronic Arts continues to reward shareholders
Electronic Arts shareholders could be rewarded for Battlefront's success before the game is even released. The video game publisher will report its quarterly earnings Thursday afternoon, and it could raise its guidance even further to reflect heightened excitement around Battlefront.
To be fair, Battlefront does face some tough competition this fall -- both Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and Halo 5 will offer first-person shooter fans strong alternatives -- but based on the excitement around the revival of the film franchise, there's every reason to expect the game to be a massively popular seller.