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EA offers chunk of struggling “Star Wars” for free

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Star Wars: The Old Republic

(Reuters) - Electronic Arts Inc plans to offer a big chunk of its online game "Star Wars: The Old Republic" for free, hoping to breathe life into a title that has floundered since its December launch.

Starting July, the company will offer 15 "levels" free to users, meaning gamers will be able to join and play the beginning phases of the massively multiplayer role-playing game without paying.

EA has poured more money and firepower into the spinoff of the blockbuster sci-fi movie franchise than any other game in its history. Wall Street is watching to see if the game can succeed and bring EA steady subscription-based revenues for years to come.

But the company announced last month it had lost 400,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter, dealing a blow to its efforts to sustain growth and sending shares reeling.

EA had been hoping to take on its biggest rival, Activision Blizzard Inc, which had more than 10 million subscribers, to "World of Warcraft" last quarter.

"Warcraft" is the 7-year-old Internet game that re-energized the market and is Activision's most profitable franchise. It only recently opened up its starting levels to gamers for free.

(Reporting By Liana Baker and Malathi Nayak; editing by M.D. Golan)

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