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‘Star Wars: The Old Republic’ loses 400,000 subscribers

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The Force is, well, a little tepid with Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Electronic Arts' much ballyhooed massively-multiplayer game set in George Lucas's celebrated universe is bleeding customers, losing some 400,000 in the fourth quarter -- a number much worse than anyone was expecting.

The news has sent EA stock plunging to a level it hasn't seen since 1999, but company executives tried to downplay the numbers in an earnings call with analysts Monday, saying the exodus was tied to casual and trial players canceling their subscriptions.

"For the most part, we're seeing very good retention amongst core MMO users, which has given us a solid base of around 1.3 million subscribers," said Frank Gibeau, president of the EA Games label. "So the percentage of paying subscribers from our peak until now has actually gone up, and the folks that we have are as engaged as they were when they first bought the product."

To try and give the game a boost, EA plans to release not one, but two expansions in the next three months, bringing more content to the game, including player versus player content, additional achievements and a greater focus on guilds.

EA had big hopes for The Old Republic when the game launched in late December of 2011. The company poured a good $200 million into the title, more than any game in its history. At the time, the idea was to steal a significant percentage of the audience that happily gave World of Warcraft $15 per month to play. (Of course, in the interim, WoW's audience began to shrink rapidly as well.)

But judging by comments from EA's CEO, the game has slipped from favor somewhat.

"Where that puts [the game] in our portfolio is, in terms of profitability from a franchise, is in our top 10 but it's not in our top 5," said John Riccitiello. "So it's a business contributor, while important, is not as important as Medal of Honor or Battlefield or FIFA or Madden or The Sims or SimCity, but it's more important than Tiger Woods PGA Golf."

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