Online games, it seems, just want to be free.
The move by the Redwood City, Calif., game publisher is an acknowledgment that the current economic climate makes it virtually impossible for a subscription business model to thrive on the Web, where thousands of free games now compete aggressively for attention.
"Players want flexibility and choice," Matthew Bromberg, general manager of BioWare Austin, one of several studios that developed the game, said in a statement. "The subscription-only model presented a major barrier for a lot of people who wanted to become part of the 'Old Republic' universe."
In July, EA cracked open the game's first 15 levels for free in hopes that would bring in more players.
Other companies have made similar moves.
EA also announced first-quarter sales fell 4% to $955 million, down from $999 million a year earlier. Net income was $201 million for the quarter ended June 30, down 9% from $221 million last year. To bolster its stock price, the company said it plans to buy back $500 million of its own shares in the coming weeks.
EA's shares, which lost 21 cents to close at $11.02, bounced back in after-hours trading, gaining 27 cents to $11.29 immediately following the earnings report. Its 52-week high was $25.20 on Nov. 4.
With a development and marketing budget of more than $150 million, "Star Wars: The Old Republic" was EA's costliest game to produce. The decision to throw the title open to free players is not expected to alter EA's financial performance this year because all of that cost has already been accounted for in previous quarters.