Profits rose 71% with help from online play

The Force is with Electronic Arts a month after the release of “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” considered to be the most expensive videogame ever produced.

The publisher said Wednesday that 2 million copies of the game, that cost nearly $200 million to produce, have been sold since Dec. 20, while 1.7 million of its buyers are active subscribers, paying the $15 monthly fee to play the game.

“Star Wars” helped EA post a 17% increase in revenue of $1.65 billion for its fiscal third quarter, during the three month period that ended Dec. 31, while profits rose 71% to $334 million, when adjusted for the deferral of digital revenue.

On a non-adjusted basis, EA narrowed its net loss to $205 million from a $322 million loss a year earlier.

Like many gamemakers, EA is turning more to online gaming as a way to put more coin in its coffers, given the higher profit margins, and a constant flow of subscription-based revenue it can collect. That sector of the games biz generated $7 billion last year, according to Parks & Associates.

“Star Wars: The Old Republic is developing a committed community of players … and growing,” EA CEO John Riccitiello said.

The gamemaker’s Nucleus registration system now has a database of more than 168 million consumers, while Origin, EA’s online store has registered more than 9.3 million consumers and generated more than $100 million since launch from games it’s sold with Warner Bros., THQ, Capcom, Trio and Robot Entertainment. Its first free-to-play mobile game, “The Sims: FreePlay” was the top-grossing iPad app in December.

EA also scored with “Battlefield 3″ and soccer title “FIFA 12,” during the holiday quarter. Each have sold more than 10 million units, while “Madden NFL 12″ has moved nearly 5 million units to date.

Shares of the Redwood City, Calif.-based company dipped 14 cents to close at $18.44 due to EA expecting revenue to come in between $925 million and $975 million, below expectations when its current quarter wraps up March 12. But the stock rose more than 4% after the market closed, to $19.20.

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