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Will The Force Be Strong With Electronic Arts?

There’s little doubt that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be among this year’s box office leaders. But will Star Wars also conquer video game sales?

Electronic Arts (EA) is doing all it can to unseat Activision’s (ATVI) Call of Duty franchise from the top spot with its upcoming release, Star Wars Battlefront —and it just may have a shot. For months, EA has been steadily building up the marketing campaign for its flagship title of 2015. And the game’s release on Tuesday is likely to be huge—even by the often bombastic standards of video game publishers.

The level of excitement surrounding Battlefront became crystal clear in October, when EA premiered a free public test of the game for owners of Microsoft’s (MSFT) Xbox One and Sony’s (SNE) PlayStation 4. In that short period, the game attracted 9.5 million players, making it the largest test in EA’s history, according to the company.

That level of engagement led EA to raise its outlook for the game from 9 million to 10 million units sold to 13 million units by the end of its fiscal year. But analysts still think the company is being conservative.

Battlefront, you see, has a lot working in its favor before the first reviews hit. Leading the charge, of course, are the long coattails of The Force Awakens. The film is the rising tide lifting all boats with the Star Wars name. However, there’s also a strong gamer nostalgia for the Battlefront franchise, which released a pair of lauded games in 2004 and 2005, but then was largely abandoned after development issues delayed the third installment while LucasArts lost interest in video games.

“We would not be surprised if [Battlefront] has sold closer to 15 million units than the 13 million units in company guidance by fiscal year-end,” says Michael Pachter, an analyst for Wedbush Securities. “Initial sell-in will be strong due to a very loyal Star Wars fan base that individually has spent hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, on VHS tapes, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs over the years, not to mention other assorted memorabilia.”

Battlefront is jumping into an incredibly crowded holiday market, however. And the game’s late start (relative to other big titles) could work against it as players have been already been buying the big games of 2015. Call of Duty: Black Ops III posted sales of $550 million in its first three days. Halo 5: Guardians took in $400 million over its first week (a record for the franchise). And Fallout 4 shipped over $750 million to retail stores on its first day (although publisher Bethesda will not disclose a sales number).

That means hardcore gamers already have a pretty full collection of new titles—but because Star Wars is such a familiar property, they could easily end up with a copy of Battlefront, even if they don’t buy it themselves.

“The game is unlikely to match … Call of Duty: Black Ops III’s November sales or lifetime sales,” Pachter says. “[However], we believe that the new Star Wars game is well-positioned to be December’s top-seller due to its appeal as a stocking stuffer.”

To ensure the game’s success, EA offered its most dedicated fans a chance to start playing the game early. Subscribers to the company’s EA Access program, an Xbox One subscription service letting fans play catalog games for $5 per month, were able to play the full version of Battlefront for up to 10 hours starting Nov. 12.

No one doubts Star Wars: Battlefront is going to be a big seller. Ultimately, analysts say that sales will come down to how successfully the game takes advantage of the excitement surrounding the film, its popularity among gift givers, and critical reaction, which could play a significant role in determining the buying demographic.

“An aggregate review score of 85 or above should expand the game’s appeal beyond the Star Wars fan boy audience,” Pachter says.

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