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Disney Reboots ‘Star Wars’ Video Games

Never mind the movie. The first big test of the unearthly riches that Disney hopes to mine from "Star Wars" is a video game.

Over the last two years, as anticipation has built for the restart of the "Star Wars" movie series, the Walt Disney Company has executed a parallel plan to overhaul how "Star Wars" games are made. The revamp was complex — dozens of workers were laid off and planned concepts were jettisoned — but the reason for it was simple: More often than not over the years, "Star Wars" games have disappointed.

Now it's show time.

Star Wars Battlefront, published by Electronic Arts under a license from Disney, will arrive in stores on Nov. 17. (An Internet-based test version was made available to fans on Thursday.) Battlefront, as the game is known, cost an estimated $180 million to make and market, and hopes are that it will sell roughly 12 million copies worldwide, which translates to about $720 million in retail sales or $550 million wholesale, according to Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities.

Electronic Arts has told Wall Street that it expects to sell nine million to 10 million copies of the hyper-realistic Battlefront, which carries a suggested price of $60. Most analysts, however, say they believe that the publisher is lowballing its estimates.

More is at stake than the quick ring of cash registers. Disney, which bought Lucasfilm and its "Star Wars" assets for $4 billion in 2012, wants to prove to investors that the boutique studio is starting to achieve its full potential. An exuberant reception for the game would also help assure fans of the quality of the coming movie, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," which is set for release in theaters on Dec. 18. The last three "Star Wars" films relied heavily on computer-generated imagery, disappointing many moviegoers.

"We felt a lot of pressure — good pressure, but pressure — to nail the 'Star Wars' gaming experience," said James Pitaro, co-chairman of Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media. "We feel great about where we came out," he added, referring to both Battlefront and a "Star Wars" version of Disney Infinity, a game aimed at families.

Mr. Pitaro was given control of Disney's struggling gaming division in 2013 and charged with ending years of wildly uneven results. He laid off a quarter of Disney Interactive's global staff, or about 700 people, and sharply scaled back in-house game development. Mr. Pitaro's turnaround effort has been successful, but a smash hit would further solidify his strategy.

Electronic Arts is hoping to vanquish its own ghosts. A few years ago, the...


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