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Wall Street is getting worried social media outrage over EA's ‘Star Wars’ game may hurt sales

Tae Kim
Bank of America Merrill Lynch lowers its price target and profit forecasts for Electronic Arts shares due to poor sales of its "Star Wars" title.

Gamers are angry over Electronic Arts' money-making strategy in its new "Star Wars" game. Wall Street is taking notice and getting concerned over the title's financial prospects.

The uproar centered on in-game purchases in "Star Wars Battlefront II." They allowed players to save time by paying extra money to accelerate the "unlock" of major characters like Darth Vader.

The gaming community flooded social media and Reddit with thousands of negative posts, saying the company is unfairly compelling consumers to spend more money for content that should be part of the initial $60 game price.

EA's "Star Wars Battlefront II" officially launches on Friday, but portions of the game went live on Nov. 9 for the company's EA Access and Origin Access subscribers.

The company has already partly backtracked as it announced Monday it reduced the cost to unlock key characters by 75 percent in the game.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch hosted an investor meeting with Electronic Arts chief financial officer Blake Jorgensen and asked the executive about the "Star Wars" game's issues.

"Management highlighted game depth and quality, but did not provide an update on unit expectations. As for the Battlefront 2 hero costs controversy, EA indicated the original hero costs were established based on targeted rate of game play progression and balance (not economics)," analyst Justin Post wrote in a note to clients Wednesday.

"We see recent controversies as a potential risk for unit sales vs buyside expectations, although EA has conservative estimates for Battlefront Live Services."

Post maintained his buy rating and $137 price target for Electronic Arts shares, representing 22 percent upside to Tuesday's close.

Piper Jaffray noted the controversy is also detracting from the game's review scores.

"Early reviews have been impacted by negative sentiment around a character progression system that publications and consumers believe overemphasize microtransactions," analyst Michael Olson wrote in a note to clients Tuesday. "We believe review scores for a game like Star Wars Battlefront are less important, given the strength of the Star Wars brand, but recognize the negative sentiment is a challenge."

Olson reaffirmed his overweight rating and $130 price target for Electronic Arts shares.

Even before the recent social media controversy other analysts were concerned over "Star Wars Battlefront II" prospects.

Jefferies' analyst Timothy O'Shea questioned whether "Star Wars" game buyers will pay more like consumers of EA's popular sports titles.

"If Star Wars can encourage users to spend real money on virtual goods (like FIFA) the game could drive meaningful upside to F'18 and '19 EPS, but this is not a certainty," O'Shea wrote in a note to clients Nov. 1 entitled "Star Wars Battlefront 2: A Trick Or a Treat?"

EA's stock is up 43 percent year to date through Tuesday compared with the S&P 500's 15 percent gain.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

—CNBC's Sara Salinas contributed to this report.