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'Spore' Delay Hits Electronic Arts' Bottom Line

Electronic Arts Inc. (ERTS) posted a wider quarterly loss on Tuesday and forecast adjusted profit this year would miss Wall Street targets as its widely anticipated video game, "Spore," was delayed.

Shares of the world's biggest video game publisher fell almost 3 percent in after-hours trade.

The company, which sells games like "Madden," "Need for Speed" and "The Sims," forecast adjusted profit of 90 cents to $1.20 per share for the year, compared with analysts' average target of $1.31. It forecast a net loss for fiscal 2008.

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Redwood City, Calif.-based EA said it was no longer counting on revenue from "Spore," a game where players build organisms from scratch, in the fiscal year ending in March 2008, adding that the game could be delayed until fiscal 2009.

EA owns all the rights to "Spore," and profit margins on the game should be 80 percent or higher, compared with around 30 percent for other upcoming titles like "Crysis" and "Mercenaries 2: World in Flames," which EA is publishing with partners, Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter said.

"'Spore' explains a lot of it," Pachter said of the company's fiscal 2008 forecast miss. EA's investment in online games explains the rest, he added.

Meanwhile, EA's results from the fourth quarter ended March 31 beat analysts average estimates calling for a profit excluding items of 2 cents per share on revenue of $586.4 million, according to Reuters Estimates.

EA's net loss widened to $25 million, or 8 cents per share, from $16 million, or 5 cents, in the year-earlier period. Excluding items, the company earned 6 cents per share versus 14 cents in the year-earlier period.

Revenue fell 4 percent to $613 million from $641 million, as the $30 billion global video game industry rebuilds its audience on new consoles from Sony Corp. (SNE), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Nintendo Co. Ltd.

ACCOUNTING, SPIELBERG

This fiscal year, Electronic Arts is booking one-half of its revenue from games that can be played online via personal computers and devices from Sony over a six-month period.

The company, under pressure from investors to deliver stronger growth, said it expects that $300 million to $500 million in revenue that would have been booked in fiscal 2008 will be booked in fiscal 2009.

Excluding those deferrals, EA sees full-year revenue of $3.1 billion to $3.4 billion.

EA's game release plan for this fiscal year includes a new "Harry Potter" game and a title based on the hit cartoon, "The Simpsons."

Academy award winning director Steven Spielberg is working on an all new game for Nintendo's Wii console, which continues to sell out in stores.

"My sense is we can be faster and better focused on capturing opportunities, increasing segment share and overall growth," John Ricctiello, a former senior executive who rejoined the company as chief executive in April, told analysts in a conference call.

Warren Jenson, the chief financial officer, said Electronic Arts continues to expect video game sales in North America and Europe to rise 13 percent to 18 percent for calendar 2007.

Shares, which closed up 3.1 percent to $52.94 on Nasdaq, slipped to $51.50 in extended trade following the company's financial report.

EA's stock fell 15 percent in 2005 as the industry began to move to new console technology. The stock lost another 4 percent last year.

Before EA reported results, its shares had been trading at 39 times expected 2008 earnings. Activision Inc. (ATVI), its closest U.S. rival, was trading at 36 times expected 2008 earnings.