Online game Star Wars Galaxies set to close

Screenshot from Star Wars Galaxies, Lucas Arts
Image caption The game put players in the same Universe as Luke, Han and Leia

A great darkness is set to consume part of the Star Wars universe in late 2011.

Sony has announced that its Star Wars Galaxies online game will be shut down on 15 December.

The news was broken in e-mails sent to players and via messages posted on the game's support forums and website.

Sony said the closure had come about because its contract to run the Star Wars game runs out in 2012, not because of declining player numbers.

In an interview with online gaming site Massively, Sony Online Entertainment boss John Smedley said the combination of the contract finishing and the imminent arrival of a separate Star Wars game made it "feel like it's the right time for the game to end".

The other Star Wars game is Bioware's The Old Republic that is currently under development. Sony also runs the free-to-play Clone Wars Adventures online game.

In the interview, Mr Smedley denied that the recent hack attacks on Sony had anything to do with the closure or that player numbers had shrunk to the point that it was no longer worth keeping the game going.

"Populations have stayed pretty steady for a long time now," he said. He added that Sony had taken measures recently to ensure that there were enough players on each server running a copy of the game.

Game changer

Mr Smedley said Sony would be running a series of events for players to ensure the game ends in a fitting manner.

All billing for the game will stop in October, according to Sony. Those subscribing at that point will be able to play for free for the last few months.

Launched in 2003, Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) helped to establish massively multi-player gaming which sees thousands of players adventure together in a shared online environment.

The game was set in the Star Wars universe and played out events following the destruction of the first Death Star but before those of The Empire Strikes back. Players could take the form of one of 10 different species, become a Jedi and fight battles with spaceships.

More than one million copies of the game were sold when it launched in June 2003 and it initially enjoyed great popularity.

However, player numbers have steadily declined as a series of updates alienated many established players and stripped the game of its complexity. Sony has since described some of the changes as a "mistake".

Games journalist Alec Meer, writing on the Rock Paper Shotgun blog said: "It's amazing it's kept going for so long, quite frankly."

He concluded: "Farewell then, Galaxies. You were always a bit of a mess - but you were also one of the most fascinating and ambitious MMOs there's ever been."

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