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If There Was a book on how to bork an MMO, Star Wars Galaxies would be the prime case study. In the space of two years it went from being the most eagerly awaited game of its time, to one that saw players leave in the thousands.

Sony Online Entertainment got the development gig for Star Wars Galaxies on the back of the success of Everquest. During the three-year build up to its release, canny marketing saw 400,000 joining Galaxies' online community before the game was released.

Simon Jeffery - then the president of LucasArts - saw this player involvement as being vital: 'We firmly believe that consistent and open communication with fans will be one of the keys to the success of the Star Wars Galaxies experience.' So when An Empire Divided- Galaxies' core game - was launched, expectations were sky high. But when they logged on for the first time, players were landed with a confused mess.

A New Goof

There was no doubt that An Empire Divided had its fine points. For its time, it was a beautiful game, including accurate recreations of iconic locations like towers of Naboo and Jabba the Hutt's Palace. And one of the most praised aspects of the game was character generation. By allowing players to take skills from any of six core professions, follow 24 specialist careers, and develop a highly customisable avatar, each player was assured their character was unique.

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Interestingly, one of the professions had nothing to do with combat Artisans were entertainers or created items -anything from ray guns to buildings -that could be sold to other players, and so could earn experience as professional traders, builders, dancers or musicians. While this was innovative, it wasn't Star Wars. It was dull. This was one of the things SOE aimed to change with the Combat Upgrade.

On the 27 April, 2005 players found fighting in the game had been radically altered: grouping became important-combat levels were no longer an underlying mechanic; and powers, weapons, armor and buffs were all rebalanced. The result - an improved system that encouraged team play - was controversial amongst players, and thousands cancelled their subscriptions, believing Galaxies had changed from a unique game to a clone of other MMOs.

Despite this dissatisfaction, SOE didn't react to the players' concerns. And six months later they introduced the New Game Enhancements, turning Galaxies into the game it is now.The NGEs massive, sudden and unannounced overhaul of Galaxies was a fundamental shift from its origins. People who loved the original Star Wars movies because they were fairy tales with ray guns. But for all its depth and complexity, but the original Galaxies lacked soul. And Jedi (see A Plague Of Padawans'). With the NGE Galaxies regained the excitement of Star Wars, gave new players an easier way into the game, thanks to a massively simplified character generation system, and the chance to be jedi from the outset.

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These changes angered old-tim players who were forced to alter their characters to fit the limited nine-class structure SOE had introduced. Again, another massive subscriber walk-out occured. This time player-created cities were emptied as entire communities left.


A Wrong Move

With the NGE, SOE planned to increase Galaxies' player base by simplifying the game. Instead they delivered a critical blow to the MMO, and tarnished their own reputation.

When SOE took over the MMO Vanguard in 2007, John Smedley - SOE's president - stated: 'We've learned a thing or two with our experiences with the NGEand don't plan on repeating mistakes from the past and not listening to the players.' An admission that SOE's attitude was the polar opposite of LucasArts' aims for the game.

Today, Galaxies is still running, but its time is limited. Despite being the only Star Wars MMO and a well-polished MMO, unofficial estimates places subscriber numbers at under 100,000, and SOE closed 12 of its 24 servers this month. It's telling the game itself is only available from a few online stores.But the real death blow will likely be The Old Republic, being made by Knights of the Old Republic developer Bio Ware.