[Update: Sony has responded to queries from VentureBeat]
Sony is locking forum topics and banning players who are trying to promote a petition to keep one of its online games, Star Wars Galaxies, from shutting down on December 15, according to reports from players.
Several Star Wars Galaxies players have contacted VentureBeat and said that the company has locked several forum topics regarding a petition that has gathered more than 2,100 signatures to keep the game running. Sony has said players can only post on those topics with permission but it hasn’t given out permission despite dozens of requests, according to the players. The company has since quietly locked and moved several topics in the game’s official forums and hasn’t made an official statement on the petition yet.
Sony was also uncharacteristically quiet when hackers broke into the company’s online gaming network, the PlayStation Network (PSN), and forced the company to bring the service offline for nearly a month. The only time Sony spoke up was when it laid indirect blame for the attack on hacktivist group Anonymous — which typically rallies a group of loosely connected hackers under moral or political banners to take down large companies.
Thousands of players and supporters started a petition to keep the game from going offline. The petition asks Sony to convert the game to a free-to-play game maintained through the sale of virtual goods. The petition also asks Sony to consolidate players onto a smaller number of servers and facilitate character transfer to reduce operational costs in order to keep the game running. The campaign has spread like wildfire among the Star Wars Galaxies community and is beginning to take over the game’s official Facebook page.
Sony also altered its Station All Access pass to include Star Wars Galaxies, along with a subscription to almost all of its other online games like Everquest II. The new package costs around $20 a month, but the move has even further frustrated some Star Wars Galaxies players.
“Dear Subscribers, We’ve decided to kill your kitten,” one frustrated Star Wars Galaxies fan, Matt Barksdale wrote on the Facebook page. “But Can we interest you in a Puppy, A Gerbil, a Parrot, And a Llama, all for one low subscription price?”
Other online games have had a lot of success converting from a subscription-based model to a free-to-play model. Revenue from Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online doubled and its player base increased by 400 percent in the month after it went free to play last fall. Revenue for the company’s first experiment in going free-to-play, Dungeons and Dragons Online, jumped by about 500 percent after the shift.
Last week, I argued that the death of Star Wars Galaxies was basically a tragedy because it came at the hands of the game’s own publisher rather than the popularity of another game. World of Warcraft, currently the top online role-playing game, helped reduce the game’s total subscribers. But Sony’s updates were what inevitably killed it and drove away players. Star Wars Galaxies – which once boasted a unique progression system, trading and crafting features – was basically converted to a watered down version of World of Warcraft through a number of updates.
Sony said promoting an online petition causes disruption within the community and does not provide gameplay feedback that our development team can use.