Source: Popular game blog Kotaku.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: Of all the Star Wars games, Galaxies has been the most controversial. After releasing it to mixed reviews in 2003, Sony Online Entertainment was criticized for completely overhauling the massively multiplayer online role-playing game's combat system in Spring 2005. The publisher drew even more criticism last November when it implemented a series of allegedly buggy new game enhancements that eliminated several character classes.
Given Galaxies' bumpy ride, and the fact that many game contracts expire after three years, it is not inconceivable that LucasArts, holder of all Star Wars rights, might want to shop around the license. According to informed sources in the industry, that's exactly what the company is doing. Two shops have been mentioned as talking with LucasArts--Cryptic Studios, home to MMORPG City of Heroes, and Canada-based BioWare, maker of the action RPG Jade Empire.
Of the two, BioWare appears the more likely candidate. Besides the fact it developed the critically acclaimed and wildly popular Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the developer just founded a new studio in Austin, Texas--home of SOE's Austin branch--which employs several ex-SOE staffers. The shop's sole project is an unidentified MMORPG set in a science fiction universe, just as Star Wars: Galaxies is.
What's the official line on all this? "The SWG license stuff is completely untrue," was a SOE spokesperson's terse response. "LucasArts and SOE have no plans to 'sunset' Star Wars Galaxies," said a LucasArts rep, referring to the practice of gradually phasing out a game. "It's had its fair share of hurdles, but it has also had its share of successes in its own right, so we aren't interested in abandoning it and focusing on the future."
However, what the LucasArts rep said next raised another interesting possibility--that another Star Wars MMORPG could be in the works. "We have had several developers approach us expressing interest in developing a future Star Wars online game," said the rep. (emphasis in the original.) However, if any such game is in the works, it will be a long time until it surfaces. "As of right now, it hasn't gone anything beyond that (that is, no conversations, no serious talks, no pitches, etc.)," assured the rep.
Despite the official denials, there is still much talk of all not being well at SOE Austin. Though potentially biased, a contact within another studio claims to have been peppered with resumes from SOE developers. The source claims that "over half of the [SOE Austin] coders and artists are scrambling for the lifeboats" because "they all seem to know they will be losing SWG." The studio has already seen one major departure--chief creative officer Raph Koster left this week "to pursue development interests outside of the company."
Bogus or not bogus?: Officially? Bogus. Unofficially? Who knows...