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Pioneer UK online gaming service fragged

Farewell, Barrysworld. You cost too much to run

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Barrysworld, the UK online gaming community saved from collapse three years ago, will have the plug pulled on 23 January 2004, owner Game Plc announced this week.

The company said the service was costing it too much money to run - and not generating enough of its own.

"Ultimately, we've made a loss on online gaming every year since we started and we simply haven't been able to make enough money to run a professional service and make a profit, and it didn't look like that was going to change any time soon," Game said.

Game admitted that some Barrysworld staff will lose their jobs, though a number have been offered other positions with the company. It did not specify how many redundancies it has made.

Barrysworld was launched in 1997 and was one of the pioneers of the UK online gaming community. It quickly grew from fan site to commercial operation, offering free online gaming paid for by advertising and sponsorship. By the time the money ran out in January 2001 it had over 300,000 players across Europe.

Barrysworld was acquired by Game in February 2001 for £400,000. Back then, Game was known as Electronics Boutique and operated a chain of High Street games software stores. Last year, the EB name was dropped in favour of Game, a name it picked up when it acquired a rival chain of that name in 1999.

Last year, Game recorded pre-tax profits of £33.1 million after seeing sales rise 23 per cent.

Earlier this year Game relaunched Barrysworld as Game.net and introduced a £13-a-year subscription fee. That hasn't helped, and so now the site will go. Subscribers are being offered a refund.

But could the site rise again, as it did in 2001? Not likely. Game said it had explored the possibility of finding a buyer, but "we don't expect to sell the service as a going concern". Punters don't like to pay for such services. That has forced other subscription-based sites to close, such as BT's Games Domain, which shut up shop in January this year.

BT's earlier, free online gaming offering, Wireplay, now owned by Firstnet Services following a chain of acquisitions and MBOs, is left as the only commercial online gaming service from the early days. Wireplay is essentially paid for by a branded broadband Internet access business. ®

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