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Sony Gives Gamers a 'Home' of Their Own

By Walaika Haskins
Mar 8, 2007 7:49 AM PT

Sony Computer Entertainment President Phil Harrison took the wrapper off his company's long-awaited online components for the PlayStation 3 (PS3) video game console Wednesday at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Styling the new user communities as part of its "Game 3.0," Sony's offerings are an amalgam of hot trends -- online collaboration, user generated content and virtual worlds.

Sony Gives Gamers a 'Home' of Their Own

"Home" is a real-time, networked 3-D avatar-based community designed as a place for PS3 users worldwide to meet and mingle, while "LittleBigPlanet," is a community-based game where gamers will be able to customize their own levels and share their creations online with other PS3 players around the world.

"Our vision for the future, Game 3.0, will continue our track record of industry advancements by leveraging the convergence of technologies, from broadband and video chat to supercomputer-speed processors, to make gaming more interactive and dynamic than ever before," Harrison said.

Sony will launch "Home" this fall as a free download from the PlayStation store. "LittleBigPlanet" will premier this fall as a "fully-featured sample version" with the fully operational version scheduled for early 2008.

One-Stop Shop

Game 3.0 leverages the popularity of trends including online collaboration and user-generated content in order to create an "engaging new experience in interactive entertainment and new streams of creative game development," according to Sony.

Rather than making users choose between content dictated by game developers, Game 3.0, the company said, flips the script, refocusing the spotlight on the consumer. It encourages PS3 users to take their place in the creative process.

The 3-D avatar-based community and communication platform "Home" takes its cue from the latest Internet craze "Second Life," an avatar-based virtual world owned and operated by its "residents."

In "Home," users can create personalized 3-D avatars (representations of themselves) through which they can explore the community and interact with other members.

Presented as a "sleek, modern indoor space," "Home" features large common areas, retail shops, game lobbies and customizable personal apartments. Community members can communicate with others via text, audio or video chat or use "sophisticated emotional animations for each character."

In "LittleBigPlanet," players start by learning how their chosen character can physically interact within the environment. They can explore obstacles, collect items and solve puzzles -- all of which require community-based teamwork and brainpower. Exploration increases players' creative skills and sets them on the path to begin creating and modifying their surroundings.

As they move through the game's levels and acquire new skills and items to assist them, the game becomes user generated "on a worldwide scale" and will change each day as players create, publish and share their own levels.

"LittleBigPlanet," gives its players the power to design, shape and build everything from a single object to an entire location. As they create their world, players can designate it as open or as secretive to explore as they like, Sony said. Once it is ready, they can invite any community member to explore their "patch" or go check out someone else's. This gives the game a highly individualized experience in which there are countless ways to play.

Too Little Too Late?

With "Home" and "LittleBigPlanet," Sony has chosen to go a different route than its competitors, Microsoft and Nintendo. Rather than offering a straightforward online community with an attached marketplace, the console maker is attempting to live up to its cutting-edge technology reputation, Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.

It is an effort that may or may not be able to help Sony overcome its late entry into the market, compared to Microsoft which launched its Xbox Live arcade and marketplace about a year ago, and Nintendo's Wii companion site, launched last November.

"Part of the problem [Sony is] dealing with is they are the supposed [to be the] market leader, and if they continually look like they are chasing Microsoft and Nintendo, it will bring that leadership into question," Enderle said.

"It does have a slight feel of desperation to it, but that may be because we are expecting that from them at this point," Enderle explained. "No one else in the console space is doing this and they have always had this concept of better positioning the PS platform against the PC."

"This kind of thing is risky because it mashes several concepts together, and what results could easily be a mess no one likes," he continued. "Still, you don't win if you don't take risks and this one appears reasonable on the surface."

For "LittleBigPlanet" to be a success, Sony will have to "go after a different audience than the average PS3 gamer, Enderle stated. Traditional PlayStation acolytes are used to action-oriented, non-community games.

Enderle does not think this will spur to action gamers reluctant to shell out the US$599 needed to purchase a PS3.

"I don't think this alone will fix Sony's biggest problem, which is the excessively high cost of their platform and the lack of any must-have games," he said. "[But] it leverages the power of the platform reasonably well and showcases a recognition that games like 'World of Warcraft' and sites like Second Life, which have significant popularity can possibly have an analog on the PS3.

Massive multiplayer online games haven't worked for consoles, and there really is no good reason why that should be the case. Sony is either going to prove that notion wrong or give us stronger evidence of why it is true with this."


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