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TechNewsWorld.com

Sony Hopes Social Networkers Will Go 'Home'

By Chris Maxcer
Mar 13, 2007 3:25 PM PT

Right on the heels of Microsoft's announcement last week that its Xbox Live online gaming and entertainment service had 6 million users, Sony let loose with its own groundbreaking online gaming announcement: PS3 Home.

Sony Hopes Social Networkers Will Go 'Home'

PS3 Home is an immersive, virtual 3D world for PS3 gamers where they can create their own avatars, meet other gamers, chat, watch virtual movies, check out ads for real-world corporations and decorate their own free apartments.

So it's not exactly groundbreaking. Elements of Home can already be found elsewhere. For instance, gamers can connect via Xbox Live, create their own gamer card with picture and download real movies in high definition.

While Home users can customize the look and feel of their virtual selves by choosing their gender and other physical attributes, they can also pick out their own clothes ... which is a lot like what you can already do in Second Life.

Melding Live and Second Life

PS3 Home basically combines the key gaming and entertainment features of Xbox Live with the immersive environment of Second Life, creating something new for PS3 owners. Sony hasn't ruled out the ability to access Home without a PS3 sometime down the road, but for the foreseeable future, Home is exclusive to PS3 owners.

Because Home is an interactive 3D environment, the more natural comparison is with Second Life. Right now, based on the PS3 Home previews, Home has a richer look and feel, but much of that might come because Home is an inherently more controlled environment. Second Life runs on different kinds of PCs, while Home is produced by Sony for use with its PS3.

A key difference is the scope, where Second Life has the edge. In Second Life, users can create just about anything they can imagine, which makes for a world capable of nearly unbounded growth. Home, at least for now, is limited in both geography as well as user abilities. Users, for instance, start by meeting in lobbies limited to 64 users, and while users also get to have a free apartment -- Sony hasn't mentioned the square footage yet -- you can't buy an island like you can in Second Life.

Home Free

That brings up another important difference: If you already have the hardware, home is free.

In addition, Home will likely gain a much younger population. Right now, global giants like IBM have entered Second Life. IBM has bought and built its own islands, and its employees use Second Life to market and drum up business for the company in the real world. Sony plans to let advertisers and other business partners enter Home, but the details haven't yet been fleshed out.

That's an important point. While Sony has published a solid Home Development Q&A document, so many details have yet to be nailed down. Home hasn't even started a large closed beta yet, and an open beta isn't even scheduled until August. The expected launch date? October.

Early Stages

"I think [the virtual environment landscape] is kind of like 'Everquest' was five years ago when it had 400,000 users and everyone was trying to create their own version," PJ McNealy, videogame analyst for American Technology Research, told TechNewsWorld. "So, 'World of Warcraft' came out and hit seven million. Right now, you have virtual worlds and things like the Xbox 360 with six million people online -- we're still seeing the iteration of business models here; we're still at the early stages."

We can expect to see different "virtual world" models to come surrounding a variety of online niches, some of which will be based on advertising, some paid for by subscription, and others that will be simply free, McNealy noted. "Home is an attempt to differentiate itself from Xbox Live," he added.

In terms of Second Life, however, which isn't so much about gaming as it is about creating a whole new world, any feature that's built into Home could be created in a similar way for Second Life by users, if not by corporations themselves. The most likely exception, of course, would be launching and playing PS3-based games.

Next-Generation Success?

While Home isn't as expansive as Second Life, and is far behind Xbox Live's 6 million users, is it on the right track?

"People enjoy projecting their personality into a game, the more the better. Back 30 years ago, you were only allowed three characters on a high-score table -- memory restrictions were so dramatic. Today we have a 3-D character walking around their virtual mansion choosing artwork for the walls," David Perry, veteran video game expert and founder of GameConsultants.com, told TechNewsWorld.

"It's an incredible curve when you think about it, but I always go back to my 'Hotel Room' analogy to explain it. Imagine you are in a really sad, boring-ass hotel room, and by simply firing up some software, you can mentally leave that room and enter a space where you have a stunning home filled with friends all wanting to play and have fun," he explained. "Ask yourself where you would want to be, and then ask yourself if Sony is on the right track."


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