On Thursday, PlayStation 3 (PS3) owners will find their new “Home” ready, console maker Sony announced. The company has opened the beta of its much-delayed “PlayStation Home” 3-D virtual gaming community to all PS3 users. The move follows the completion of a closed beta.
Announced in March 2007, “Home “is a real-time, networked 3-D community where gamers create their own avatars, interact with others, play games and watch streaming video content.
Available as a free download, “Home” lets users chat via voice or text with other inhabitants, go to virtual parties, and join tournaments and other events that will be announced or just happen spontaneously. Users can go to PlayStation Home forums to find out about upcoming events and stay abreast of new features, clubs and other goings on.
The service will also include content from game publishers and brands such as Activision, Electronic Arts and Lucas Arts as well as Sony Pictures, Red Bull and Diesel.
Partnerships with contemporary furniture designer Ligne Roset and fashion design company Diesel will enable “Home” users to purchase customizable furniture and clothes for their personal “apartments” and avatars, according to Sony.
Movie studio partners offer users access to original intellectual property through dedicated spaces, sponsorship of in-world events, virtual items and exclusive video content, interviews and appearances from film stars along with virtual goods based on popular franchises.
Corporate partners like Red Bull have created their own territories within “Home.” Users can go to Red Bull Island where they will find an airplane racing game modeled after the Red Bull Air Race World Championship.
Gamers can also launch their own “Clubhouses,” but to do so they will have to buy the entitlement to run the club.
PS3 owners must have broadband access and a PlayStation Network account to download and use “Home.” They will know that “Home” is up and running when the dedicated icon appears after booting and re-booting the PS3 system. However, Sony notes that “Home” will not be available in some regions.
Second Life for Gamers?
“It is an interesting idea, isn’t it? It takes the avatar system from the Wii or Xbox 360 one step further, allowing you to customize not only your avatar, but also your ‘apartment,'” Mark DeLoura, a video game technology consultant, told TechNewsWorld. “You can meet friends in ‘Home’ as a gathering place before going onto a play experience together — at least I think that is in the works. The idea and potential of ‘Home’ is great. I think it will continue to evolve once it has released, once Sony is able to see how players actually use it,”
Judging from a live demo, the new virtual playground is like other online worlds such as Linden Labs’ Second Life, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
“It’s interesting, but having seen a lot of these Second Life-like things flop, I’m not convinced this is interesting enough to stick,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Nearly two years since Sony originally announced the virtual world, Enderle said, it’s not so much that “Home” is too little, too late, but that it just “didn’t seem compelling enough for me.”
“Even in the live demo, folks just didn’t seem to be engaging much. Right now [it’s something that appeals] more as a niche, I think, though these things often take a while to mature and find an audience,” he continued.
Content from partners could possibly draw gamers to the site, but it will depend a lot on the content, according to Enderle, “and what I saw wasn’t very compelling,” he said.
“It seemed like they got too hooked on Second Life and didn’t get Facebook — way too avatar-heavy, and it seemed to actually get in the way of a gaming experience. I think the technology got away from them and they have yet to realize that folks just want to game; they don’t want to wander around virtual landscapes hunting for folks to game with. However, this could change, and the virtual stuff becomes more realistic and they make the environment more fun to be in,” he added.