Sony is gearing up to launch a rival to popular online virtual world Second Life later this year. Playstation Home is a massively-multiplayer online game (MMO) in which a user adopts an avatar (a digital character which represents them) which they are then free to move around a virtual world, interacting with other avatars. In their Developer FAQs (PDF), Sony describes the project:
Home™ is a real-time 3D, networked community that serves as a meeting place for PLAYSTATION3 (PS3) users from around the world, where they can interact, communicate, join online games, shop, share content and even build and show off their own personal spaces.
It looks like Home may well be going beyond Second Life in a few areas. Gaming is the most obvious, perhaps unsurprisingly given the link to the Playstation. Users will be able to play various different arcade games around the virtual world through their avatars. So I might decide to go for a virtual drink in a virtual pub with my virtual friends, and I would then be able to have a virtual game of pinball on a virtual pinball machine. You get the idea.
Probably more interesting is the ability to meetup with someone in Home, and then play a Playstation game with them over the Internet. Whilst the playing over the Internet idea is far from new, it is a unique way to approach it. It adds a social dimension to game play (along with the included voice chat) which could possibly make Internet gameplay far more addictive.
Sony are also taking user generated content seriously; as a user of Home I will be given, for free, an apartment, which I can then hang my own pictures up in and customise to my heart’s content, presumably buying various virtual items from Sony to add to my dream virtual home.
UGC is absolutely crucial for such games; it creates a feeling of ownership over the game for every individual user, making it far more sticky.
Commerce is not being overlooked. Sony state in their FAQs that:
Home prioritises community and entertainment over ecommerce. That said, we believe that there will be ample opportunities for businesses and individuals alike to generate significant revenues from the Home platform.
This is similar to the approach taken by Second Life and other MMO games, and it makes a lot of sense. Sony, and others who set up business in Home, will be able to make vast sums of money selling things which do not really exist and which cost little or no money to develop. In the modern world of games consoles being sold at a vast loss, manufacturers are looking at every possible avenue to create additional revenue streams.
Second Life has been hyped enormously, with pop concerts and press conferences from real bands and companies happening exclusively within Second Life. Despite this, I have always held Second Life in the greatest disdain; I spent about 15 minutes playing it some time ago and was struck by the pointlessness of it all. Whilst there are many, many people who are fans of such games, I have rightly or wrongly assumed that they are either people without a social life, who are fascinated in the technology or who are only able to create meaningful friendships through such a program.
I do not, however, treat Playstation Home with the same disdain. It seems that Home has a purpose, namely gaming, which should give the whole virtual world meaning. If I were able to afford a Playstation 3, I think I might well enjoy a quick stroll around Home to find someone to play against, and then actually playing the game with them. In Second Life all that is possible is the stroll, and I think that if virtual worlds are to live up to the hype, they have to offer more than a stroll.
[Engadget was a useful source]