Tuesday 20 July 2010

Playstation Home

When Sony announced Home, just prior to the launch of the PS3, they got a standing ovation.  Now it looks like an underused white elephant.  I have faith in Sony, prefer their console, love their TV's etc but I'm the first to haul them over the coals when they screw up and this week, for the first time in at least 9 months, I spent two hours in Home.

What is Home?  Any of you without a PS3 (and no doubt some of you with) will be asking.

Home is a 3D space in the style of Second Life, but without any of the risqué content.  The trouble is it's so anaesthetised that it's bland.  Sure you can play around with your Avatar etc, but that's about it.  Where as Second Life, for a price, is pretty much completely customisable, Home is incredibly limited.

Second Life
Ok, so Second Life has it's problems and you wouldn't necessarily want  that kind of freedom on a console that sits under many a pre-teens TV, but Sony still haven't quite resolved it's biggest problem.  Freedom of movement.

When you think of an online 3D space that's exactly what you want it to be, one big online space.  Home is half way house in that it's a bunch of online spaces that you have to navigate to via a menu system.  It works, but it jolts you out of feeling like you're in a genuine environment.  For example, I'm in the Bowling Alley having a game of Pool, on one of the four Pool tables and I think, 'I wanna go play that Buzz game that's free and kinda fun.'  What I want ,are options linked to that decision.  Do I walk there myself or skip the journey?  But I can't walk there, it just doesn't exist until I hit the menu screen and teleport over to that particular game zone.

The first thing that struck me is how much Home has, superficially at least, changed since I was last there.  The Home Square area now feels more open and to be honest a little more garish.  The free games of draughts and chess still exist but now in the centre there's a game that requires you to pay to play.  Errr no thanks I preferred the stream with the fish in.  The shopping centre has had a paint job too and lost a floor, but seriously, is anyone really buying stuff for their apartments that no one visits?  You can, by the looks of it, now buy your own Pool table for your apartments, which is great, but whose gonna come play?
It will never be this busy, trust me.
There's some nice stuff here if you're prepared to dig about for it.  The WipeOut area is particulary nicely done with a reasonably addictive top down WipeOut racing game that's free to play.    The Little Big Planet zone is very pretty, but other than a build your own background thing, there's not a lot to do.

By far the best area is Buzz.  This is largely because it involves using your avatar competitively, surely where more of Home needs to head.  You move over the coloured area that holds the correct answer along with everyone else.  Games go through three rounds, you get to vote from four different categories from Buzz user created content.  It's actually really good fun, I won the game I played and got a free T-Shirt for my avatar.  And that's how Home should work.  The trouble is most of it doesn't.

I can't help but feel that Home is almost a generation of games console ahead of itself.  Sony must have loved the concept when it first got muted and you can see why.  If all your users are part of it then it's a promotional wet dream, but because it's optional content many, many gamers are just going to pass it by.

Imagine something not to dissimilar booting up when you turn on your console.  Your avatar appears in the bedroom, gets of the bed and moves to the lounge, boots up a virtual PS3 and Sony TV and starts gaming.  The screen of the virtual TV becoming your TV.  That's where Home could go in the future, maybe it's where it will have to go in order for it to become part of the experience.  I'd be more inclined to take my avatar out of the apartment if the Home was more of an intrinsic part of my Playstation, with a reward structure within it for playing the mini games attached to the games I love.  Maybe at some point Sony will nail it and really create something special but three years into the Playstation experience and nearly two years since Home launched they're still not there.


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