Tired of Second Life - or want a better online 3D world experience? Sony may offer that alternative world later this spring with its "Home" destination for PlayStation 3.
"Home is a cross between private chat rooms, MySpace, YouTube and online gaming," explained Ron Festejo, creative director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, in an interview. "If you've ever tried Second Life, you can immediately see how much richer this world is and how accessible it is."
The Sony Europe group has been spearheading the software behind Home, a free PlayStation 3 virtual community that will launch this spring as a download. The creators of this new 3D universe were on hand at the Imagina conference last week to give attendees a sneak peak at the brand new, modified hub running online with thousands of Beta testers inhabiting the world.
Microsoft has accrued 10 million online subscribers for its Xbox Live service, which comes free as a basic service with every Xbox 360 but requires a $50 annual subscription to play online games. Sony, however, is going in a different direction with PS3. Anyone who has used Xbox Live knows that the service is a great way to jump into an online game, but the 2D interface is not built for stickiness in the generic lobbies.
In contrast, Sony has constructed a living, breathing world that gamers will enter before connecting with others online to play games. In addition to being able to play six-player bowling in the bowling alley and classic games in the arcade, there will also be offerings like billiards, chess and checkers for gamers to socialize over.
A movie theater that features 10 screens to watch movie trailers and game previews also will be available at launch.
Soon after the rollout, Sony is expected to offer a video store where gamers will be able to rent full-length features that can be downloaded to their hard drives. Sony is also expected to offer music and TV programming through Home.
New Home Shows Evolution from Early Roots
The Home world that was shown in Monte Carlo is completely different than the one first shown at the Game Developer's Conference last year. Gone are the claustrophobic indoor spaces and the doors that lead to badly marked areas like the arcade. Now players are transported to a vibrant outdoor town square with huge buildings that clearly illustrate what there is to do.
The movie theater has two floors for further expansion beyond the initial 10 screens. The bowling alley offers the virtual bowling and arcade. Within the town square, underneath some trees, are the chess and checkers tables. The games will be a great way for players to break the ice when meeting new friends in Home, according to Festejo.
"When building this new town square, we were heavily influenced by cities like Las Vegas, the Sony Center in Berlin and New York City's Times Square," said Festejo. "This world is friendly and open and encourages players to mingle."
Upon entering Home, players will use a virtual PSP avatar for everything inside the world. Customizing one's avatar and apartment will be as easy as clicking through the PSP option menu.
While Sony is offering Home for free, it will have several business models built into it. Players will be able to decorate their own apartment with furniture and an assortment of technology, including Sony Bravia TVs. Many of these items will be purchased with real credit cards through micro-transactions. Players will be able to create their personalized avatar to the point where it will look just like them from face to body type, or what they wish they looked like, depending on the person. Avatars will be able to emote feelings, as well. Festejo said clothes will be available for purchase and Sony is talking to real apparel lines about bringing their own virtual stores into the game for avatars to shop in.
In addition, players will be able to upgrade their apartment to one of nine homes at launch. The demo showed a rustic Norwegian Lodge that was decorated to the hilt with cool technology and themed furniture. More homes will follow, Festejo said, adding that the first version is Home 1.0 and will constantly be evolving.
More Businesses, Tools Are Coming
Another business model that will unfold as Home evolves is the aforementioned movies, music and TV show offerings, which are expected to offer rental and purchase models. Microsoft already has most of the Hollywood studios (sans Sony, of course) offering TV shows for purchased in HD or standard definition and HD or standard movies for rental. Sony is expected to follow suit and Sony Online Entertainment has been building the technology to bring this aspect of Home to life.
Sony has also sent out Home Developer Kits for partners to build assets and lobbies, this means both traditional game developers and mainstream brands will become part of the Home world over time, Festijo added.
The newly renovated version shows that Sony seems to be taking the time to get the virtual world right. Currently more than 10,000 beta users are exploring Home and the floodgates will open up to everyone with a PS3 this spring.
"Home will offer the chance for gamers to get together with old friends and make new ones," said Festejo, who added that players will be able to text or talk to one another, as well as share assets. "It will offer endless entertainment, including gaming. We've certainly raised the bar with what people have seen in virtual worlds to date."