Today, Phil Harrison, president of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios, announced three new services which Sony hope to bring them in the direction of user generated content and playspaces.
The first of these was 'Playstation Home' which will launch in wide beta in April and will be out in full release later this year. The service allows users to create their own human avatar with customized facial features and clothing and then build your an apartment for your avatar. The environment lets you customize it however you want so you can place furniture and other appliances in your virtual home. You can place chairs your avatars can sit in or put TVs or picture frames up with your pictures or video streaming from your Playstation 3.
You also get a trophy room where you can get 3D trophy models for doing things ala XBox Live. You can compare your accomplishments with your friends as well as show off your trophy room to others. The trophy room is another place you have control over the customization of and you can move your trophies into display cases however you choose. You can also view trophies and accomplishments for games you don't have to choose what you want to get later.
While your apartment and trophy room are privates space you can invite people into, there are also public spaces created by Sony and other developers. There is a lounge where people can meet that's decorated with banners and videos that acts as a hub to other areas with mini games built in such as billiards and bowling. You can voice chat, gesture, text chat or mix and match pre-made phrases to communicate with others in these spaces.
Developers and publishers can also create their own spaces for players to visit to promote themselves or their games. They can even create spaces just for their titles. Later on, other products other than games might get their own spaces to for other players to experience. These spaces can also incorporate mini games or other activities for people to participate in.
The big issue with this whole idea is that it just seems like a glorified marketing space, more like a big mall designed to suck up money and get you to buy stuff more than anything else. Dynamically updated videos and banners are everywhere in these spaces selling games and other stuff. Some of the furniture and clothes for your avatar will need to be purchased over the playstation network or you'll get when you buy certain games. Even the trophy room seems to be designed to sell you on the idea of games that you don't have or might not normally play.
Part of the reason I like XBox Live's features is that they're built in, streamlined and simple. Home seems needlessly complex as a friend and matchmaking tool. Even viewing your achievements is somewhat involved. Not to mention how shameless it is as a marketing tool. Even your option menu is skinned to look like a 'virtual psp'. I've herd people compare it to second life made already, but this just seems like a poor man's second life at best considering how little the player actually has the ability to create, you're essentially just moving the building blocks around that they give you or want you to buy.
Anyone thing that maybe this thing is actually a good idea? I do see myself using it, but wishing it were more advanced and allowed the player to maybe build their own world objects. What would you need to sell you on the idea of Sony's Virtual Home World? Did this sway anyone's thoughts about possibly buying a PS3?
I have to agree with your caution here, Ron. It really seems like Sony is trying to cash in on the recent buzz Second Life has gotten, and in the most money efficient way they can.
A good friend of mine, Janine, is really into SL - and as such I know a lot more about it than I'd like to admit - but I digress. SL is, above all else, a shared virtual space that emphasizes, aids with, and has a foundation of creativity. "Player" made objects are everywhere, and they range from clothes (which all look much better than the ones shown in the Home video that's circulating), to vehicles, to automated, propagandist, five story tall, moving pieces of art.
Sony isn't offering any sort of "real" customization, that is to say something that will make your avatar unique, beyond their facial structure and skin tone. There will be a favorite single hair-do, and a super common set of jeans - and worst of all, as of now only Sony can provide these things, and you have to purchase them with microtransactions. Great.
Even the customization in their private virtual spaces are lacking. "Hey Ron, where do you wanna hang out tonight? In your virtual room with that tan desk, blue couch, and big tv, or in my virtual room with the brown desk, red couch, and big tv?" Without actually allowing users to add to the world, Home simply isn't a creative experience in the way that Sony is touting it.
What boggles my mind is that they come out with this, while the guys working on Forza have established that they are working on something so much more like SL - a real user based economy that orbits around user created content. The hardware is out there, but Sony is too caught up in the spin to realize that you have to get the center, the heart, right.
Hope you have a good trip back, seeya in a few days.