Sony’s new PlayStation Home virtual world won’t address the issues that have resulted in pretty-much constant flak for its PS3 console in the last year. Criticisms of the console’s pricing and games line-up are both still valid, not to mention lingering resentment over the PS3’s delayed launch in Europe.
And yet… PlayStation Home is a masterstroke. I don’t know how much it’ll boost actual PS3 sales, but it’s the first time a console manufacturer has truly grappled with the implications and opportunities offered by Web 2.0 and virtual reality. Microsoft’s Xbox Live has been groundbreaking, but is games-focused, while Nintendo’s Mii avatars are (for now at least) just a step in the direction of social networking.
For me, PlayStation Home solves all the reasons why I DON’T regularly use Second Life. For starters, it’s using one standard hardware platform – the PS3 – ensuring that everyone will be able to run it. My Mac still falls over spluttering if I so much as mouseover the Second Life icon on my desktop…
Secondly, in theory, PlayStation Home should be far more accessible than Second Life. I’m sure the latter’s creator, Linden Labs, can give loads of stats on how diverse its users are. But it still has the feel of a tightly-knit hermetic community, which isn’t welcoming to newcomers who bumble in wondering what all the fuss is about.
This isn’t just me grousing, by the way – many people I know have had a similar reaction. Second Labs is great – groundbreaking and innovative – but if Sony gets it right, PlayStation Home could take this sort of technology properly into the mass-market.
Other stuff to like: the way your personal media is set to be a major part of the fabric of PlayStation Home, so you can play video, photos and other content in your PH apartment. I wonder why Sony’s press release didn’t mention music specifically, mind.
It’d be great to have your own virtual hi-fi to subject visitors to your latest Brian Jonestown Massacre playlist, or whatever. It’ll make for an interesting business model though – if you are allowed to play commercial music and video in your PH apartment, does that make you a webcaster? And if so, who pays royalties to the people who own the copyright to this media – you or Sony? It’s intriguing stuff.
PlayStation Home should also have brands and advertisers pricking up their ears. Sony has said that there’ll be branded zones in the world, although I get the impression that PS3 game publishers will be the earliest to take advantage.
If it’s properly seamless, this could be great – wander into the Gran Turismo zone, and download a free demo that’s stored on your PS3 hard drive, for example. Presumably anyone selling digital music, video or other content would be equally keen on some kind of presence within PH. Second Life style virtual gigs and merchandise? It would seem to be a no-brainer.
There are some unknowns about the whole shebang though. Will people want to fart around in a virtual world when they could be playing a PS3 game or watching a Blu-ray movie? How will the text, audio and video chat work – I’m guessing if you want to use all three, you’ll need a keyboard, mic/headset, and webcam. And will access to the world be truly free, or will you need to pay to make the most of it?
Speaking as someone who’d been left cold by PS3’s launch game line-up, the PlayStation Home announcement has actually left me mulling a pre-order. Which possibly makes me an ubergeek. But as consoles continue their transition into genuine home-lifestyle hubs, Sony’s 3D community deserves to earn the company the praise its been craving for months.