Santa brought me a PS3 for Christmas (OK, I admit, I forced him) because I was interested in Sony’s Home platform. It is a great Blue Ray player, too: sleek and very quiet. But back to Home. I finally found a little time to check it out after New Years Eve and spend some 10 or 12 hours inworld over the course of a few days. It was a mixed experience – and a little disappointing all in all.
Home is NOT “Sony’s Second Life” – much less, actually, than you might believe
Many publications (online and offline) could not refrain from comparing Home to Second Life – usually dissing Home with such comparisons, as it s still common wisdom in the journalistic crowd that SL was this huge hype and failure of 2007. Wasn’t it? ;-) Alas, while such a comparison is not without merit (both platforms constitute a virtual world), the conclusions drawn from it are utter bullshit.
The four most important facts in the context of such a comparison:
- Playstation Home has a lot less similarities with Second Life than a cursory first look (especially a look at static pictures) will reveal
- If Home succeeds this will not be a stamp of approval for virtual worlds or Second Life
- If Home succeeds this will be no indication that SL (or virtual worlds) are “doomed”
- What is missing from Home might actually be those features, which are most important to the success of Second Life – which leads to some of the most annoying disappointments with Home
More on that “below the fold”.
- It is extremely easy to install and setup. As soon as you have registered an account with Sony’s Playstation Network service, two or three clicks on the x-Button will lead you into this virtual world. Depending on the manufacturing date of your PS3 a software update will be necessary. But even this just means two more clicks on x and a few minutes spent waiting
- It is easy to use. Navigation inworld is easy with the standard game controller, Even (limited camera) movements can be learned in a minute. Each possible action and interaction is clearly labeled. The menus are context-sensitive and well structured. “Learning” the basics of Home will usually take no more a few minutes for someone used to virtual worlds or RPGs. It might take an hour for others (and a good tutorial is missing currently)
- The visual experience is pleasant. The visual quality is great (though not as great as the promo videos might lead you to believe). Most sceneries are brightly lit and beautifully designed
- The avatars – well, most of them – are beautiful and well designed
- The platform allows the implementation of “real games” with a performance that rivals dedicated console games
- Etc. etc.
Playstation Home certainly is not a “bad” product.
Still it suffers from some major “issues” (and those are very interesting especially in comparison with Second Life):
- The visual quality is not as great as expected (as was already mentioned). It is significantly better than SL typically. But Home is NOT HD quality. Probably in an attempt to save processing power, the software uses a reduced resolution with clearly visible pixels and artifacts. And the avatars – while able to move very realistically – actually do not look as good as a well-done avatar in Second Life. Especially the faces look like they were done in a video game from at least one generation before the PS3.
All avatars are … kids! Or, to be honest: they are optimized to look like humans in the age bracket from 14 – 24. The software offers many elaborate functionalities to personalize your avatar (not as much as SL, Twinity, There or IMVU, though). But no matter, how hard I tried, I always ended up with an adolescent boy.
- All avatars dress in one style: streetwear. There are many options for t-shirts, sweatshirts, and short pants available. The only skirt in the standard inventory for women is an ultra-short mini. Shoe selection is limited to sandals, sneakers or going barefoot. To sum it up: It was not to easy for me to “identify” with me avatar ;-) Actually this might be a temporary issues, as new clothes will be created and someday Sony might add something like “skins” to Home. Who knows. This is still Beta.
- Home offers a very limited world to explore. You can “see” some nice landscapes in the distance – but you can’t go there. Where you can go is: your “apartment”, a shopping mall with less than half a dozen shops, a movie theater, a bowling alley combined with a collection of arcade games and an open air dance floor. That’s it! After a little more than one or two hours, you will have seen most of what is to see in Home.
- Moving from location to location is always accompanied by rather long load times. It’s even more annoying than in Twinity. There is no way to smoothly walk through a door and enter a building. Every door triggers a scene change and each scene change takes from a few seconds to more than half a minute – more, when you enter as scene for the first time.
And – yes, I know this sounds arrogant – most conversions consist of endless variations of “How r u?”, “This sucks, major!”, “Yr cool”, “Where r u from?” “What other games you play?” And nearly any conversation between avatars of different (apparent) gender starts with the three questions “Where u from?”, “How old r u?” and “U have a myspace?” in exactly this order. I still fail to see, why this should be important in a virtual world. But these guys obviously come with a different set of expectations. To illustrate that a little: If you design yourself a female avatar (which I did, of course) and dress this avatar with a little more style than what is “standard” (selecting a preset and changing hair color) you can not walk more than a few meters without receiving friendship offers by the dozen. Horny young males can be fairly aggressive …
This is nothing new to Second Life veterans of course. It is probably just emphasized by the socio-demographic profile of Home’s user base. ;-)
But … as friendship (and virtual romance and more …) are important features of virtual worlds, is Home an interesting alternative for people using other virtual worlds currently?
I am not sure. Lets look at the major activities, which people like to do in the more advanced virtual worlds:
Activities for which Home (currently?) is not well suited
For those, who like to go clubbing ... there are no clubs and there is no way to play individual music streams. For those who like to decorate their virtual homes, there are no decorative elements available other than two dozen pieces of furniture two cacti and two plants. For those who like to “play Barbie”, the selection of clothes is too limited. For those, who like to go shopping … there is not much to buy. For those, who are looking for virtual romance, the platform is severly limited. You cannot style your avatar sexy, or elegant or … “different” at all. Virtual sex is nearly impossible. Avatars cannot move in any other way than by applying two dozen pre-defined moves and text chat is automatically censored. For those, who like to “create stuff”, there is no way to do that. For those who like to “play entrepreneur”, there is no way to deal with other avatars. For those, who like to explore, there is one Main Plaza and less than 10 other locations.
I know that this might sound utterly unfair. Home is still in early beta, of course. I am afraid, that some of the limitations I have mentioned, are intentional, though, and not a sign of an unfinished platform. I can’t be sure of that. Sony did not publish any kind of development roadmap. But there are certain indicators about the direction Sony is going and about which business model they are trying to apply.
In its current incarnation, Home is basically a relatively small chat platform with a few dozen different “rooms”.
More details on that in Part B …