More than a year after its originally scheduled release date, the beta version of “Home,” Sony’s free, “Second Life”-style meeting place for PlayStation 3 users, has finally arrived. And, judging the response of, well, just about everyone, it still feels half-baked and not ready for prime-time.
Caveats first: Though I play on the Xbox 360 and Wii, I don’t have a PlayStation 3 (a shortcoming I plan to rectify soon). Thus, I only have the impressions of gaming media and public opinions of users to go buy, but if one thing’s clear, it’s that nearly everyone agrees that “Home” as it stands feels incomplete, largely empty and somewhat pointless.
On its face, “Home” sounds like an interesting concept. It’s organized like a physical community, with PS3 owners able to walk around and enter communal spaces where they can take in entertainment, participate in minigames and generally socialize. The most promising sounding feature, from a gamer’s perspective, is the ability to check out different zones for each PlayStation game. Sony has promised that we’ll be able to unlock bonus features for some titles, and take tours of multiplayer maps for others. Other activities, such as bowling and arcade games, are clearly aimed at the casual audience that has flocked to the Wii.
Users will have their own apartments, and can spend small amounts of money on virtual trinkets created by various Sony marketing partners to furnish those apartments. (Before you laugh, remember that nobody thought gamers would pay money for those postage-stamp-sized Gamerpics on Xbox Live, either.) You’ll also be able to form clubs, though Eurogamer reports that you’ll eventually have to pay Sony a small fee to keep your club up and running.
Indeed, early impressions of “Home” make it sound like the developers spent a lot of time thinking of ways for Sony and its partners to make money, but not much time thinking of ways to entice a user base with enough free and/or compelling content to make it worth their while.
Staffers at IGN.com, who spent several hours playing around with “Home,” were largely disappointed with the game- and entertainment-related features. IGN PlayStation team member Greg Miller, who described the overall experience as “dumb,” had this frustrating experience to report: “When I went to the [room for PS3 exclusive ‘Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune,’] I found a guy standing at the secret room keypad. See, only one person can access the keypad, and this guy had accessed the pad and then gone away, thus tying up the keypad for everyone else. He had effectively closed the area.”
As anyone who’s spent more than 10 minutes on the Internet could tell you, sometimes, having new ways to interact with the general public over the Internet isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, as seen in these examples:
Jeff Haynes, IGN: “It’s rather telling that while you’re supposed to be thirteen or older to participate in Home, you get the kind of juvenile commentary that you’d expect on a playground or at a shopping mall. In one five minute period of wandering through the mall, the theater and the bowling alley, there were plenty of comments that would make you cringe or seemed inappropriate to some group.”
Oli Welsh, Eurogamer: “At the moment ” and we must remember that Home’s beta only went open to all today ” it’s an unruly melee of greasy flirting, spammed greetings and aimless A/S/L [age, sex, location] enquiries. Female avatars get attention everywhere, but in Home, they’re absolutely mobbed, relentlessly shadowed, danced at and messaged. It doesn’t help that most people don’t have keyboards plugged in and aren’t brave enough to use voice.”
Incidentally, this doesn’t sound all that different from the experience you can get playing on Xbox Live, where preteens and adult cretins repeatedly hurl uncreative insults and expletives that would nonetheless offend the sensibilities of most of these kids’ parents. The only difference is on Xbox Live, there’s no central meeting place for these idiots to congregate. They’re limited, at most, to a handful of people in a game session, not dozens gathered in some town plaza of tastelessness.
It’s worth pointing out that not everyone totally hated “Home,” with IGN’s Ryan Clements serving as the voice of dissent. His take seems centered on the fact that “Home” is free software, with plenty of room for growth. Let’s hope so, because right now the service is iffy enough that many users haven’t even been able to log in.
Given all the problems, it seems a bit strange that Sony released “Home” at all last week. The service has already been delayed more than a year; what would another few months have meant? Hopefully, once Sony’s finished evolving the service, there’ll still be enough PS3 users hanging around to reap the benefits. In the meantime, “Home” will serve as a reminder of what happens when you aim for the stars, but only have enough fuel to get to the edge of town.