Not going Home

Sony, in their continued efforts to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory, has just recently released their version of an on-line community for the PS3, Playstation Home, to the wider public as, possibly, the least anticipated piece of software in the history of time wasting. I was unlucky enough to have been invited to participate in the closed Beta a while back and have already had my fill of Home, to the extent that failure to connect to the servers on the day the Beta became open to everybody I deleted the application and freed up another 4 Gigabytes of "reserved space" on my harddisk.

Though I'm weary of jumping on the Home hate bandwagon now roaring out of control over many a gaming website and forum, though believe me, I hate it, I am more annoyed at Sony for making me distrust my instincts. Am I, possibly, too out of touch with the wider gaming audience? I remember Will Wright pulled this trick on me before with The Sims. Early teaser trailers had be guffawing and shaking my head in disbelief. No way, I thought, could this be anything other than a disaster. Who in their right minds would play this horseshit? And as sales figures and my own subsequent addiction to the Sims has proven, my instincts can be drastically wrong sometimes and, having learned my lesson, I vowed never to jump to conclusions on new, wacky, unproven ideas.

Home, though, isn't unproven as an idea. The massive success of other on-line virtual communities has been a floating dollar sign for many a marketing executive with especially titles as Second Life raking in piles of cash and becoming cultural phenomena. The fact Home had to happen seems almost a given. And on paper Home seems awesome. A free piece of software that will add a Mii/Avatar function to your Sony ID, a home room to decorate as you see fit, special game-related items and rooms to become available over time, it seems a fantastic little gift from Sony to its users.

"Seems" obviously being the operative word there. In reality it is a cumbersome and slow piece of software that is a barely disguised excuse to hoist micropaid contents on a strangely suspecting userbase. With plenty of quick downloads of videos and trailers already, Home's slow streaming non-full-screen movie theater seems to add several layers of uselessness to an already smooth process. Very limited avatar creation options makes Home's zombie-like characters take a distant third place after my Nintendo Mii and Microsoft's Avatars. It's strange that the most simplistic looking of the three, the Mii, turns out to be the most powerful, with my Mii being a dead ringer for my own handsome self, my Avatar looking like a Barbie version of me and my Home avatar looking like an emaciated skater-version of Marky Mark, like pretty much seventy percent of my fellow Home users.

Technical issues too make Home an embarassment rather than a showcase for PS3 power, of which I know it has a lot. From the wonky avatar to the massive tedium of load-times, which really seem inexcusable, to the static and fuzzy scenery outside my bachelor pad. Queues for games in the game center too seem ridiculous, and having to boot up the beta for Namco Museum to play two levels of Dig Dug, only to be awarded a small Dig Dug doll to decorate my home with doesn't seem worth the 10 minute wait. Original arcade games available are nothing more than sub-standard on-line Flash type games. The choice of furniture and apartments extremely limited with more available for extortionate micropayments - trust Sony to turn micropayments into extortion. And as I am not in the slightest bit interested in seeing my Marky Mark me watch a poster for an upcoming game, there simply is no reason for me to endure Home.

But am I, are all of us bitching about Home online, wrong? To me Second Life sounds like torture, yet it is immensely popular. Does Joe Public care about these technical issues, or are they simply happy to inhabit a virtual word where they can pick up fat, middle-aged guys pretending to be 14 year old girls?

A case could be made that due to the PS3's high price the bulk of its users are possibly informed hardcore gamers, whom are all too enlightened to swallow this bullshit. But one could also assume that software like Home could be effectively used to market at the more casual gamer, just an extra little carrot for the "soft-core" crowd, bringing in new users and helping shift units. I'm sure the latter is already happening as, as I mentioned above, the idea of Home sounds pretty good on paper and in marketing blurbs; it's only when you get your hands on it that you realise it's not all it's cracked up to be.

However much I personally think Home is a waste of effort, time, money and opportunity, I think I'll shy away from proclaiming its failure until we have some hard figures to peruse. I have a nagging feeling that possibly Sony could surprise us. Well, maybe not Sony but PS3 users. In a sense I kind of hope they do because I am tired of all the PS3-bashing, even though Sony has, in its disastrous attempts to keep hold of its PS2 lead into the next generation, deserved every bit of scorn it has been subjected to. The Playstation 3 is an awesome piece of hardware, and more and more excellent games are being released. I want it to do better than it is, and the only things stopping that right now are Sony, its executives and their marketing. And possibly Home. One step forward, two steps back?


  1. We can only hope that updates to Home will make it better. Personally, I have a 360, but some friends have PS3's and I play them often too. PS3 is a great piece of hardware, and the fact that it comes with a blueray player and blueray happens to have won that format war is a big plus. Some of the exclusives for PS3 are great too, like Motorstorm.

    However, the PS3 is really horrible when it comes to updates/installs/downloads. The 360 is so easy and smooth to use for updates and installs. If a game needs updating, it downloads quickly and is installed almost instantly. If I download a demo, when it's done downloading it's immediately ready to play. But with the PS3, if you download a demo it takes ages, then you have to wait minutes (often longer than 10 minutes) to install the game before you can play it. And as far as I remember, you can't do anything else while it installs. This is a really frustrating part of the PS3.

    I haven't tried Home, but it sounded really promising a few months ago. But now I see that Sony's poor user experience has flowed over into Home and I'm disappointed. Hopefully they learn from these mistakes for next time. For now, I'm really happy with my video streaming and updating on the 360.

  2. You're mistaken about Second Life being popular — the only people who use it more than once fall in to at least one of these categories: furries, budding capitalists, new media douchebags, and corporate PR flacks.

  3. Very confused about why five different links from my blog are showing up on this post, particularly five that have little to nothing to do with video games. I do write about video games fairly often, but in none of these posts. Odd. In any case, people have been clicking them today, thus my sudden awareness, and this seems as good a time as any to tell you that I do enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work.

  4. Haven't tried Home yet & I am not too bothered about it in any case. I'm sure it holds a lot of future potential & what not but I would've preferred if Sony just concentrated more on securing exclusives. Or at the very least have a few more 1st party exclusives out there than they do already.

    I too want to see the PS3 do a lot better this generation as it's a great piece of gear & I just love MGS4, Wipeout HD & , Valkyria Chronicles & Uncharted. I agree with Graham, the updates & installs get annoying. That's also something Sony should look at rectifying.

    Unfortunately I see the PS3 coming last at the end of this generation. With their "10 year" life-cycle nothing but a pipe-dream. It won't stop me from enjoying the machine providing there are good games getting released. Just I don't see myself spending much time with Home, it's just not a good alternative at all to playing a good game.


  5. It seems as though lately, Sony's biggest marketing pushes are disappointments in some way. Home has been panned by critics all over, and they're not just spouting standard anti-Sony rhetoric; they have firsthand experience. LBP was a critical success, but its online servers were initially crap, and it was lacking in sales (at least in North America).

  6. 2 points

    1) Second Life seems like the biggest lie ever. Do you actually know a single person who plays? I don't, where as I know tons of people that play WoW. I can also name almost any popular game in the last 20 years and subsequently named people that played all of them but I can't name a single person who plays Second Life.

    2) Rather than bitch about how bad Home is (which is pretty easy because it sucks). I think it would be far more interesting to try to think what a good version of Home would be.

    To be honest, it seems like a virtual work like Home is just a bad idea from the beginning. But, some ideas off the top of my head.

    It needs to be a game, not a just a place with some games in it. Animal Crossing comes to mind. WoW of course. A place where there are things to do as a group, goals, rewards. Not just a glorified chat room with long load times.

    Another is, taking the Second Life tack, a way of adding user generated content. Take the concepts from LBP's editor and add them here. Offering your own spot that can be placed on the world map and the voting/tagging system. I'm sure they'd have to police it a bit but they do for LBP as well.

    Connections to the real internet. If they added these goals, rewards, a way to auto post them on your blog in the real world. Post screenshots to flickr or videos to youtube or something. That assumes stuff going on inside is interesting enough to warrant that but maybe some of the things above would help.

    Another would be some style. Like you said, the avatars look like crap, mostly because there are not enough settings. The funny thing is though, it shouldn't take all that many settings to do well but it definitely needs a LOT more clothing and accessories with more options (changing the color of the clothing? Hello?). RockBand comes to mind.

    Of course, how they would justify it financially I have no idea. Without some form of subscription, ads or micropayments it would all be a lot of work for free.

  7. So yeah, I gave it a week, I'm not going back. I can't see why I'd voluntarily spend any time in Home when I could be playing games.

  8. I have thought for months that Home would turn out to be a pile of crap.

    It's essentially a very clumsy menu system that let's you do worse things -- like play antique games or watch low res video -- than you can do faster, easier and better in the basic cross media bar. At the same time it is supposed to be so much fun you want to spend money to tart it up.

    The truth is that no-one is interested in these big flashy 3D menu environments. No-one uses second Life. They are the wave of the future like video-phoning has been the wave of the future since the mid 80s.

    People like simple, fast-moving environments that let them do interesting or useful stuff quickly.

  9. The one thing that people seem to miss is that Second Life succeeds where others fail (including Home) is that it encourages creating your own content.

    From the simplest items (I think the first thing I ever made was a Metal Box from Smash Brothers Melee, back in november of 2005), to the most complex of designs (like the more recent addition of 'sculpted prims', which can be detailed objects, such as a brilliant-cut gem), complete freedom was given to the user to make whatever he or she desired.

    While it's true that with this freedom comes alot of base, puerile, and crude things by amateurs, it doesn't take a 3D modeling genius to create. In its simplest form, you use the primitive shapes, and work from there. As long as you can break your desired object down into these shapes, you can make it. Of course, having its own scripting language allows you to give life to the items you create, and is simple enough for even a non-programmer like myself to work with.

    In fact, one of the more recent creations I'm most proud of is a complete 'avatar' of the Red, Yellow and Green Fighting Alloys from Brawl. The biggest achievement was a simply-activated doublejump script that was easily expandable to allow the Green one to fly like he does in the source game. Even better, the ability to have custom animations made sure they even go through the proper motions.

    That, IMO, is why SL will remain while other virtual worlds will fail.

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