Special: Be our guest... be our guest...
For many gamers, Sony's social
networking service on the PlayStation 3 evokes feelings of apathy. Not every gamer by default is a candidate for Second Life, and some PS3 owners have never even booted up Home from their XMB. However, this application has steadily grown since going into open beta, adding spaces, games, and features to make it a robust, multi-purpose service. I talked with Cade Peterson, Home Community Programs Specialist, to dispel some of the myths and check out some of the newer happenings going on in Home.
With over 60 spaces, 100 minigames, and 14 million users, no one can debate Home's success, regardless of their level of interest. With these kinds of numbers, Cade and the rest of the team believe they've moved past the stage of a social gaming network, and are now establishing it as a platform for gaming.
Perhaps the poster child for Home as a platform is Sodium One. A futuristic vehicle shooter which looks like a cross between Wipeout and Twisted Metal, this offering provides incentive to gamers who think Home is just for dancing with avatars and waiting for videos to buffer. Combining nicely detailed vehicles with fast and intense combat, the game itself could feasibly hold you over until David Jaffe's latest comes out. But it's the way Sodium One blurs the lines between gaming and social networking that really makes it stand out. For example, in order to purchase the full game, you buy a pilot outfit from a store within Home that sells Sodium One-related merchandise. The actual space for the game is one of the most populous areas in the network. Inside, Cade showed me the slick interface and deep customization available for players to delve into. It somewhat comes off like a metaphor for the PSN itself, offering quality online experiences for free that its competitors would normally charge for.
While Sodium One really epitomizes the potential for the service (a sequel has been announced and other developers are trying to deliver their own games on a similar scale, including the recently released Dragon's Green), it's really the variety that has the potential to attract a large base. Cade sees it as offering something for different kinds of consumers - while many will gravitate towards games, others can use it to find a new experience for a beloved franchise (with Uncharted, Motorstorm, and Resistance spaces already online), while still others will use it primarily as a social platform.
One of the coolest ways that Home hints at its potential was the PlayStation space added during E3 this year. Replicating Sony's E3 booth with everything down to a roped off VIP section, Cade revealed that this event ended up pulling in over a half a million visitors. He explains it as a revolutionary (in both senses of the word) undertaking, allowing people who normally couldn't experience this exclusive event to come in, check out some trailers, and meet other gamers while doing so. It was a bold gesture by the Home team to let the everyday person sample a taste of E3, and one can only imagine the possibilities from there.
With these kinds of big spectacles going on, Home is still always improving the features central to its core experience. One example is group voice chat, which lets players communicate via headset even if they are in different spaces. Games you can have inside of your apartment for friends to come over and play are one of the most appealing prospects, with Grimstone Poker already having players earning some of its rarer rewards within days of releasing. Pool tables are another obvious necessity, and the service offers both American and English variations.
With Home still in open beta, it makes one wonder what the team is waiting for until there is an official release. Given the scope of offerings like Sodium One and the E3 space, it almost certainly will offer an incredibly robust selection by the time its doors open (officially). Whether you want a new competitive platform, a place to let your inner self let loose, or just to add a few more friends to your PSN Friends list, Home is definitely an increasingly interesting experiment that every gamer should watch as it continues to evolve.