15th Dec 2008 | 18:32
Assuming you haven't been hit by connection problems you'll probably already have sampled PlayStation Home, Sony's new 3D virtual world on PS3. For those that haven't, based on first impressions it offers a unique, bizarre and sometimes hilarious experience laced with potential.
We recently spoke to Dan Hill, Home service manager for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, about the long-delayed project's development period, what the open beta has to offer and how the service will develop in the years to come.
Home took a long time in getting to this open beta stage. What were the main development challenges that led to its numerous delays?
Dan Hill: Home is a massively complex, global platform, with high-end production values. We also took some time to refocus its development and prioritisation to better serve our community of gamers.
There's a delicate line between building up consumer anticipation and frustrating them when a product doesn't show on time. In hindsight, do you think Home was announced a little too early?
Hill: I've said publicly before that we've perhaps not gone about this as well as we could have, in terms of communicating the status of the project and setting expectations about its availability.
Home's scale and ambition, development complexities, not to mention commercial and legal requirements and planning, have meant that it has taken us longer than we'd perhaps have liked. But we had to be sure it was stable and robust, and that we had a pipeline of content and partnerships coming down the line.
I think the decisions we made to delay were the right ones, but as I say, we perhaps could have communicated this a little better.
Has Home been designed more as a gaming platform or as a social networking destination?
Hill: Home has been designed predominantly as a platform for our gaming community. Inevitably, with the communication tools on offer within the service, social interaction will occur - and this is great. We want our community to come together and interact, and to share the Home experience together.
How will it satisfy hardcore gamers as well as more casual players?
Hill: If you want to just come in, meet people, chat, watch videos, or play casual mini-games, then Home will cater for that.
If you are a fan of a particular title or franchise, then themed spaces and areas will help to expand on that experience, through downloadable items, home rewards, game launching, and exclusive content and game-related activities.
Can you tell us a little bit more about Home as a gaming platform, so about the depth and variety of the mini-games on offer and about the themed game spaces?
Hill: Currently in the public Home areas, you can play chess and draughts in Home Square. You could then pop into the Bowling Alley and enjoy a game of pool, or a frame or two of 10-pin bowling. You'll also be able to visit the arcade, which has a variety of mini-games, including a Home version of Echochrome.
We'll be changing these arcade games as we evolve the service to make sure they stay fresh. We're developing many other games in-house at the moment, and again these will be added as we go along. Our third party partners are also developing their own mini-games within their themed spaces, and some of these are looking fantastic.
We'll keep you posted on progress, but suffice to say that there are some really exciting spaces and games coming down the line.
Have any other virtual worlds or MMOs influenced Home's development?
Hill: Obviously we are aware of other companies who have built services that could, in some ways, be construed as similar to Home, but really we've got a totally different focus. We've very much come at this from our own angle, and made decisions about the platform to make it appropriate and engaging for our loyal community of gamers.
I understand Home's a 16-plus environment, but how will it be policed, and what limits and safeguards have you imposed to combat griefing?
Hill: We employ a full team of specialist multi-lingual moderators in the SCEE region, and Home has a number of grief reporting mechanisms and tools built into the core client. The safety and security of our community is extremely important to us, and we take it very seriously.
Will you need a particularly strong internet connection to run Home lag free?
Hill: Like any online service, generally speaking the faster the connection you have the better. However, we've tested extensively with a variety of different speeds and have had a good experience across the board.
Home introduces new revenue streams for Sony through partnerships with publishers, advertisers and clothing companies, to name a few, but is Home actually viewed internally as a system seller? Will it move PS3s?
Hill: We want to offer our first party studios and third party partners a solid platform on which to extend their brands, franchises, and titles. To that end, we will be adding new content, activities and spaces throughout Home's lifecycle, and in time I would say that Home will definitely become a reason to purchase. Today, we are at the beginning of a long journey - now is the time to start its evolution.
PlayStation Network has been playing catch-up with Xbox Live for a while. Can Home help PS3 snatch the initiative in the online space?
Hill: Home is a brand-new service and no-one else is doing anything of this scale or ambition. We're a platform-holder doing something genuinely new and exciting, and we're proud of that.
The PlayStation Network is getting better all the time, and Home is integral to our online offering. If you buy a PS3 and you grow with us, as Home evolves, you are going to become part of something very special, something unlike you can experience anywhere else.
Will Home be supported not just throughout PS3's lifespan, but also when potential successors to the console are released?
Hill: Yes, Home is a platform service, and its potential is almost limitless in terms of where it could go. We see it as having a very long and fruitful life.
What can you tell us about plans to take Home cross-platform and will it be accessible in any shape or form via PSP?
Hill: We're looking at possible future directions for the service, but at the moment we're focusing on making Home as good as it can be, and getting content, activities and spaces into the service that are genuinely going to add something to the PlayStation experience, and make it a very special place for our community.