With large portions of the industry eager to encourage all of us to invest in the latest VR technology (and the associated hardware to be able to run it), Sony Interactive Entertainment had the potential to be right on the cusp of the new era in gaming as it emerged over a decade ago when the PlayStation 3 launched with its own free virtual world for its community… PlayStation Home.
PlayStation Home was something truly innovative, especially for the console market. While we’ve all been used to having online accounts, avatars to represent who we are and being able to meet friends online for multiplayer games, Home took things to the next level. Sony created a complete world for gamers to be able to interact and meet online taking a 3D avatar that could walk around and explore a full 3D environment and interact in what became for many, a second home online and a genuine community.
Getting involved with Home was simple enough. Using a basic character editor you could adapt the default male or female template’s look and clothing to whatever you wanted before moving into your own personalised apartment. Empty at first, you’re given some basic furniture to decorate it how you like. More was available freely allowing you almost total creative freedom to make it your online space. Home didn’t stop there though. It really came to life when you stepped outside…
Into a public square filled with other avatars, each with a real human controlling them. The world was populated with other PS3 users from around the globe, all wandering around. You could greet them using a wide range of pre-determined physical moves and gestures but through the on-screen keyboard full interaction and conversations were possible with anyone else using the service in realtime. If that were just it, Home would have been a short-lived social novelty but there was far more to it than that.
That public square lead to a number of buildings and other areas, each of which offered more experiences. A cinema housed videos streaming 24 hours a day with movie trailers, behind the scenes shorts, game trailers and more. Games areas were set up in the Square and in other areas where you could play mini games alone or against other users and there were stores where you could – by way of microtransactions – buy more furniture for you flat or new costumes and accessories for your avatar.
Interacting with other users became a key part of PlayStation Home, and this was most evident with the introduction of the Poker Lounge and The Casino. These two themed areas allowed gamers to engage in various casino games head to head against other players in full 3D environments in ways that hadn’t been though possible in a video game before. The Casino was expanded regularly with new costumes, casino buildings and games to entice people to keep returning. The only difference between these and the real thing was that no actual money was involved unlike dedicated sites as detailed in this Titanbet Review, but it didn’t stop it from being just as fun and engaging and it soon became one of my personal favourite and most frequented parts of Home.
Over time the PlayStation Home world grew. Companies took in interest in Home and added their branding to themed side areas, bringing more mini games and themed zones. The Red Bull Air Race area was a beach themed site that featured a relatively simplistic but fun flight game where you had to fly a light aircraft towards different targets in a set time limit. There was a retro arcade where you could unlock classic versions of Frogger and other Konami arcade classics. This linked in with the PlayStation Vita and making a purchase here unlocked the games to be played on the Vita’s release PlayStation Home Arcade.
PlayStation classics like WipEout quickly had their own areas with brand new racezones exclusive to Home, and there were even seasonal zones to explore. To keep things fresh and attract gamers all year round, challenges were introduced introducing a gaming element to the exploring, interactive multiplayer quiz games and even a shopping mall filled with themed stores operated by major clothing labels so your avatar could be the talk of the (virtual) town… at a cost, of course. Even though Home itself was free, it was these microtransactions that kept the service alive and despite being a cynic towards these things – especially when it comes to virtual items that you never own – even I gave in and bought digital clothing and dressed my avatar in a Ghostbusters costume when they were made available one year.
Sports lovers were well catered for when EA Sports joined forces with Sony and added their own extensive area to the growing Home experience but what I found most appealing were the times when Home stepped into the world of science fiction and fantasy bringing film and television franchises into Home. I’ve already mentioned Ghostbusters, but costumes were frequently given away in special movie tie-ins including Star Trek and Watchmen. Themed areas were added for Doctor Who and Harry Potter and even Lucasfilm had a dedicated shop where you could buy all manner of virtual items including flat decorations and new outfits.
While it seemed as if there were no limits to what was possible with PlayStation Home, sadly the service closed its virtual doors in 2013 much to the dismay of its users all around the world. With the advent of the PlayStation 4 it was clear that the userbase for Home was set to decline and as Sony’s own investment in the PS3 was reducing it was only a matter of time before the servers were going to be shut down.
Despite this, it was clear that Home was a huge success and since its closure its supporters have asked whether or not it could be revived for the PlayStation 4. The network infrastructure is certainly capable of supporting the type of online experience that Home provided in the past and the power is there to deliver and even more immersive experience for its users but perhaps now with the advent of PlayStation VR maybe that would be the way forward for something like this? Imagine everything that Home provided in a VR enabled world? The possibilities for something like that would be limitless and that could be something truly revolutionary and – dare I say it – a real system seller for Sony.
Were you a Home user? Share your memories in the comments below