America, if you want to know more about today's teenagers, I know where to look. You need only boot up Sony's Home, the company's virtual space largely ignored (and laughed at) by the hardcore.
No more. For the foreseeable future, at least the next month or two, I'll be spending time in Home. There are thousands of PlayStation 3 owners within the service. I've seen it for myself. What are these people doing in Home? What compells them to keep coming back? What are they talking about? Are games even the appeal of Home? What can we learn from the people already engaged with Home?
I hope to have answers (or provide some clarity) to these and other questions with My Life In Home, a new weekly feature here at G4 that will chronicle my experiences with the much-maligned Home.
Here's a telling fact: Home has not been accessed on my PS3 since December 11, 2008 at 4:10 p.m. At that time, Home was version 1.03 and in open beta. In the more than a year that's passed since, Home remains in open beta but has advanced to version 1.32. Like any good PS3 owners, I had to wait and wait for Home to upgrade. And then, of course, for my PS3 to upgrade. All told, it took more than 13 minutes after booting up my machine to upgrade Home, my PS3 and finally enter Home.
This, my friends, is what I found.
"haha you have obviously not seen me long enough lol i have passed out on Home many times"
That's a quote I wrote down while shuffling through the Sully's Bar area based on Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Earlier, said user was talking about rum shots. By and large, most people seem to spend their time in Home just idling around and chatting with one another using Internet shorthand. They aren't talking about anything in particular; most don't know each other, and the most entertaining activity is constantly changing your paid-for outfit. Unfortunately, it takes quite a while for new clothes to load.
Loading is a huge issue in Home. Loading and downloading. I understand having to install a substantial patch upon booting Home, given that it's been a year since my last visit. What's irritating is having to download every new space (spaces are optional, usually game-specific Home downloads) you run into. Interested in heading to the courtyard? That's a download. Want to check out the Siren: Blood Curse space? That's a download. Oh, and if you want to enter the next room in the Siren: Blood Curse, that's yet another download. Wait, didn't I already download that space? Well, you thought you did!
Even after entering a downloaded space, one of the most common visual attractions in Home are virtual TV panels designed to begin streaming trailers and other behind-the-scenes video content. All of this content isn't pre-loaded before entering the environment, however, which means more awkward waiting as the (sometimes dozens) of TVs littered around you scream "buffering!' for a minute or longer. If Home's primary purpose is a promotional device, it's failing to ensure that's effectively implemented.
For all my complaining, however, people are still entering Home on a daily basis.
Without having accessed Home in some time, it's impossible to gauge whether Home's population was having an on or off night when I spent more than hour with it on Wednesday evening, but there's no doubt people are accessing Home and spending a substantial amount of time in that world. Even if the population numbers are modest, people are looking at, buying and using the objects being created for Home. Specifically, the costume items that can cost nearly $10 per package!
Want to become Waldo? Don't worry, that'll only cost you just $8.49. That's the bundled price, too. If you were to purchase each of the Waldo pieces separately, it'd clear the $10 mark. I talked to one user who just shrugged about spending $4 on an elaborate dragon headpiece for his avatar. For the record, I have yet to purchase anything for my Home or Xbox Live avatar. (Until there's LOST gear, anyway.)
I still don't have answers to most of the questions posed at the start of this article. I'm mystified at what's compelling people to Home over and over again, other than sheer boredom. But maybe that's the allure. It's a free, open space to meet with people and talk about games. When I was younger, hanging out in AOL chat rooms and message boards talking with like-minded folks occupied more of my time than I care to admit. It's possible Home represents a more visual interpretation of that concept.
In the next few weeks, I endeavor to find out if that theory holds up.
Until next time, readers.