Sorry, everyone. Truth be told, I haven't had much time to spend in Home during the last week. A combination of birthday-related festivities, planning for DICE and some secret activities I hope to share with everyone soon means I've been limited to thinking about Home, rather than being in it.
But as I mulled over what that meant for the column this week, I started combing through the comments avid Home users have left for me. They love Home. But what do they want from it?
Google left the "beta" tag on Gmail for the longest time. When the word "beta" finally came off Gmail, it didn't feel significant. Gmail felt like a complete service for some time, but the "beta" tag let Gmail off the hook for incomplete features. That appears to be the case with Home. Home definitely feels like a work-in-progress, a notion that Sony's own executives recently admitted in an interview about Home.
"Home is a three-dimensional community and environment that isn't possible on the other platforms and wasn't imagined by anyone other than the folks at Sony," said Sony VP of marketing and head of PlayStation Network Petter Dille to IGN when asked about where PlayStation Network's going. "It's grown up in the last couple years, but quite frankly it's still in beta. And we'll take that beta moniker off of it when we think all the functionality that we imagined when we launched the service is there and to the point where we want it to be. But it's still very much something that's evolving as we go."
What does Sony have in mind for what's missing? I decided to look back at Home's origins, digging up the original pitch video for Home that debuted at the Game Developers Conference back in 2007.
"If you've got photos, movies or music stored on your PS3 hard drive, you can share them on virtual screens and virtual stereos."
In concept, Sony announced Netflix viewing parties long before they were possible on Xbox 360 via the "New Xbox Experience." Media sharing has not come to Home, however. When Home was originally announced and Second Life was a bonafied mainstream media circus, the concept of media sharing quickly got myself and others excited. Maybe our Home avatars would look a little goofy, but if we could all get together and re-watch an episode of Lost together through Home, that's pretty attractive.
Unfortunately, the feature seems all but dropped. Wired reported in 2008 that media sharing had been dropped from Home's open beta, but was "looking into" dropping it in someday. Something tells me no, thanks to copyright issues. It's possible it could happen via media downloaded through PSN.
"Even cooler is the ability to meet people in Home and go with them into other PS3 multiplayer games. With this system, Home becomes a huge, 3D worldwide PlayStation 3 matchmaking system, infinitely more exciting than anything on other consoles."
It took some time, but launching into PlayStation 3 games did come to Home. It's the one major features of Home that I haven't had a chance to try yet, but there's a good reason for that: most of my friends play multiplayer games on Xbox 360 simply out of habit. Not much I can do about that one. For avid Home users, however, the feature seems valuable enough that I'm glad Sony followed up on it.
And while I understand Sony's idea behind Home "matchmaking" (theory: hey, you've met someone, that's better than any "data"!), just because you've met and talked with someone about a game in Home doesn't mean you're ready to take them on. Dedicated matchmaking seems more effective.
Home director Jack Buser hinted to HipHopGamer in December about some important announcements to change Home that we could be hearing from Sony throughout 2010. Perhaps these are the features that could end up pushing Home out of open beta. For one, Home will have a new focus on user-generated-content. So far, the content in Home is generated by outside sources or whatever users can do to break the in-game rules of Home. Complaints about shops selling overpriced wares (which still bothers me for a service in "beta") could be avoided if users could start creating their own clothes and furniture, and selling them to other users.
Buser also hinted at what could be the most significant change coming to Home in 2010: the ability for users to interact with Home outside of the service itself. While Buser wouldn't delve into specifics, the implication is Home could start working with external applications. If there was a way for Home to be manipulated through Facebook or something while I'm away from my PlayStation 3, it opens the door to a number of possibilities. Or what if users who entered into Home could enter Facebook and Twitter "spaces"? Hmm.
The biggest reason people won't give Home a second chance is because it requires them to actually boot up Home and find out what's changed. Home left a poor impression on many people (myself included) when it first went into open beta, but if Sony can implement some of these potentially interesting features into Home over the next year and make a big deal about removing the "beta" tag, my guess is most people would be willing to give it another shot. People like a comeback story.
- My Life In Home, Vol. 1 -- Coming Back After A Year Away From Home
- My Life In Home, Vol. 2 -- The Chat Room Theory
- My Life In Home, Vol. 3 -- The Online Magazine Completely Dedicated To Home