So for anyone who has ever owned a Playstation 3, you may have noticed an icon on your XMB that looked sorta like this:
For the majority of people, this icon was often overlooked as many gamers have a one-track mind of: PLAY PLAY PLAY!!!
For anyone who was willing to explore their Playstation 3, they clicked on this icon and was emerged into a 3D based social gaming network called: Playstation Home.
What Was Playstation Home & What Happened To It?
Many people didn’t find Playstation Home to be their cup of tea and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fall into that category on most occasions. Like any other gamer, I put on my game console to play games.
Playstation Home wasn’t exactly a “game”. It wasn’t exactly a “virtual world” either. I guess in a lot of ways, it had a missing identity because it played quite different than what most people expected when Home was announced for the Playstation 3 at GDC back in 2008.
In case you weren’t one of the few who took advantage of the Home experience, let me break it down for you:
- You customized your own avatar and it became a representation of your Playstation identity.
- You owned and customized “private spaces” or apartments and could invite other Home users to hang out to listen to music, watch videos, play games or host dance parties.
- You can roam around “public spaces” which is where most people would meet up and do…pretty much the same things you do in private spaces but on a bigger scale.
… That’s pretty much it!
It was a social platform that connected various public spaces together where you can meet up with friends or strangers and do things like bowl, play pool, race RC cars, fly planes, etc.
The thing about Playstation Home was that it was a pretty broken experience. There was so many “little” things to do that it relied more on the social aspect than the gaming aspect – which essentially is what it was all about anyway.
One GREAT feature that was severely underused although originally meant to be the key focal point for Home: GAME LAUNCHING.
When Playstation Home was under the direction of the then lead of development, Phil Harrison, Home was designed to integrate seamlessly with all video games you would buy at stores or download from the Playstation Store. So the thought process for Home on paper was to harken back to the days when you would invite a friend over to your house, pick up a couple controllers and jump into a game – that was the idea behind Home in that you could meet people online, talk about which games you have and would like to play, then launch into it directly!
Home was supposed to do away with those often long-and-boring game lobbies as you can set up your entire game within Home first before jumping in. You would then enjoy your game and when done, you would automatically be brought back to Home to talk about how much fun you had.
As one of the original closed beta testers, I’ve tried out this feature when it was being worked on and it was a WONDERFUL idea and worked as advertised… Unfortunately, as this feature rolled out, only a few games supported it and by this time, most users were used to not having this featured that they came to expect Home to be solely about chatting and dancing than playing video games with other Home users.
Playstation Home Then Vs Now
When Home was under the direction of Phil Harrison, everyone was excited. Not only was meeting-up and game launching with others a powerful feature, but Home promised some other neat little integrations like:
1) Trophy Room- Originally, Home was meant to sync with all your trophies and display them in a neat, interactive 3D-like way. These trophies were supposed to be put on display in its own room which you can then invite your friends to and gloat willingly.
2) Sync Photos & Videos- Another exciting feature was the ability to take pictures from your smart phone and sync it automatically with your Playstation Home account. If you had picture frames set up in your private space / apartment, you can send those photos to display there so the next time you pick up your controller you could see it waiting for you. Just the same, if you had a TV in your apartment, you could load videos from your Playstation’s hard drive and share your own vids. Those two features would have given more purpose to Home’s private spaces but sadly, the devs came across some legal matters about content and the fear of the few idiots uploading porn held back progress. As a result, we were finally able to post our own photos but we could only have TVs with video clips from various shows provided by Crackle.
3) Public Voice Chat – This feature was eventually shut off due to a group of idiots who abused this feature. This was a cool feature because as in real life, you have to be within “earshot” in order to hear someone speak. If you were pretty far from a Home avatar using voice chat, you would have to walk up to them and gradually their volume would climb so you can hear them better. Pretty cool. But sadly, some people were using this to dish out profane slurs, bullying other users and playing copyrighted music through their microphones which caused Sony to pull this feature and only enable it for private conversations. Boo.
What Caused The Problems That Plagued Playstation Home?
Not Marketed Correctly
Many people simply did not know what Playstation Home was. On the marketing side, it wasn’t given the same amount of respect from Sony as its other features, so not many people knew Home even existed.
Severe Lack Of Communication With The Community
Another problem was that the development team had a pretty shoddy way of doing things. Everything was a secret. I remember being in the forums speculating with several others on what the next step for Home was, trying to find clues within the exceedingly vague announcements by the dev team. I never understood this as Home had a strong line of supporters who wanted to see this succeed – yet we were given very little in terms of what to expect.
Never Left The “Beta” Phase
It took FOREVER for Home to leave the “closed beta” stage in which you would have to receive a special invitation from the dev team in order to even have access to it; then Home remained as an “open beta” all the way up until it’s closing this morning. For most of its lifespan, Home was plagued with many glitches and server timeouts. Many people could barely stay logged in for longer than 10 minutes at a time!
Again, with Phil Harrison, we were promised an entirely different experience than the one we got when Phil left the team. That’s not to say the new developers didn’t try hard or gave us a good overall experience… but the original vision was lost and the true definition of what Home was meant for was no where to be seen in the… somewhat final product.
As I mentioned, there were months when most people couldn’t stay logged in for longer than 10 minutes, sometimes less! You basically had to be lucky if you could last longer than 30 mins – 1 hour and this went on…and on… and on. Most people decided to just leave and never come back; rightfully so.
The key complaint from most people is that it was a pretty boring experience. This led to many users messing with each other by posing as girls to lure unsuspecting and uhh… eager, boys to come flirt with them before revealing that they just flirted with another male.
The dev team tried to infuse Home with more games and activities, but most were bite-sized and over with rather quickly. So while their games may have been fun… after beating them in roughly 20 minutes, it was back to the drawing board.
Another attempt to keep things from being boring to our users was giving Home various events. One event that occurred annually was the virtual e3 public space that mimicked the real life Sony e3 space.
To Sony’s credit, there were A LOT of great events that went on and you were rewarded with some pretty nifty virtual items for participating, thus creating incentive to come back on a regular basis – but sadly all the aforementioned flaws kept many from ever returning.
Oh and speaking of virtual items, this brings me to the greatest problem of all…
Paying Real Money For Virtual Items That Are NOW Gone Forever! April Fools, Jerks!
I’m thankful that my impulse control isn’t so bad that I just had to shell out a ton of money on non-tangible virtual goods… but I know many people who over the years literally spent hundreds to customize their avatar and enhance their experience.
In fact, over the years Home became overrun by advertisements from posters to videos – all littering the social cyberspace. Almost EVERYTHING cost real money and if you weren’t willing, well, you just didn’t have access to many of the private & public spaces, games, gear, etc that others have.
In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t spend a ton of money on these things as they are all now… moot.
This is what I’m talking about. Sony made a fool out of every Playstation Home user that took the platform serious and enjoyed it to its core. Although it had a plethora of issues against it, there was still a strong and vibrant community who enjoyed logging in daily and meeting up with friends. Despite all the screw-ups, it was able to garnish a cult following as well as strong 3rd party support from independent game developers who never created a game before Home.
Some say it was far ahead of its time. Others say they could care less and are glad its finally been put to rest. I say that it’s crappy how Sony pulled the plug on something that despite its problems had such a vested interest in the community and 3rd party support alike who all came together to enjoy a connected space.
The only solace I can give those who are saddened by this news is there’s been development from other companies trying to fill the void with their own social gaming platforms. The one that seems to be heading toward the finish line is Atom Universe, which is similar in a lot of ways but definitely has an identity of its own. It’s no Home but at this point, anyone wanting to relive that experience will be happy to get as close to it again as possible.
Well, it was a fun ride… Launched into public beta in 2008 and lasted until yesterday, 2015… Those of us who stuck by it to the end to watch the armageddon, we will forever miss you.
Thanks for making us the fools this year, Sony…