As part of his keynote speech today (and during a special press briefing yesterday), Sony Computer Entertainment' Phil Harrison officially opened the doors on Home for PS3. This unique avatar-based real-time virtual community will enter a large scale beta trial in April and the service itself (which will be found after a free download on the XMB) is scheduled to launch this fall.
Before describing and demonstrating Home in detail, Harrison first discussed what Game 3.0 (the title of his presentation) really means. Essentially, Game 1.0 was represented by the disconnected console and static game discs; Game 2.0 was brought to us by connected consoles (or PCs) that offered static content; but Game 3.0 takes connected consoles to a new level by leveraging online collaboration and user-generated content. Suddenly the content is dynamic and, as Sony says, Game 3.0 "puts the spotlight back on the consumer." Harrison explained that Sony was influenced by the ideas put forth by web 2.0 – sites such as MySpace and YouTube that are driven by user-generated content. Harrison also made clear that Sony is not trying to trademark Game 3.0; they simply want to get the developer and gaming communities thinking about a trend which Harrison believes "will power the next decade of growth in our industry."
So how does Home work? Well, you'll start by creating your virtual representation anyway you'd like. Unlike Nintendo's cartoony Mii characters, your avatar and the surrounding environment in the Home world is very much based in realism. If you've ever made a character in a sports title or RPG, you'll be very familiar with the facial and body customization options. You'll also be able to unlock premium accessories, clothing and other content for your avatar by purchasing PS3 games. Once you've created your character, you'll have access to a whole host of features through a virtual on-screen PSP.
The main draw to Home for most gamers will be that it takes the idea of a persistent online world and community and puts it right on your PS3 free of charge. Much like an MMO or other virtual worlds, every character walking around the environment is the representation of another player/PS3 owner. Starting a conversation is as easy as walking up to another character and doing so. You'll be able to use shortcuts for quick chat, you could type via USB keyboard, or best of all voice chat. The world map is also filled with all sorts of embedded HD quality video, in-game dynamic ads, playable pool tables and bowling, and even embedded arcade machines that will allow for more arcade titles to be downloaded to them.
Where Home gets even more interesting is in the private spaces. Every PS3 owner using Home will get an apartment, which can be customized with just about any media you have stored on your HDD. You can have HD quality videos play on virtual TVs, MP3s play on virtual stereos, and more. Eventually you'll be able to put playable pool tables, arcade machines and other items in your private place. Your apartment can then serve as a hangout spot for your friends and as Harrison said could even be used for gaming "clan HQ." You'll be able to launch online gaming sessions right there from your apartment.
Another interesting feature of Home is the public space cinema. This is essentially a big lobby where all sorts of trailers and user-generated content can be viewed by anyone in the virtual world. Harrison said that Sony worked with a company called Grouper to empower user-created content. Additionally, one could foresee huge marketing potential with Home, as the virtual world can also provide spaces dedicated to publishers, developers, a single game, a cool company or brand or retailer – you name it. Imagine walking into an EA space, for example, that showed streaming videos of upcoming titles and provided other EA related content.
Another hugely important aspect of Home—some would say it's Sony's answer to Xbox achievements—is the Hall of Fame.
By playing PS3 games, users will be able to gain 3D trophies and they'll also be able to see what trophies they can unlock for all games, which Harrison said he thinks will give gamers further incentive to purchase PS3 titles, and will "create loyalty and excitement around PS3."
Harrison also stressed that the tools used to create Home are the same tools based around Maya that are used to create PS3 titles, and it's a very low cost to build 3D spaces in Home. Again, GameDaily BIZ can only imagine the huge marketing potential this service will have once it's really up and running.
Following the unveiling of Home, Harrison briefly talked about Singstar as further example of Sony's commitment to the social/community aspect of PlayStation Network. Users will not only be able to download new music, but they'll also be able to see streaming music video previews straight off the server, and using an EyeToy or other USB camera they'll have the ability to upload their own singing performances for the rest of the PS community to evaluate.
Perhaps the real highlight of Harrison's presentation, however, came during the very first demonstration of LittleBigPlanet, a community-driven game from a new company called Media Molecule, which was recently formed by Mark Healey and Alex Evans who had previously created Rag Doll Kung Fu. LittleBigPlanet represents "the fun and embodiment of Game 3.0," said Harrison. The game is totally about user-created environments. Controlling a sort of stitched-doll character, you'll be able to explore, move, modify and create just about anything. Everything in the game is made out of real materials and it's all dynamic, running on the PS3's SPUs. These tactile, highly interactive environments feature plenty of physics driven gameplay, absolutely no scripting and seemingly endless possibilities.
And similar to the highly anticipated Spore from Will Wright, gamers will be able to create without being bogged down by a complex level editor. Once you've created a level, then just as a PC game modder might do, you'll be able to share your creation over the network for the entire community to try. You'll track how many people have downloaded your work, read user comments, see if your creation makes the top levels list and more. A demo of LittleBigPlanet will be released this fall on PS Network with a full version to follow in 2008.
Following the intriguing look at LittleBigPlanet, Icognito's Dylan Jobe took the stage to very briefly proclaim that his team was making a "strategic change" to turn the upcoming Warhawk exclusively into an online multiplayer title.
Last and certainly not least considering that this is the Game Developers Conference after all, Harrison went into some detail on a new initiative called PlayStation Edge, which is aimed at giving PS3 developers the tools they need to effectively create games for Sony's console. Sony is taking the same tech that is used within SCE Worldwide Studios and is giving that tech to PS3 developers. Part of this includes GCM Replay, a powerful RSX (nVidia's GPU) profiling tool, as well as highly optimized libraries to take advantage of all the PS3's SPUs.
Before we exited, we were teased with a brand new Killzone video, which looked nowhere near the level of the CG video shown at E32005, but it did look quite good, probably visually on par with some of what we've seen in the Metal Gear Solid 4 trailers. Harrison said that more will be shown at this year's E3.