“It’s still beta”, “It’s not a game, it’s a social network”, and “You don’t have to use it if you don’t like it”: these are some of the most common arguments being voiced by Home supporters in the wake of an underwhelming, long awaited launch of the PS3’s latest, erm, thingy. We doff our hats to Sony in at least one regard: Home has certainly got gamers talking. Which was main the idea behind the whole exercise, even if it’s not quite in the manner Sony first envisioned. We’ve had a few hours checking out the Home experience now – read on for our first impressions.

First things first; there are quite a few things that need serious work in Home. But we’ll come to those shortly. For the moment, we can describe your first (and possibly last) few minutes inside Sony’s virtual world.

After the software has downloaded and installed you’ll find yourself at the Avatar creation screen – the place where you’ll mock up either a virtual caricature of yourself, or just pick something with horrifically clashing skin tones and hair colour, with the eyebrows of a Neanderthal and the waistline of a 747. There’re a few presets to choose between, but peculiarly – despite offering far more ‘lifelike’ avatars than either Ninty’s Mii characters or Microsoft new NXE avatars – no matter how much tinkering you do, these all end up looking like the same twenty-something yuppies of some absurdly cosmopolitan utopia. They are so alike in shape and build that your choice of clothing is probably the only way you’re ever really going to be able to stand out from the crowd. And we say ‘probably’ because right now the choice of clothing is decidedly limited. We can say with confidence that this is one aspect that is guaranteed to change for the better.

Once you’ve assumed your new online persona, you are free to check out your virtual digs. For this stage of the beta at least, you’re issued a standard luxury pad overlooking an idyllic harbour, which provides eye-candy for all of half a second. Within your small chunk of personal space you are free to redecorate as you please, choosing from a small number of pre-set wallpapers and furniture, moving and placing it as you see fit.

The range of available furniture, much like clothing, is minimal and made up of the blandest possible combination of Ikea inspired designs. Oft-touted features like virtual TVs and radios to stream media from your console hard drive haven’t yet made it through to the beta, so you’re basically only able to move stuff around and sit on it. In desperation to derive some amusement from this practice, we decided to build a mountain of sofas which successfully blocked the whole room before Home told us we couldn’t have any more. Half a minute later we ventured out into Home Square.

Home Square does little more than provide a central hub connecting the three other main sections, with a handful of Draughts and Chess boards. There are some big bill-board advertisements, and a bit of fancy scenery which you are utterly unable to interact with. Invisible walls, and the fact that you can’t jump or sprint or do anything, except a limited selection of preset animations, conspire to make this a profoundly dry and unabsorbing social nexus, in which the only interesting thing we’ve seen happen so far is the serial harassment of female avatars.

On to the Mall then. Again, thanks to this being very early days of open testing (the closed version has been around for a good deal longer, mind), the selection of stuff to buy is limited. Very limited. And frankly, we can’t ever imagine laying down a penny for a pair of pretend trainers. The prices have been kept sensibly low. It’s 59p for any item of clothing, a bit like a virtual Matalan. It’s £0.79 for some furniture, a bit like a virtual MFI. And if you really want to splash out, it’s £3.99 for a whole new “personal space” (a house, basically). A bit like living in downtown Kosovo.

The Bowling Alley does very much as the name implies, with the addition of arcade machines and pool tables. These mild gaming distractions are largely pointless, poorly made and crippled by an obscure queuing system (read: waiting around for a free slot). Yes. You read that right. You have to queue to use your own console.

Seriously Sony. You might think us Brits love queuing, but there’s a limit.

Home’s Movie Theatre has a couple of trailers and advertisements which are novel at least, and the way the sound volume increases as you approach is a nice touch, but it hardly qualifies Home as a technical wonder.

And this is the point, when you’ve seen everything that Home has to offer, that most users are giving up completely, voicing their frustration at this dispassionate, soulless marketing delivery platform; it’s hard not to sigh and shake your head at the culmination of nearly two years of testing and God only knows how much investment money.

Now, it would be something of a disservice to write off Home completely on the back of that, tempting though it is.

The problem that Sony faces is that this is exactly how many users are seeing it and how they will probably always remember it. There’s just nothing to do in Home. What few distractions there are, are blown away by Sony’s desperation to make money by firing adverts at you. Billboards, posters, video screens and promotional spaces – it’s all there seemingly to fill in for the utter lack of inspiration behind the service. But then, as Home supporters will argue (vehemently, with the strong possibility of insults), this isn’t what Home is supposed to be for. It’s supposed to be there to let gamers meet other gamers.

Sony thus deserves some praise for making the communications tools reasonably effective – or at least as good as they’re likely to get within the limitations of a control pad. You have quick access to movements, expressions and quick chat options, but you really do need either a headset or a keyboard to make the most of it. The fact that in-Home game launching is still limited to Warhawk alone is a problem right now, but not an incurable one.

The real problem is that while there’s the opportunity to socialise, there is just no scope for actual fun. With the integrated mini-games failing to rock anyone’s boat, Home should have provided some anarchic entertainment at least.

Sony promises us that this is just the start of an ever-evolving service, but whatever the improvements it has planned, a system seller Home most certainly is not.

We really hope that it has more up its sleeve than just a handful of game spaces and virtual shops, otherwise Home may turn out to be the largest and most expensive anti-climax in gaming history.

In the meantime, our hopes turn to the ever vigilant hacking community, which has already broken through the first stage of Home’s defences and if it goes down the same path as PSP hacking, could be the best chance of seeing interesting Home developments outside of Sony’s tightly marketed grip.

Available now | £Free | PlayStation Home

  • Dan Fry

    Yet another blinkered and unnecessarily negative review of Home, something again the reviewer clearly doesn’t understand. The shear technical achievement that has been accomplished here is entirely wasted on this muppet (Greg Strachan).

    Electricpig!? is certainly a website I can remove from my list of websites that publish reliable & accurate information. It sounds like you already had your mind made up before you even launched the Home system.

    Maybe you should just stick to reviewing electronic farm animals as your name implies.

    Publishing a blatant PS3 bashing article like this does nothing for the credibility of your cluttered and ugly looking website.

  • http://www.gravatar.com James Holland

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks for the input. I’d be interested to know your own experiences of Home. Have you met anyone interesting there? Used it to arrange games? With half an hour to kill, would you honestly fire it up in preference over a full-blown PS3 game? That’s the ultimate test, and so far it’s failed for us.

    As for the design of the site, sorry it’s not your cuppa. Feel free to pitch for the redesign contract.

  • Slim

    I have to agree with Electricpig on this. Home is just so boring, another feature I hated was I waited for it to install (like so many PS3 games) and then when I first went to go to the Arcade, or square etc I had to download that content and wait for that to install – I had already downloaded Home – Did Sony really expect me just to stay in my virtual pad with white furnishings? Simply put it is quicker for me to go to the PS Store and download a video then load home, sign in, load my pad, go to the theatre and so on and so on.

    Another thing that really wound me up was how many (presumably) kids would be standing in a massive line all doing silly dances and making speech remarks like ‘lol’ and ‘lmao’ etc I get enough of this waffle on the internet and don’t need it invading my gaming space. The video screens showing off game footage that Electricpig refers to where also disappointing, the quality of them is awful on a HD TV, although I agree the sound is impressive but not groundbreaking.

    I wont be wasting any more time in home or indeed queuing for rubbish arcade-lite games, I can play any variation of these in the form of flash games in seconds on the internet.

  • Phantom81x

    I was invited to be in the closed beta of Home and I have to say that I too was BORED out of my freakin mind. It’s terrible. I was excited to see what Sony was going to do with the open beta. That excitement soon turned to anger and frustration towards Sony and there so called “system seller” Home. Home is everything described in the article above. There is nothing to it, its just a few bits of clothes, a few bits of furniture and some very bad arcade games to play and among many other issues the experience is BORING. Home needs more and deserves more but wont ever get bigger than it is now. Thanks Sony.

  • David Macphail

    I find it incredibly sad that Microsoft fanboys have to criticize home to try and distract themselves from the fact that they’re getting ripped off by paying Microsoft for a garbage online service on a garbage console. Xbox (Uh – oh, RROD) LIVE doesn’t offer anything even CAPABLE of competing with Home, so 360 owners are essentially paying good oney for an inferior service. Home is completely free and is a heck of a lot better than the incredibly lame NXE (Which only seemed to manage to increase the outbreak of RROD in some consoles).

    I’m guessing the only reason the author even wrote this article was because they have a lot of spare time waiting for their 360 to get back from the repair shop, although they probably have time in general seeing as how the 360 seems to have no exclusive games (Or any announced for 2009).

  • muttykins

    To be honest i think the reveiw is very narrow minded , Yes home does a few problems in terms how much is there & avaliable but i see you looking at it the wrong way. AS before home the only real way of socializing on ps3 was through xmb text or voice chat if you want but it is very one to one chat you can’t really include a couple of people in a text. Or you try & chat during a game. I think the amount of content on home is small but rememeber it is beta which means if they they tried & thrown an enitre world out in one the catastrophe would be massive but this way they can add & see how the servers take with the load & adjust as needed.

  • muttykins

    Also people are making more fuss about something thats free as if they had paid for it

  • http://itsjuststuffandnonsense.blogspot.com/ Drew

    Ouch, I see and agree with most of your points but why such bile? Playstation Home is for all it’s downfalls an incredible achievement. For my money it’s much more innovative and interactive then anything on the 360 or Wii (I own all three so let’s not play the fan boy card. Nerd card, well sure…), plus it’s free, which kind of limits how much you can hate it. But with innovation come experimentation, Sony are bound to make mistakes but with some work Sony could be close to changing how we use consoles and the internet together.

Hot chat, right here!

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