Home: Not Great.

PlayStation Home: A place where you can explore an ever expanding world, meet friends, discuss the topics of the day, share movies and photographs, jump straight into games and generally be part of the revolution of social networking.

Or:

PlayStation Home: A place where you can lag about the same 4 places we’ve had since the beginning of the year, avoid cliquey groups of Sony fanboys, listen to racist and sexist comments, not share a thing, remember how you used to be able to jump into Warhawk before they removed the option, and generally wish you never bothered reserving the 3GB space on the hard drive required in order to download the massively bloated areas you’re destined to wander aimlessly around in.

Of course, the reality is somewhere in between, but to say that Home is an enjoyable place to be is certainly pushing it.  I’ve been part of the beta since the first round of emails, but for some reason the NDA has prevented anyone speaking out about it – presumably to raise hype levels even further because the version I tested last night, 1.02, actually has less functionality than 0.8 or whatever it was I last tried.

Home has been built around creating this level of exclusivity: it’s a clever marketing scheme that means the few people with access will slowly, but excitingly, start to leak out information to those that don’t have access, building hype and publicity through word of mouth more powerful than any TV advertising campaign.  Because you have access when other don’t, you feel part of a select group and feel more inclined to keep playing – if only because getting PSN messages saying “HOW DID YOU GET IN!!1!” every five minutes is quite endearing.

The truth is, of course, that those fever pitch levels of interest only last so long.  I think I spent a good couple of hours the morning the Beta emails went out, examing all the areas available, grabbing some furniture from the Mall, decorating my pad and playing a game or two of bowling.  And then that’s it.  Unless you’re part of the insanely dedicated clique that use Home religiously ever night, all dressed the game trigging the same mo-capped dance animation like some kind of cult, there really isn’t much more to do.

Yes, it’s intended to be a chat room, but if that’s the case why is it so difficult to actually chat when there’s more than 3 or 4 of you together – the speech bubbles vanish too quickly, the chat log only shows the last five messages and now that Freddie Europe has access your discussions will be frequently interjected with French and German – at first I thought I was getting hacked, all those consonants together in one word.

And then to the latest version, dubbed 1.02.  After a lengthy patching process, and the forced download of all the areas I’d already downloaded (despite them looking identical to me) I proceeded to examine all the areas, grab the very same furniture from the Mall (although this time via my PlayStation Store account), decorate the very same Summer House I’d already bought and play a game or two of bowling.  Sure, there are a couple of new arcade games (like EchoChrome) and the interface has been tidied up, but where are the Publisher Spaces, where are all the films in the Theatre, where’s the fun?

Even the new Club Houses are stark, uninviting and restrictive.  A brief time spent with Habbo Hotel many years ago still reminds me that these things should be simple to be effective and Home just seems like one too many ideas all bundled together for the sake of Sony trying something different.  As a result, it’s a clunky, abstract collective of disparate buildings populated by vacant, zombie-like avatars all wondering why the hell they’re not playing something more interesting.

Come the open Beta, Sony need to provide much more flexibility for the inhabitants of Home.  They need to provide more things to buy, focus on rewarding the Trophy Whores with exclusive products (and hey, perhaps even that Trophy room we saw nearly two years ago), re-implement the game launching, integrate it more with the XMB, remove the ridiculous load times, get some moderators and give people more things to do.  As it stands, I can’t help shake the feeling that Home is little more than the Lobby in the Dreamcast’s Phantasy Star Online, but at least there you could trade things and go on adventures.

Oh, perhaps that’s what the NDA was for.

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