Sunday Thoughts: 14/12/08

Let’s face it, Home hasn’t really worked.  Whatever your opinion on Sony’s avatar-based 3D chatroom might be, and even given the notion that the software is still in Beta, Home isn’t half the project that it was once claimed to be.  Months ago we saw Home Spaces being decorated with photographs taken directly from a mobile phone, we saw instant game launching and we were promised video sharing and a vibrant, evolving community.  What we have, in reality, is precisely the same bit of kit we’ve been ‘testing’ since 0.8.  

Naturally, TSA can’t comment on Sony’s selection process for the initial rounds of said testing, but we fear that a lot of the problems we’re currently facing right now are down to the ridiculous NDAs and atrocious names-in-a-hat approach to invites.  Had Sony allowed staff from sites like ours to see Home at an earlier stage and actually talk about it rather than covering it up under a sheet of secrecy, we’d have had chance to suggest changes, point out where things might not be going according to plan and – who knows – maybe make the open Beta a better package than it already is.

Instead, Sony managed to foster a small band of private-forum dwellers who did little more than stand around in circles all wearing the same kit.  We know, because we saw it, although we were under an agreement not to say anything.  With access to the closed forums we’d have made sure that a little more objective criticism got through, we’d have pushed for more features (not less) once the thing opened up, and we’d have made damned sure that our readers knew about it every step of the way.

If the NDA was to prevent Microsoft and Nintendo ‘knowing’ about Home, it failed.  Youtube videos were frequent, and Microsoft managed to turn their own Avatar system around in about a tenth of the time Sony have been working on Home.  Sure, there’s no 3D environment to walk around, but when you can use 8-way chat across any game on the 360 with absolutely no fuss, perhaps it’s worth considering that Sony were barking up the wrong tree after all: we don’t really need Home in it’s current state.

Don’t misunderstand, it’s a visual marvel – the avatars might look like they just stepped out of a catalogue and walk like Morph, but the three orfour buildings you can interact with are well designed and look beautiful.  So what?  In its current state Home is still essentially a chat-room, albeit one bolstered with a few arcade games and a bowling alley.  Yes, it’s impressive, but when people are still struggling to get connected 4 days after it supposedly went live, alarm bells should be ringing at Sony HQ.

And then there’s the microtransactions.  If you don’t want to look like every other generic goon in the system, you’ll need to splash out on some threads, and if you want a lampshade for your virtual apartment – get  your wallet ready.  And don’t get us started on the Clubhouses – £4 to set up with an ‘undisclosed’ monthly fee after that?  Really?  You don’t think we’ve waited, patiently, enough time?  You don’t think we’ve had to put up with a vastly reduced feature set for long enough?  And the Red Bull area?  The Farcry 2 area?  Uncharted’s bar?  Still in testing.  Still.  And don’t get me started on the sexism, racism and facism.  Create a black female character and stand in the middle of Home Square…

We know the Home team is a small one, financially it has to be, because if people don’t start spending their money on these collections of textured polygons, the whole thing will be a monetary disaster.  Home won’t sell PS3s, so you can’t even use that on the balance sheets, and until the interface is streamlined and the things to do improve massively, I personally won’t even bother using the service.  I know Home has it’s fans, and it’s still something of a novelty to those not part of the beta, but it’s been 4 days in and I’m already fed up with it.