Can Sony get anything right?

by Mathew on March 7, 2007 · 9 comments

After many rumours, Sony has launched an online “virtual world” called PlayStation Home to go along with the somewhat underwhelming PlayStation 3 game console. And while there are plenty of raves out there about how super-cool it is, and what a Second Life “killer” it is, colour me skeptical.

PlayStation home.jpgIs it fair for Pete Cashmore at Mashable to say that Sony’s virtual world — which no one has even really used yet — “crushes” Second Life with a “superior platform?” I’m not so sure. I have a lot of respect for Pete, but I don’t see what’s so superior about Sony’s platform exactly. Yes, it sounds like users can share music using PlayStation Home, and perhaps even video as well, and those are things that would make Second Life pretty useful as well. But Sony’s effort still sounds kind of sterile to me. It sort of looks like a really nicely designed shopping mall where you can only buy things from one company.

Others have noticed the same thing — that Sony appears to want to control everything, as usual. Ian Betteridge picked out the same paragraph in Gizmodo’s description to focus on that caught my eye, where it says:

“It doesn’t seem to have an economy in it like Second Life, as far as we saw, so all your money will be sent to Sony when you purchase arcade games, furniture, and more clothing for your avatar.”

That sounds great, doesn’t it? And a blogger who writes at Rebang goes into more detail about the lack of user input that PlayStation Home allows. He says of Sony:

“If they imagine the future of online worlds is lording over a closed-wall kingdom where commoners seek audience and approval from their overlord, they’re badly out of touch in my opinion.”

Unfortunately, the fact that Sony might be out of touch — or might create something that attempts to lock users into a “roach motel” model (albeit a very nice-looking one) shouldn’t really come as any big surprise. As for the likelihood of success, Tony Hung has a great phrase in his post at Deep Jive Interests, calling it “charming, desperate and futile.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Further reading:

Anastasia Goodstein at YPulse doesn’t see Sony’s new online venture as a Second Life killer either, but the company gets some props from Jeff Nolan at Venture Chronicles.

  • http://studentpr.com/blog/ Chris Clarke

    I’m already skeptical of anyone who wants to get in on the “virtual worlds” game right now.

    But Sony? Shouldn’t they fix the problems with current products in this world before they create a second one for their products to be mediocre in?

  • Stu

    Okay, allow this caucasian to lay it down on the non-blogosphere tip.

    I know that nothing’s worthy of a TechMeme blob if someone doesn’t declare it a something-killer, or in this case, a something-crusher, but Sony’s not trying to crush Second Life, they’re trying to crush Xbox Live and the Wii and its Mii avatars in a Second Life-esque way. How many people into Second Life are champing at the bit to pay 599 US DOLLARS to use what they were already using on a PC? For the privilege of using an inferior interface to interact with a smaller population?

    Since Sony’s building something that looks so much like Second Life, it would actually be to their benefit to work with Linden Labs and try to glom onto some of its blogosphere hype. Maybe they could do something where users could have a common account and be able to do extra customizations in Second Life, and then use those same characters in PS Home.

    As to Ian Betteridge’s point, 98.5% of gamers (look it up!) don’t care about having access to the greater functionality and programming that Second Life offers. It’s roughly the same percentage that care about running Linux or a web server on their PS3s: it’s negligible.

    Their biggest concern is the amount of customization that they can do to their avaters and living spaces — clothing, accessories, appearance, furniture, etc. — without having to pay a fee for it, to Sony or to anybody else. (I would expect other companies to also sell their wares in the system, just as companies other than Microsoft sell videos, games, themes, etc. on Xbox Live.)

    The biggest problem I see with the whole system is my doubts that Sony can pull it off. I don’t have time to detail all the software promises that Sony hasn’t kept (AOL integration with PS2 online, anyone?), but after all this time, Sony’s online efforts are a mere shadow of Xbox Live. And downloadable games — playable with other people online — and videos and online voice chat are nothing new, Sony just seems to be wrapping them all in a much less convenient interface. On Xbox Live I can give a few taps to the controller and download some Borat clips — I don’t want to have to walk my avatar into a make believe movie theater to do the same on the PS3.

    And sheesh, what’s up with all the dancing people in the demo video? If I’m having a conversation and people around me decide to bust a move, I’m going to bust a bat over their craniums.

  • Michael Dunn

    You might want to watch Phil Harrisons keynote from the GDC conference and edit this blog entry. It shows you have no clue what so ever what you talk about, and only serves to make you look stupid.

  • http://bloggingmebloggingyou.wordpress.com Ed Lee

    I haven’t read much post-launch on the PS3 but after playing on one for 4 or 5 hours late last year I was extremely impressed.

    “Underwhelming” seems a little harsh from my experience.

    re the “roach motel” thing; I’m waiting for social networks and virtual worlds to add interoperability (like yahoo! and ms’ messenger systems) as a premium feature – charging $5 a month to be able to flit from facebook to myspace to SL to PlayStation home to wherever. that’d be very cool.

    Ed

  • Mathew

    Ed, I wasn’t referring to the game play on the PS3 as underwhelming — more the sales.

    And Michael, I did watch the keynote and have no intention of editing the blog entry. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Anonymous

    It’s killer because it’s Second Life for the mass market. It’s more natural to control yourself in a virtual world on a television, using a joystick vs. on the computer with a keyboard.

  • Ryan

    Whenever I read hype about Second Life, I can’t help but think of the massive failure that was The Sims Online. Back in the early 2000s the Sims was probably the biggest brand in gaming and very much mainstream and yet when they created a virtual world, it tanked. The only difference I can see between the Sims Online and Second Life is the idea (probably a myth) that you can get real world rich in Second Life and blog hype.

  • Mathew

    I would agree, Ryan — but one of the things I think doomed Sims was that it was too closed a system, and it sounds like Sony’s will be much the same (even if you can share music, etc.). For their sake, I hope not. And meanwhile, Second Life is becoming more and more open.

  • gump

    I think that mathew here is just a ps3 hater which is fine. he is a person that looks at all the negatives that the ps3 has to offer. Even though the ps3 might not have a high sales rate yet, it will kick off once australia and Europe get there hands on it. Compared to Xbox 360 the ps3 is doing well with not having consoles in those key places yet. Once they open up then the ps3 trend will start. If you take how many consoles the xbox 360 sold in its first 4 months the ps3 has sold more. And the graphics are the same as the xbox 360 and the xbox360 has been out a whole year before the ps3. Now that is amazing that the ps3 games are already looking the same if not better than the xbox 360 games. I also believe that Playstation Home is going to be a success for the reason that it will help unite the community. I believe this is a huge step forward for Sony and it to be in the right direction.

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