Can Sony get anything right?

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.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.