It’s just Second Life without the furries. It’s boring. It’s pointless. It’s broken. What’s your excuse for not utilizing the Playstation 3’s social networking feature “Home” to its prescribed fullest? It’s no secret that Sony’s Playstation Network experiment has yet to get over the giggles and patronizing looks it has gotten since its launch. And despite Sony and many other companies putting serious advertising muscle behind it, most PSN members still opt out of the service. Despite what some might tell you, “Home” does have potential, and Sony doesn’t have to do much to get every single PS3 owner eager to log in. How? Well, Elder-Geek is here to help, and we’re here to present three simple steps for making “Home” the next great gaming frontier.
This is “The Elder-Geek’s Guide to a Better Home.”
Number 1: Stream-Line the Interface
With a console that some users don’t even know how to download videos on, Sony has got to push “Home” from the very first moment the system boots up. It’ll do the company well to pay attention to Microsoft’s success; their new Xbox Experience has proven incredibly successful at simplifying the interface enough for pretty much anyone to use. The PS3’s cross-media-bar is still simple enough on its own, but adopting the “Home” characters as universal avatars for the console is the first step to making sure people are drawn to the product. Those that haven’t yet made an avatar will be presented with a blank character outline as they start up their PS3, and a corresponding link to the avatar creation page, making it a simple one-click operation from the opening screen to the heart of “Home.”
But we hit our first road-block when we make that transition. Bethesda and Bioware can get away with customization sliders and intricate facial details, but if you want every PSN user in “Home,” the dozens of sliding bars and numbered details is a far too daunting. There are those who take a second look and find several pre-made avatars to choose from, but “Home” has got to look universally accessible from the first browser if you want the non-RPG enthusiasts to make their own character. While ditching the slider bars entirely will negate a major sect of players, providing a middle option between that and the pre-made selection is key to allowing all player types to mix-and-match features.
Again, Sony should take a leaf from Microsoft’s book. Their customization screen is aesthetically pleasing and easy enough for most players to browse around and have a reasonably looking doppelganger in a matter of minutes. To distinguish itself amongst the avatars on other consoles, Sony should bridge their detailed sliders and the Xbox avatars in one middle option: allowing a simple selection of facial features like chins and cheekbones, and then providing a single slider option for exact positioning as a final option before moving on to another body part. Doing so will ease new players into the feature, and soften the unpredictability of the process.
While the cross-media-bar doesn’t lend itself to constant avatar interaction as well as the NXE, having an avatar presence in the Playstation store will further bridge the gap between player and “Home” by establishing a connection with their created characters. When browsing the store’s video selection, for example, the avatar could suddenly have a DVD/Blu-ray box in her/his hands, inspecting both sides as one would do at a rental chain. Implementing simple actions like that could keep visual interest up, and further absorb the Playstation 3’s features into a cohesive, singular activity, allowing for more players to find out about the Store and, more importantly, “Home.”
Cross-Media-Bar connectivity with “Home” could also serve to advertise various “Home”-based activities and special occasions like Xi.
Have no idea what Xi is? That’s pretty much our point.
Number 2: Game-Related Items/Locations
Here’s the necessary move that Sony is already making. Many developers, some even from the third-party software side, have created unique spaces and products in “Home” for all users to download and enjoy. However, those players that visit most locales find it difficult to even justify the 30mb download. Most spaces are empty, with barely interactive areas that merely translate a stage from their respective IP to a fully 3-D environment. While fantastic on paper, wandering around aimlessly is no more fun as an avatar than as a person.
While Sony should not develop a dictatorial relationship with its “Home” companies, some incentive must be given for studios to provide more personal paraphernalia. Exclusive game-makers like Sucker Punch and Guerilla Games and even third-party developers like Capcom and Namco Bandai have already found the profit motive to be incentive enough to create in-“Home” costumes and mini-games based around their products, but more developers can implement a more itemized product line. In-“Home” items, like exclusive downloads, can become a new reason to purchase the PS3-version of a multiplatform game, as many people have justified their Arkham Asylum purchase on.
This doesn’t mean we want thousands of new costumes each week; variety is instrumental to keeping the virtual economy fresh and inviting. Indeed, some of these materials don’t even need to cost anything. Mini-games and some interactive items can be free and act as a demonstration for other, more costly items in the product line. For instance, “Home” users can one day wander into their living space and find a fully interactive Mk. II a la Metal Gear Solid 4, buzzing around the virtual apartment like a deadly Roomba. After inspecting the adorable little weapon of minuscule destruction, a prompt could appear and invite “Home” users to have their very own Solid Eye attachment (a feature that could provide a reasonable use for the new in-“Home” camera) or Octocamo suit, for a small fee of course.
It doesn’t have to stop there, either. For instance, buyers of the PS3 version of Borderlands may find themselves capable of downloading and visiting a bunker filled to the ceiling with in-game renders of the game’s seemingly mammoth arsenal, and – for a small fee – be able to hoist and fire a select roster of boom-sticks in a virtual game of “Shoot the Geek!,” or whatever the modern arcade equivalent is. While the face-value of such extra man-hours (and Sony’s fee) may not be enough incentive to design such a space even if it solelytransfers a purchase from one system or another, or if said locales and items can shift enough fringe players from a rental to a purchase, it may be enough to see many more developers taking advantage of our not-so-virtual cash.
In addition, people outside of the gaming market could take advantage of “Home”. Imagine a remix CD of Nena’s “99 Luftballoons” coming with access to a “Home” space filled with (dramatic pause)…99 balloons. That would be awesome.
Number 3: Tangible Trophy Rewards
Allow me to paint you a picture. You have just logged your 200th hour in Fallout 3, and with that obtained the coveted Platinum trophy for the game. As you enter your “Home” space, a strange metallic door suddenly adorns the far right wall. Interacting with it opens the barrier to reveal a staircase and a loading screen, after which appears an underground bunker filled with various interactive items. The Fallout Bunker…get it?
Don’t bail on me, now: A space filled with representations of all the trophies you achieved, the Bobble-head Collector’s Stand in one corner, adorned with all 20 bobble-heads, a map of the Capital Wasteland with every location detailed and described, and each story mission represented with a small, fully interactive token. With the knowledge of such rewards, wouldn’t you put in the hours – and thus have to purchase – the full game to achieve such greatness?
Not enough? Well, Sony has already demonstrated willingness to work with other companies, like providing various game-related baubles for micro-transaction all across the Mall space. How about a giant computer screen that boots up the original Fallout and Fallout 2, courtesy of GOG.com? Sure, you’d have to buy the two games to play them, but you’d be able to load and play them on your Playstation 3, with gamepad controls and the latest patches and community modifications! Starting to sound interesting?
In establishing such relationships Sony could practically guarantee the completist market for some games. And through word of mouth and uploads boasting pictures, some in the more casual and fringe market might be intrigued enough to net a purchase. However, it doesn’t have to be limited to Platinum trophy players either. Merely offering an alcove attachment to one’s “Home” apartment where select trophies manifest into full 3-D versions of themselves could provide enough intrigue for gamers of many different colors to rent and purchase games to experiment with.
Well, that’s the extent of our opening argument on how to build a better “Home.” Simply by offering a more casual interface and cross-media-bar connectivity, better in-space virtual items and locations, and tangible rewards for completed trophies, we can guarantee Sony a more active and downloaded “Home.” And we didn’t even need the furries to do it.