PlayStation's attempt to distance and differentiate itself from the now avatar-friendly New Xbox Experience (NXE) is PlayStation Home, a Second Life for PS3 users, but should you bother installing it? We get social to find out.
Free to download, anyone with the latest 2.53 firmware update will from the 11 December see a new icon in the XMB. A quick press on the Home logo and you're prompted to download the 77MB app. Do so and you are prompted to set aside a further 3077MB of space on your hard drive (that's around 3GB) before you can get started.
First night jitters meant that we weren't able to successfully sign into the service for over 4 hours, however a second viewing/playing/interacting this morning has proved successful without glitch. It will be interesting to see how Sony manages the demand.
When you do get in, the first thing you've got to do is decide what you are going to look like.
There are stacks of preset characters to choose from, rock chick to boring dufus, and as you can imagine all of this is then customisable even further. Not just clothes, hats, gloves or earrings, but facial features such as the size of your nose, whether you have bushy eyebrows, or the level of wrinkles and freckles on your face.
Like Sims 3, which is out in February 2009, the level of detail is impressive and while most characters we bumped into in Home looked the same, those looking to recreate their digital self shouldn't have too much trouble as long as they've got plenty of time on their hands.
Save your character (don't panic you can change it later) and you're let loose. Well we say let loose, you're actually just thrown into your swanky apartment (flat) with a pretty view of the harbour. You can then do the whole process of customising again, this time with your pad. Change the wallpaper, the furniture, the list is pretty endless. Yes, that word again, Sims.
To get out of your flat you've got to download Home Square, currently the hub of what's what in Home.
A further 20-odd MB download sees you in a square with people walking around just like you. This isn't a game so the people you see are real people, and at the moment conversations all seem to be based around "What do you think of Home?" but we'll come back to conversations in a bit.
Once the initial loading is done, that's it. The scenery is there from the get-go, however people are loaded up afterwards turning from a see-thru goo to the avatar that they are. The graphics are, as you would expect from the PS3, polished. This is grown-up stuff, there are no Wii like resemblances here.
The concept is that you can roam around, chat to people, make friends and then invite them to play a game with you if you want. There are currently four public areas in Home: Home square, a shopping centre, cinema and bowling alley.
All require you to download them (yet more downloads) and offer you a chance to explore and find more stuff. The cinema for example lets you watch trailers for upcoming movies or content from IPTV providers. The Watchman is currently showing for example.
Yes it's yet more content to download and rather than playing full screen the content is played on a cinema screen. Well what did you expect? You are in a cinema.
The bowling alley offers you a chance to play arcade games (read demos of other Sony games) or do a spot of bowling. And yes the shopping centre (or mall for our American readers) does have shops where you can buy stuff. Clearly how Sony plans to make cash from the free giveaway, you'll be able to buy everything from new clothes to furniture for your pad to a new apartment. A summer retreat will set you back £3.99 while a turtleneck 59p. Small numbers but I bet the keenos will plough through the cash.
There might just be six areas at the moment, but it's clear Sony has big plans for the service. Teasing you to a better world to come there is a glass door with a set of escalators behind it, at the moment that door is shut.
So what's the point? Well it's all about making friends and influencing people. You can walk up to anyone and press the triangle to start talking. There are no restrictions at the moment so it's something to bear in mind if you've got young kids, although we've yet to see anyone getting saucy.
To get you started you get a series of pre-saved phrases like "Hello", "Goodbye", "Follow me" etc, however you can't, frustratingly, save your own. Typing via your controller is very slow although this can be speeded up either via the Message Pad or talking via a headset. Talk to someone enough and just like real life you can make friends so you can meet up next time.
Beyond the talking you can also do movements. The most common, and fun, seems to be dancing. Everyone is doing it. We've never seen a bunch of guys dancing to a PlayStation advert until now.
So you've made some new friends, what's next? Well it seems that aside from just wasting your life in a second life, Home's main purpose is to meet up for pre-pub drinks before launching into a 5-hour session of Motorstorm or Call of Duty. Whether that actually happens as Sony is predicting or hoping is hard to tell. Are gamers really wanting to mince around for 10 minutes chatting before heading into a gaming room to kill each other? Or do they just want to get into the action straight away?
Think Sims meets Second Life and you are on the right track.
With the promise of more areas and kit, it's only a matter of time before you've got a red light district surely. Home has the potential to be a massive success on its own, regardless of whether it lets you "launch" games with friends.
Talking to Home players the general consensus is that its "pretty cool". The initial issues logging on are bound to disappear once Sony has worked out how many gamers are interested and once more areas come online, Home will no doubt take on further twists.
Home might be a small experience at the moment, but you can see it has lots of potential to suck you in.
This won't be for everyone, but if you're intrigued it's worth downloading.