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Sony Pushes New Online Virtual World for PS3

7 Mar, 2007 By: John Gaudiosi

At the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Sony Corp. shed new light on its virtual plans for the PlayStation 3.

“Home,” a free download, will launch this fall and will allow gamers to create virtual avatars, build apartments or elaborate homes, and socialize with others in 3-D movie theaters, retail shops and video arcades.

In essence, “Home” will offer Sony, game publishers and corporate America a new avenue of product placement and promotion within a virtual world. It will also give those gamers who upgrade to PS3 a place to spend their free time with others, whether it's gaming on PS3 games, playing exclusive casual games, watching movie trailers (or potentially feature films) or shopping for branded virtual clothes for avatars or 3-D furniture for their homes. A “Hall of Fame” will feature 3-D trophies secured by gamers who achieve certain goals within PS3 games.

“We believe that the online network platform for the PS3 won't necessarily sell more consoles, but will potentially provide a rich and sticky experience to keep gamers connected to the PS3,” said PJ McNealy, video game analyst, American Technology Research. “We were surprised and impressed by how differentiated the offering is from Microsoft. We believe there is a range of possibilities for advertising and micro-transaction based opportunities with the network.”

As Microsoft has found with its Xbox Live, which is now 6 million strong, Xbox 360 owners spend a lot of time online, whether they're playing games at the Xbox Live Arcade or downloading movies or TV shows from the Video Marketplace.

Sony is expected to launch music, movie and TV services through its PlayStation Network, and “Home” seems like one way to reach out to this community. The movie theater in “Home” features trailers for Blu-ray Disc movies, but there's no reason a full feature couldn't be streamed through this avenue.

Another direction Sony is going with “Home” is user-generated content. With the success of sites such as YouTube, Sony is launching “LittleBigPlanet” this fall, an open-ended, multiplayer game that allows players to work together to solve puzzles. In addition, game players can create custom levels to share with the world. While this type of interaction has been common on the PC though level-editors, this game promises to simplify the process for the more mainstream console gamer.

While PS3s are not yet flying off store shelves, due in part to price and in part to a lack of killer app software, the release of MotorStorm and the announcement of “Home” should give Sony some momentum.

“One of the main questions unanswered at this point is the billing relationship, and whether or not Sony will handle this, or gamers will have to establish individual billing relationships with each of the third-party publishers,” McNealy said. “It is unclear to us at this point.”

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