Sony's online social gaming service Home may have had something of a troubled gestation, but it's maturing quickly and offers many opportunities for publishers, according to Peter Edward, director of the PlayStation Home platform for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.
Since the launch of the open beta in November 2008, the PlayStation 3-exclusive online world Home has gained 7 million inhabitants worldwide, 3 million of which are in Europe, and they have downloaded 6 million virtual items.
Edward said the global figure for downloads scales with users, but he was unable to disclose a precise total. The average Home session duration is 56 minutes.
Of course, the demographics are skewed towards the hardcore, but not significantly so: 80% are male, 18-35-years old rather than the 90% Sony expected.
More figures demonstrated their appetite for content. In five months, Red Bull's free Air Race game has been played by 873,136 unique users, clocking up over 2.5 million visits and 575,000 hours of gameplay. Average session duration is 39 minutes.
The game cost around 110,000 euros to develop, but has had an estimated marketing value of 1.5 million euros, according to a third-party media consultancy.
The three-month campaign around the Watchmen film clocked up 812,544 unique views - compromising 9.3 million viewed minutes - of an exclusive video with director Zack Snyder.
Over 3.2 million visits were made to the Watchmen area in Home. The two free avatar items - Rorschach and Nite Owl costumes - were downloaded 1.65 million times.
The two-week Star Trek campaign resulted in the sale of 450,000 costumes, 250,000 views of the video, while in two weeks, 125,000 people played Transformers puzzle games to gain a free virtual t-shirt and, if they completed all of them, a virtual trophy for their living area.
Home is the visual representation of the PlayStation community and it's the place companies can connect with their fanbase, Edward argued, pointing out the success of the EA Sports area and Capcom's release of custom Street Fighter clothes as examples of publishers making the most of the virtual environment.
Of course, there's also the opportunity to make cash by selling virtual items: something that will increase as Sony releases its in-Home currency to support Pay2Play features.
But it's not just about the money, Edward warned. "For Sony, revenue isn't the main driver for Home. We're in this for the longterm," he explained. "Home is the starting point for PlayStation 3 online, and that's something that gamers are going to expect as more games support Game Launch from within Home."
This sees Home acting as a lobby for online PS3 games: first seen with Warhawk, and since rolled out to the likes of LittleBigPlanet, Resistance 2, MotorStorm: Pacific Rift and Street Fighter 4.
"Players can set up their teams, choose the map and talk tactics before jumping into the game," Edward concluded. "This will become an essential component for all PS3 games."