This month, Sony said its free-with-every-PlayStation 3 virtual world PlayStation Home hit its two-year anniversary with 17 million registered users.
It's an important landmark for the Home initiative. First announced back in 2006, just as it was becoming clear that online virtual worlds were busting following the boom, naysayers argued that the time for Second Life-wannabes was over -- gamers don't want to walk around a 3D virtual world to access content, they want easy accessibility.
Nevertheless, the free Home, which only requires users to sign up for a PlayStation Network account, has soldiered on since its beta launch in 2008, growing from just 200,000 users and nine games to 17 million users and 236 games.
But while 17 million is a big number, it's still only about a third of PlayStation Network's 50 million worldwide users. And the number of active Home users -- a figure Sony reveals to dev partners under NDA -- is somewhere even lower than the registered user mark.
What's going to drive further adoption of Home, according to PlayStation Home director Jack Buser, is gamer appeal. Bringing in more games, making relationships with more developers and embracing emerging online business models is the future of the platform.
"Games are the killer app for the platform," said Buser in an interview with Gamaustra.
It wasn't always that way; originally, Home was more of a respite from gaming that happened to be accessed through a game console. "I think once gamers find out that they have hundreds of games built into PlayStation Home, most of them free-to-play, [they will try Home]."
Sony doesn't break out PlayStation Home's revenue or profit figures, although Buser said PlayStation Home has seen "significant revenue growth." And with Home's continued sale of high-margin virtual goods, that means profits are on the rise too.
"If you look at the first quarter of this calendar year, we actually tripled revenue from the same time period of the year prior," Buser said. "...The business model works, and we like it quite a bit. It's one of the reasons we're able to offer PlayStation Home as a free service."
The director said the Home team is continuing to work on trying to bring smaller, independent developers to the service. PlayStation Home sponsored IndieCade this year and had a presence at Game Developers Conference Online in Austin. PlayStation Home's team also inked a deal this summer with indie game publisher Codename to bring games to the service.
Buser also sees a future in virtual item sales and free-to-play microtransaction-based games -- two business models virtually absent from PlayStation 3 competitors. He called microtransactions the "bread and butter" of PlayStation Home.
"Here we are in the console space becoming very comfortable, very familiar with the latest and greatest business models of the game industry, putting us just miles ahead of the competition in this regard," he claimed.