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Interview: Sony's Buser On  PlayStation Home 's 2008 Launch

Interview: Sony's Buser On PlayStation Home's 2008 Launch Exclusive

December 1, 2008 | By Mathew Kumar

December 1, 2008 | By Mathew Kumar
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

Sony's PlayStation Home online world for the PlayStation 3 has had a somewhat tortured genesis, with a long period of beta testing and a release date originally pegged for late 2007, before being delayed to Spring 2008 and back to now.

However, PlayStation Home director Jack Buser tells Gamasutra that the release of the tardy but much-discussed PS3-defining virtual world "will launch this year".

In this interview, Buser discusses "community first" as the watchword for the PlayStation 3 application, despite third party influence, and the HDK (Home Development Kit).

If we boil PlayStation Home down to its essence, what do you really see it as?

Jack Buser: We really consider Home a "3D social gaming community." A place where our community can go and meet their friends, meet new friends, visit themed public spaces... Create a custom avatar and virtual space, but the crown jewel of our service is the ability to jump from home directly into our online games together.

This is a seamless integration; you can fully set up your online game within the world, wander about and find your friends or find some new people and then jump into the game as you've set it up with them; bypassing all those in-game configuration screens, and once you're done you just jump back into Home.

And this is part of the PlayStation Network, which is free to use. It doesn't cost anything more. For the users who want to stand out there will be microtransactions; you'll be able to buy virtual items or even premium virtual spaces.

One of the things that stands out to me in comparison to your competitors is still your decision to go for realistic avatars.

JB: The avatars are realistic because we wanted to create an avatar system that the PlayStation 3 community would be proud to call their own. Avatars are now considered "par for the course" when it comes to next-generation consoles these days, sure, but we think we've taken it a step further because we also have that personal space for your avatar.

Users can express themselves in more ways than just how their avatar looks. That's important, because in the real world you might learn some things about a person by the way that they're dressed or the things that they talk about, but you don't really know someone until you see how they live. Do they have dishes in the sink, what posters did they put on the wall...

We really see this as revolutionizing the concept of the "friends list" for console gamers. Before, your friends were either people you already knew or people you'd met in a specific game, and with the latter, you'd probably only ever play that one game with them, and never really get to know them,.

PlayStation Home
gives you a neutral space where you can really get to know someone. Even in the real world now if you're a gamer and you want to get to know other gamers, there really is nowhere left to go.

There used to be the arcade; you could go up to the nearest machine, put a quarter in and start talking about the new games that were coming out as you play.

But that place doesn't exist any more. If you're a gamer, unless there happens to be an event in your town there is no place to meet like-minded people. Home is that place. It really leapfrogs the offerings on other game consoles.

This has been a really massive undertaking. You might have seen aspects of its features elsewhere, but the culmination and aggregation of them all together really has created an entirely unique experience.

If you look around PlayStation Home it's beautiful, but that's really only the icing on the cake. The real heavy lifting in developing PlayStation Home has been in developing the core engine, the platform that allows third parties to create content for the world. It's been much more akin to creating a game console itself than it has been a game.

And Home is definitely going to launch this year?

JB: it's imminent. We haven't announced a specific date but we will make a public announcement.

It has suffered many delays already, of course.

JB: When you think about PlayStation Home you really have to think of it, as I've said before, as a massive undertaking. We've been trying to create something that really has never been done before.

But we're now at the point where we've created the platform, third-parties are creating content for the platform, and yeah, we have executed on our vision and we're standing in a really good place with it and we will launch this year.

The platform is really strong. It's going to allow us to scale very organically with all the content that third parties are going to be adding -- you're really going to see PlayStation Home evolve over time.

When you go into PlayStation Home it's going to be a very different experience maybe, six, twelve months down the line compared to what you see on day one.

How are third parties getting their content into PlayStation Home?

JB: There are two ways. There's what we call our HDK, the Home Development Kit, that allows them to create content themselves, and we work with them on the concept, but it's really them creating their content in-house.

For other publishers or brands that don't have the bandwidth or expertise to do it themselves, we have a "managed vendor process" where we have vendors, managed by us, who are experts are creating content for PlayStation Home, and we work with our third parties and vendor network to execute on their vision.

It's a painless experience to create content for PlayStation Home for third parties even if they have no experience.

Which was Ubisoft's recent Far Cry 2 space?

JB: That was developed through our managed vendor process, actually. It represented the first third-party space in PlayStation Home, and that was a huge milestone for us.

The level of interest we've seen in PlayStation Home has been off the chart. Companies are chomping at the bit to be involved--we're seeing spaces launch and the world hasn't even launched yet!

How are you trying to manage the "real estate" of these different third party spaces?

JB: PlayStation Home is community first. We want to offer what the community want to see in the world. It isn't going to be a space just plastered with random banner ads everywhere, but will feature content that reinforces the core community.

In addition, the concept is that these third party spaces are discrete. So while have these hubs, the third party areas will act as spokes to these hubs, and players will be able to reach them that way or by jumping to them directly on the map. There really won't be any problem for users to find or access the spaces they want to see.

More than that, these spaces aren't going to be places that companies can just put up and forget about. Their launches are community events and they should constantly engage the community and be refreshed with new stuff to do, and our public hub spaces will draw traffic to those spaces very efficiently.

When Home launches however you may have several competing companies all wishing to draw attention to their space at the same time.

JB: Sure, and that's one of the things that we're doing in our process of managing Home. It isn't going to be a free-for-all. It is managed by us so that we can make sure that brands that come in come in at the opportune time, that there is a committed level of community engagement and that they get a high degree of return on their investment.

It will be flexible, however. If we engage with a party that wants to do something a little different, a space or event that lasts a limited amount of time, or something else, we could do that. Nothing is explicitly off the table. Some content will be evergreen, but some will come and go. It really depends on what the goals of the content are.

But you're including traditional served billboard in-game advertising too?

JB: You will see a certain amount of that inside PlayStation Home, but we're more focused on the things which will provide real value to our community and working with third parties who want to do that.

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