PlayStation Home is making money just seven months into its open beta. Pete Edward, director of the PlayStation 3's avatar-based social gaming service, revealed the most recent statistics for the service in a presentation titled "Home: First Term Report" delivered at the Develop Conference in Brighton, UK.
Of the 7 million global users who have used the service since the open beta's launch, 3 million were based in Europe. The average game session length of European Home users stands at 56 minutes and these users have to date downloaded 6 million free and paid for virtual items of merchandise with which to dress their avatars and virtual apartments.
"This is a commercial business," Edward said. "It's up and running, making money and can add significant value to your game IP." In the first month, he said, microtransactions generated $1 million.
However, when pressed as to what percentage of these figures represent active, returning users to the service, Edward was less forthcoming. "It's difficult to quantify the number of active users," he claimed.
"We don't release this figure as there are so many different ways of classifying 'active' users. But I can say that between 25 and 35 percent of the connected online PlayStation audience have visited Home at least once."
Keen to emphasize the broad appeal of the service, Edward pointed out that "Only 80 percent of users fall into the 18-35-year-old male demographic," a 10 percent drop from traditional, console audiences are made up of around 90 percent that number.
"Home has a significantly broader spectrum of users than your typical console audience," he said, "We are slowly broadening the appeal of the console demographic."
Edward said that the service was now reaching an interesting point where unexpected content is arriving at Sony QA. This demonstrates how the platform has attained good penetration into the development market, he asserts.
So what should developers thinking of creating content for the service keep in mind? Edwards warned that not all of the design rules in traditional development apply to Home, which requires a more flexible and tailored approach.
"The most important rule is to design your game space effectively by keeping the layout simple and memorable," he advised. "A large space with no distinguishing features results in users not having the mental layout of the area, which leads to confusion and disorientation."
"When you're designing a space for users to hang out in then you need to have a flow for people to shepherd people around," he said. "Create a flow of the experience and give every area of the game space a purpose. Otherwise people will get distracted and annoyed."
"The worst thing you can do is to force people to download additional rooms with nothing in them that couldn't have been in the first space," he warned.
Handling additional downloads intelligently is a key to success, he said. "Create every item in your game space as a dynamic object and it well be far easier to change things on the fly in your space. This allows you to minimize bandwidth cost and annoyance to your users while also keeping the space fresh and visually novel from week to week."
However, relying on texture and object swaps to keep your game space compelling is not enough. Instead, you need to get sticky, interactive content into your creations, he said, something with far les ongoing cost than refreshing objects in the space from week to week.
"The key to sticky content is the competitive aspect," he advised. "All of your users in Home are gamers: they want competition and this is what gives longevity." Introduce leaderboards and your content will blossom, he said, citing the example of the Red Bull flying game, which, thanks to its leaderboards has become the most popular destination in Home for European users.
While Home is a surprisingly powerful platform, Edward warned against developers simply trying to replicate their game in the space. "If the recreation is good then people might not feel the need to invest further," he said. "Likewise, if it's poor, users won't want to play on."
Instead, take a different approach and try to add value, he concluded. This will broaden your game's appeal. Experiment and evolve your IP -- this is the key to success on Home, he concluded.