Sony today announced an upcoming core update to its PlayStation Home platform focused on providing new tools for developers making games within the virtual world.
Version 1.5 of Home, to be released sometime this Spring, will provide improved network mechanics to allow for massively multiplayer experiences; physics engine improvements that give developers direct control over mass, velocity and collisions; and graphical improvements that provide for better frame rates and smoother animation transitions.
"A year ago at GDC, we announced we were going to focus on evolving PlayStation Home from a social network to a world class social game platform," PlayStation Home director Jack Buser said at a media briefing today. "Today's announcement with client update 1.5 represents a huge milestone in that strategy."
Games are already a huge part of PlayStation Home, with over 230 games available to play within the world, Buser said. Those games helped drive a 110% sales increase for virtual items in Home in 2010 -- products associated with games are much more popular than the purely cosmetic items in Home's 8,000 item virtual store, he said.
Games have also been important in attracting 19 million registered users to sign up for Home worldwide, and in driving average session time within Home up to 70 minutes. While Buser wouldn't reveal how many of those users sign in to Home regularly, he did say that some games have gotten over 6 million Home-based users in their first week.
"What we realized when we first launched PlayStation Home is that games really were the killer application to bring people together," Buser said. "We tried all kinds of different things, from social viewing of videos to games to just lounges where people could hang out, and it became pretty obvious from early on that gamers like to play games. That's what they like to do together, and that's how they meet one another."
And Buser pointed out that a virtual world like PlayStation Home offers advantages for finding game content over other digital markets.
"Discovery of games can be very natural, such that you're walking through this world and you just see people playing a game and you might not even know what that game is, but you just walk over to see what all the excitement is about and suddenly you find yourself inside a game world in a totally seamless kind of way," he said.
With the 1.5 update, games on PlayStation Home can become harder to distinguish from standard PlayStation 3 releases, Buser said. To demonstrate this, Lockwood Publishing CEO Halli Bjornsson demonstrated a work-in-progress version of Sodium 2: Project Velocity, a multiplayer futuristic racing game with some high graphical polish.
Bjornsson pointed out that Home integration will allow Sodium 2 players to walk over to their garage, hop in a customized car, and accelerate directly into a live race with other players seamlessly. The tracks themselves will also be integrated into Home's larger virtual world, allowing spectators unique access, he said.
"You can actually walk up to the game with all the people and step into it," he said. "The best example is to imagine in Gran Turismo, if you're in the pit and you can see the cars going past. Home offers you a sort of unique relationship between you, the players, and the games you play. Psychologically, we really love that."
Developing in Home also allows strong access to a built-in community of players that can provide great feedback, and metrics that let you iterate improvements to your game quickly, Bjornsson said, all at a lower cost than traditional PS3 development.
"There's plenty of people there, and we think our job is to make a good game to bring people in. That's the upside of it to us, it's well connected to PSN... if you make it good, people will tell their friends and they'll bring them in and play. If we don't get enough users, it's our fault," he said.
"The cost of doing what we're doing here compared to doing a full PS3 game is just an astronomical difference. And it's a great starting point for developers which is needed in the ecosystem of games we're in," he continued.