Home is finally here. Well, sort of. Home version 1.03 was released on December 11 as an open beta for all PlayStation 3 owners. Sadly, the only thing this barren version of Home is doing is adding to the growing worry that Sony have created something that no one wants. So, how can Sony give people a reason to care about Home? Here are ten quick ways to do exactly that.
Sort out the server issues ASAP
OK, so Sony are probably already trying to do this, but I doubt it’s ASAP. As if Home’s build-up hadn’t underwhelmed everyone enough, when it finally launched only a handful of people could actually log on. It’s nearly a week later and PS3 users, myself included, are still having troubles logging into Home. You can call it an ‘open beta’ all you want, Sony, but your user base regards it as the real deal and they’re annoyed they can’t even explore the damn thing when they want to. This issue also begs what’s an unfair comparison with Microsoft’s NXE, which launched almost flawlessly. The whole ordeal casts Sony and Home in a bad light in already worrying times, and needs to be fixed, pronto.
Once the servers are sorted, make Home the boot-up interface
Microsoft’s NXE has a high attach rate because it replaces the old interface. It’s essentially an upgrade and doesn’t feel optional. Right now, Home feels very optional. If PS3 users could turn on their PS3s to find themselves sitting in their apartment, maybe holding a copy of the game that’s in the disk drive for a bit extra chic, it would feel more like an interface and a starting base, and less like an optional Second Life copy. Sony could overlay the XMB over it, so that it doesn’t feel like a total overhaul, and ensure every game can be launched from it. Add in one quick button to take users online and suddenly Home’s more tangible. Simple.
Make an introductory video explaining what Home is and what’s coming in the future
One of Home’s major problems is that no one’s entirely sure what it actually is. Home was launched with stealth skills the great Solid Snake would’ve been proud of, but such a quiet launch under the spurious tagline of "open beta" has now placed Home in the worrying position of being used by people who still aren’t sure what it is and whether it has any point to it. Sony seems to assume that every PS3 user is totally informed about Home. This is simply not the case. The majority of PlayStation 3 owners will not have heard about Home until they see its icon in the XMB for the first time. Sony need to produce a short video, similar to the 2007 GDC one, explaining what Home is, what it will include in the near future and where its long-term future lies. If they don’t actually know any of that stuff then it might be an idea to sit down and brainstorm what the hell they’re doing.
Clothes, clothes, and more clothes
Home feels sterile enough with its mannequin-like avatars keeping an entirely straight face whilst performing the running man dance in front of the LocoRoco 2 ads in the mall. OK, the Locoroco 2 advert isn’t really sterile, but the rest of Home is. It certainly doesn’t help that everyone looks like each other, especially the guys. The range of male vestments make all the dudes look like faceless extras from a Britney Spears music video. One quick way to stop Home looking like a world of uninteresting doppelgangers is to give people some choice in their clothing. One step better: give them Gran Turismo-like colour choice.
Make PlayStation Trophies Home’s second currency
Right now, Sony have added two new features to the PS3 that aren’t really grounded, namely the achievement-facsimiles called Trophies and, of course, Home. So firstly, trophy cabinets displaying your gaming prowess in the eventual future – awesome. Not enough, though. I suggest Sony quickly devise a way to make trophies part of a system currency – call it PlayStation Dollars (or something better than my limited imagination produces). Users could use these PSDs (and/or real money) to purchase items like clothes, furniture or whatever in Home. This gives value to both trophies and Home, and gives people a reason to care about both. Yes, Sony might lose some money from people using the PSDs, but think of the bigger picture. That moolah will all come back if more PS3s are sold, more games are sold, and Home gets more advertising. It’s a no-brainer.
Install two-player arcade games and enable a spectator mode
The current ‘entertainment hub’ of Home is its Bowling Alley, complete with pool tables, arcade machines and, er, bowling alleys. The arcade machines are limited at best since there’s only about ten of them in them in the entire building and with only a few games to choose from. Like the pool tables and bowling alleys, they’re often being used by other players and there just aren’t enough to go around. So, this is the first of two solutions to this problem, focusing on the arcade machines that just aren’t very interesting right now. I’ve also tried to keep the solutions within the realistic theme Home is trying to keep. Sony: Install a few more arcade machines, but make these have a two-player option. Get in touch with Capcom and make one of them Super Street Fighter II HD Remix. Implement winner-stays-on rules and throw in a screen above so people can watch the glorious action whilst they wait for their go. Now you have an actual arcade.
Include private bowling alleys, pool tables, etc.
The above solution doesn’t resolve the issue of games being hogged in the Bowling Alley. It’s a shame because the bowling is actually quite fun, and I bet a lot more people would try it if they could. So, instead of just having the five alleys, however many pool tables and whatnot, Sony should install a function that allows a group of friends to go to private rooms. They could call it "downstairs," or something to that effect. There, players and their mates could bowl, shoot some pool and Echochrome it up to their hearts’ content. True, there is the problem of reducing the business of the actual Bowling Alley, so Sony would need to add some incentives to keep people within that space. Maybe things like special daily events, competitions and unique arcade machines would help. Still, it’s a better scenario than the current singular option of queuing for a game in a virtual world.
Sony-fy up the place
Yes, Sony-fy. The whole place is entirely lacking in personality, and the surrounding trailer videos and posters don’t really make it feel like a Sony space. The solution is to give everything a bit more of Sony’s personality. Here’s an example: instead of having drab-looking chess and draughts sets, give players the option to use a custom game set – maybe with characters from the Ratchet and Clank series, or any of the exclusives for that matter. This is a far more subtle way of getting brands across, and actually gives those games more personality, too. Shops could ‘belong’ to various games; one of the theatres could be dedicated to users’ Pixeljunk Eden videos, for example. There’s a lot more potential for Home feeling like an actual part of the increasingly distinct Sony family.
Upcoming PSN titles announced in Home’s theatre
At the moment, PS3 users have no way of knowing what’s coming up in the weekly PSN Store’s update until the actual update arrives. Again, like the trophy currency concept, this idea kills two birds with one stone. To give the Home theatre an audience that returns back to it in the future, Sony should choose a time each week to stream a live video announcing the upcoming PSN line-up. It doesn’t even need to be that special in terms of production values, but it just needs to be the first and exclusive way of finding out what new stuff is being added to the store each week.
Scrap the whole thing and just admit it’s failed
Kidding, kidding. Sony should keep going with Home, and it’s clear with this open beta release they intend to. I just hope that they show a little humility, admit to some of the troubles they’ve been having with getting it onto our PS3s and listen a bit more to what people actually want from it. Home has the potential to help the PS3 in dark times, and it would be good for the industry as well as PS3 users if Sony can capitalize on that potential.