Sony: Home Very Imminent, This Month Imminent, But Open Beta First

Home will indeed hit a 2008 launch, it's most recent launch date, but only after going through an open beta, Home director Jack Buser told me in a recent interview.

And the new 3D interface for the Playstation 3 will bring with it a paradigm shift in the way people look at and interact with games, he said.

"Playstation home makes online gaming a lot more like what multiplayer gaming used to be," he said. " It will fundamentally change the way people play games or think about games."

"A friend's list in the past was a list of people you met in the real world or in the context of a particular game, what Playstation Home aims to do is abstract this out so that the friend's list has meaning."

"That's the core value of Home."

Of course Home isn't the first time a console has added a 3D or avatar element to the world of consoles, in fact it's the last for this generation of consoles. The Wii has their Mii, the 360 has its New Xbox Experience. But neither really go beyond avatar creation. Sure, both allow you to include an avatar in a game, but Home delivers a home for those avatars, an experience that Sony seems convinced will become it's own game of sorts.

"Home is totally different than anything out there," Buser said. "Yes we have an avatar based system, but the value is the idea of meeting new people, launching games together. It’s a social network for gamers. Avatars have become par for the course on every game console now. We wanted to create an avatar system you would be proud to call your own.

"Home gives you a virtual space that you can customize. You can bring people into that space and have them enveloped in your form of expression."

Home, as Buser perceives it, isn't just a virtual playground, it's today's answer to the arcade, a place where people can go to be immersed in gaming culture.

What that means is that Home won't just be a place to talk to friends, to launch games, to play mini-games, but a place where people can share experiences. For instance, before launching a game of Warhawk, gamers can crowd their avatars around a map on a virtual table and talk strategy.

Other games will have themed spaces. Buser points to Uncharted's virtual bar, already open in the beta.

The bar features a television, a place for people to hang out and talk games and three locked doors. Those doors could only be opened if a gamer figured out the code they had to be inputted into the keypad. The first two were solved relatively quickly. But the third door was created to be unlocked through a group effort. The machinations involved created an atmosphere that turned all of Home into a game, if only for awhile, as people searched the virtual world for clues, like Uncharted's own treasure hunters.

"It took a community to solve that puzzle," Buser said.

As Home nears launch (Buser would only confirm that it would be rolling out this year), the team is hard at work making sure everyone, from developers to publishers, have a handle on how to get involved.

"What’s taken so long is that Home is a massive undertaking, it’s not a game, it’s a development platform," he said. "What Home actually is, is this entire development platform that allows other developers to create content for Home. You can get a HDK to develop for Home."

Sony even has a system that allows developers, vendors or publishers to pay to have content created for them inside Home. But developers' don't need to pay if they want to work with the Home Development Kit on their own, he said.

For gamers Home can be free as well, though to stand out in the crowd that will soon inhabit Home, gamers can pay for premium items.

Those items, Buser said, could be anything from branded clothing or objects to scripted or interactive items, like a mini game.

"Right you you can see some of that, but when we go into open beta there will be a heck of a lot more there," he said.