Sony's virtual world Home service is still not open to the public. And it's beta is closed to only select people, a group that doesn't include the press. But I recently found myself in front of a PlayStation 3 that had the Home Beta running on it and decided to give it a try.
Now I know why they're not inviting the press yet. Home is still in its good-in-theory phase. In execution it's still lacking. I'm all for Betas having rough edges. That's the point. But I was surprised that the Home Beta doesn't seem to have that something special — the thing that yet makes it obvious it's going to be a hit.
Sorry for the vague terms, but Home is a vague kind of thing. Are you supposed to have fun with it? Or, like most other interfaces, just take pleasure if it works smoothly?
I spent about 10 minutes with Home. I loaded it off the PS3 cross media bar, taking control of a lone avatar. During my brief time in Home I saw no other avatars. The service looked as it has in screenshots. It still has a virtual PSP for an interface as well as a diverse set of pre-canned emotes. I made my guy dance.
I went from an outdoor area to the movie theater lobby to an amusement area containing a bowling alley and an arcade. If that all sounds familiar it's because it was. The Beta wasn't packing any pleasant surprises.
Instead, what I encountered was a lot of loading. Each area my avatar stepped into had to load. This could be because the person who's PS3 I was using hadn't used Home before. It did underscore how key swift movement is going to be in Home and how frustrating it will feel if it takes too long to get from, say, the lobby area to the area where you'd go watch trailers. In the current Beta, loading isn't done even once you're in an area. In the movie theater, for example, framed wall-hangings initially displayed screens with loading progress bars on them. The videos that needed to display took a moment to show up.
The arcade was the best area I saw. It has a few stand-up video game machines including a Chop Lifter-style game that's been shown before as well as a locomotive-stacking puzzle game. I tried bowling and found it about as basic as Grand Theft Auto IV's implementation.
There's a reason projects are in Beta and not release. All the kinks aren't worked out. New ideas are surely being considered. And, clearly, Home can't be accurately judged when no one but yourself is in it.
So what's the big takeaway? Home is clearly still a work in progress, functioning not that differently from what you heard about more than a year ago. Whatever it needs to make it a hit, I don't think it's in there — yet.