Ever since PlayStation Home was first announced in January 2007, people have been calling it Second Life for the PlayStation 3. We take a look at what separates these two very different virtual worlds.
Having been immersed in Second Life for the better part of two years now, I first ventured into the virtual world due to the initial impressions that PlayStation Home was a clone of the popular online community for the PlayStation 3. Now having spent a significant amount of time exploring what PlayStation Home has to offer, I decided to take a look at how wrong or right those initial impressions were.
A warning to readers: The following article contains video of an avatar with ears and a tail break dancing, and a heaping portion of naked furries. Depending on where you work, the very end of the post might be not safe for it. You have been warned.
To understand the differences between PlayStation Home and Second Life, first you have to look at the reason behind the existence of both virtual places.
Second Life is a large virtual world where the majority of the content in the game is generated by the user. Linden Labs lays the groundwork, so to speak, but nearly everything you see while wandering about Second Life came from the mind of one of the game's residents, from clothes and hair to buildings and vehicles...a Second Life resident not only created it, they've probably made a bit of cash off of it as well. It's a living, breathing world, complete with it's own economy and different societies based on factors such as nationality, interests, and even sexual fetish.
PlayStation Home, on the other hand, is a purely commercial construct. While one of the services goals is fundamentally the same – to provide a place for PlayStation 3 owners to make friends and socialize – the aspects of Second Life that make it a true virtual world aren't present. You have no economy to speak of, with new items and customization options coming at a cost from Sony and its partners. While the addition of Clubs and Clubhouses does add to the social aspects of the service, the program's architecture really doesn't allow for communities on the same scale as in SL.
In Phil Harrison's keynote speech at the 2007 Game Developers Conference where PlayStation Home was first announced, it was said that users would be able to eventually create their own content and auction it off to other users in order to make money, though so far no such features have been implemented. If they are, it could very well lead to a nice stream of income to talented creators.
Appearance is just as important in the virtual world as it is in the real world. PlayStation Home and Second Life diverge greatly when it comes to allowing players to define who they are in the virtual setting.
PlayStation Home offers a wealth of options during initial character creation. You can adjust your height and weight, change your facial structure, style your hair or get a dye job, and pick from a limited but capable selection of clothing in order to flesh out your Home persona. The you take your first steps out into the world, where you still look like everyone else.
This is because Home is running high-end graphics on a high-end piece of hardware, so variations in avatar appearance have to limited in order to insure the service runs at all. It's the same sort of structure you'll find in an MMO like Sony Online Entertainment's Everquest II. All female Wood Elves are the same, save for some slider changes. It's a very elegant solution to having large numbers of characters in a single space, but it doesn't allow for much variety.
Initially, creating a character in Second Life worked much the same way. You'd log in, adjust some sliders, and suddenly you are a slightly less hideous mutant person with chunky hair than you started out with. Give players tools to make themselves look better, however, and soon you start seeing characters and creations not far removed from modern-day video game characters.
Second Life residents have made huge leaps in avatar creation since the early days of the service. Chunky, single-polygon hair has given away to prim hair, consisting of a number of polys linked together into one object. Blank skin textures have given way to photographed or hand-painted skin textures. Clothing has evolved from simple textures overlaid on your avatar to designer outfits complete with polygon collars, sleeves, and cuffs, giving things a much more realistic look and feel. Flexible prims allow for hair and clothing to flow, adding a dash more realism to the mix.
The ability to create 3D objects and attach them to avatars has led to some truly fantastic avatar creations. Giant robots, tiny cartoon animals, gigantic dragons, and even popular video game characters can be created using attachments. Keeping in mind that every avatar has at its core that basic humanoid shape, it's really quite amazing what SL residents have accomplished.
Even character movement is controlled by players, with some very wealthy folks making a killing off selling motion-captured walks, stands, and dances to a community constantly striving to blur the line between real-life and Second Life.
Of course, all of this versatility comes at a price. To look pretty in Second Life, you have to spend money, either earned through working in-game or purchased with real-life cash through Linden Labs. This little anime-inspired guy below is wearing probably $20 worth of clothing, with another $10 worth of animation enhancements to make him move like a real boy.
Yes, I am indeed rocking an NES controller belt and blaster combo. That's how I roll.
Second Life's environments will never look as good as the locations in PlayStation Home. Home is a tightly controlled environment, where resources are monitored by servers, instancing locations when they get too crowded, and the limited amount of character options make it so that Sony can create lush 3D locales without worrying that a gigantic dragon wearing 250 prims (polygons, basically) worth of scripted attachments isn't going to pop in and crash the whole thing.
In Second Life, primitive count is everything. Land is not only measured in size, but also in the amount of objects you can place on it at any given time. This is to help maintain stability and cut down on lag issues in the game. Unfortunately, avatars don't technically have a prim count, so while a parcel of land might be limited to 500 prims worth of objects, that doesn't stop someone with 300 prims worth of stuff attached to their body from coming in and slowing things down. SL environment builders have to build efficiently. Between that and the relatively limited engine powering the virtual world, you'll never see anything quite as polished as the PlayStation Home main gathering area...though they still manage some pretty spectacular sights nonetheless.
Is Second Life a game? No. Is PlayStation Home a game? No. Neither qualify as a video game, but both allow visitors to play games within their confines.
Right now PlayStation Home is just beginning to tap its gaming potential. Mini-games and bowling are what we've seen so far, with the promise of additional gaming content to come down the line.
The main gaming focus of PlayStation Home is the PlayStation 3 itself. This is a place where PS3 owners can meet up with other PS3 owners and get their game on. It's much easier to find players with similar tastes when you can actually see them. It could very well wind up one of the most compelling gaming lobbies ever created.
There is gaming on Second Life, though you have to dig a bit deeper to find it, and sometimes a little imagination is needed. There are large communities or role players in the game who uses combat huds – interface attachments showing hit points, power levels and such – in order to simulate RPG gameplay. There are weapons you can purchase that will do damage to people using the same combat system, and all sorts of themes out there to chose from, from post-apocalyptic wastelands to vampires and werewolves running amok in a dark city.
There is a lot more, if you're willing to hunt for it. Second Life used to be a haven for gambling, but last year rules went into effect outlawing that popular pastime, so alternative games have popped up to replace it. Just recently I've discovered a nifty little fishing game that has you leveling up your skill in order to catch increasingly rare fish, which you can wear on your character or display in a fish tank. There's even a large-scale tower defense game called PrimWars, played on a patch of land nearly the size of a football field. Wherever you find bored people with creative power, you'll find games of some sort.
Music And Video
One of the major points made during the initial presentation of PlayStation Home was the ability to add your own pictures to your living space, or place a television in your house that would play videos streamed from your console. This idea has yet to come to fruition in Home, so for the moment we are left with the music Sony chooses to stream into designated areas, and game-related videos playing in the movie theater and central plaza. Whether or not we'll see those features in the near future remains up in the air, but they were certainly a major selling point of the original PlayStation Home idea.
Meanwhile, in Second Life, internet movie and music streaming is alive and well. Residents can purchase televisions and internet radios that play streaming music or movies from the internet. There's actually a brisk trade in DVD rentals in Second Life, with many locations available where users can pay Lindens in exchange for the ability to stream a movie to the player set up in their home.
The ability to stream music over the internet into Second Life has given rise to a large number of dance clubs, complete with live DJs, which leads us directly to our next topic...
As it stands, socializing in PlayStation Home at the moment consists of standing or sitting in various places and typing at each other, often while participating in some rather robotic dances. You're bound to find people congregating in the services main areas, and there is almost always dancing. Oh the dancing they do! Home users can also invite friends into their living spaces for more of the same, which the addition of clubs and clubhouses promises to give players with similar interests places to hang out and chat.
There are designated locations in Home where users can gather together an listen to music, but these are pretty much limited to one specific area at the moment. Perhaps the popularity of said places might convince Sony to introduce a dance club into the mix later on down the line.
Second Life, on the other hand, nearly has too many clubs, with new residents picking out plots of land and erecting what they believe will be the next big Second Life hot spot every day. I highly recommend the industrial / goth stylings of Club Industry to those new to the SL scene, though in the interest of full disclosure I must point out that I actively work there. No, I am not a stripper.
Aside from dance clubs, there exists a great number of spots for residents to meet others of like mind. You'll find virtual coffee shops, theme parks (with bumper cars, yay!), biker hangouts complete with ridable motorcycles, and yes...you might find the odd sex club now and then. From science fiction to furry fantasy, there really is something for everyone in SL.
You've already seen what dancing in PlayStation Home looks like during our recent podcast, so here's a look at some Second Life-style dancing, courtesy of yours truly. Yes, I am breaking it on down.
You will never see naked furries in PlayStation Home. Whether this is a plus or a minus, I leave up to you. Yes, this is the bit I warned you about.
Incidentally, that's a real-live Japanese woman in all of those shots (Hi Keiko!), proving once again that Japanese women have a tendency to be wondrously odd when no one is looking.
So, Is PlayStation Home Sony's Answer To Second Life, Or What?
PlayStation Home and Second Life are two completely different animals, even if they do share several similar characteristics. The main difference between the two virtual societies is really control.
Linden Labs manages land, maintains the servers, holds special events, and handles technical issues, but for the most part they've handed Second Life over to the residents, and the residents have crafted the world in their image. If there's something a creative resident wants to add to the world and the scripting language can handle it, there's nothing they cannot do.
PlayStation Home reflects on Sony and Sony's advertising partners, so it's doubtful we'll ever see the amount of user-control in that service as we see in Second Life. There'll be no nudity, no naked furries, and no unicorn sex, but at the same time users will be hard-pressed to express themselves quite as freely as the can in Linden Labs' world.
The majority of regular Second Life users who've seen videos of PlayStation Home in action have laughed at the robotic avatars, the staid environments, and the overall uniformity of Sony's virtual space...which parallels the general gaming populace's notion of Second Life as a place for perverts and freaks to hand out. While there are admittedly a good number of twisted people hanging about, folks intrigued by the social aspects of Sony's service might actually find something worthwhile amidst the clutter of user-created curios littering the SL landscape.
Or they could just make disparaging remarks about furries. They're used to it.