Monday, December 15, 2008

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Five Reasons Why PlayStation Home Will Probably Fail

Home_versus_second_life_in_sd

People keep asking me what I think of Sony's PlayStation Home, the virtual world for the Playstation 3 which just launched in Beta last week.  It's an affirmation of Second Life's influence that such a large media corporation would consider experimenting in the same space-- but then, that was also the case of Google, and their ill-fated virtual world Lively.  In both cases, however, all I see is a behemoth company struggling to replicate SL, but constrained by their very nature to really do so.  After an initial burst of post-launch interest, I would be extremely surprised if Sony Home garnered more than a few hundred thousand recurring users, or if it's not discontinued outright by the end of 2009.

Why do I say that?  Five reasons stand out to me:

Home's potential user base is relatively small, and not likely to increase.

A web-based virtual world like Habbo can be played by pretty much anyone with a Net connection and a Web browser with Flash-- in other words, by several hundred million people.  A downloadable, 3D virtual world like Second Life requires a fairly new graphics card and a broadband connection-- in other words, a percentage less than that.  (Let's conservatively guess 100 million.)  From that huge potential user base, Habbo has 10 million active monthly users, and Second Life, half a million.

A console-based virtual world like Home, by contrast, requires a Playstation 3.  At the moment, however, less than 18 million people own a PS3, according to VGChartz, and that number's growing at a glacial rate, especially when compared to the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii.  If Second Life can only retain a half million users from the hundred million plus who could use it, and the tens of million who regularly play 3D online games, what do you think the mathematics of retention will be for a platform with a far smaller audience?

Successful virtual worlds need women.  But few women own a PS3.

To me, this is the largest stumbling block.  Habbo, Gaia, Second Life, every successful open-ended virtual world I can think of, has near-equal gender parity.  (MMORPGs are male-dominated, but then, they have a game structure.)  Trouble is, very few women seem to own a PS3.  I wasn't able to find a demographic breakdown, but in a 2007 consumer study at this .pdf link, the PS3 among the top ten must-have devices among men, while it didn't register at all with women.  (Who expressed a strong interest in the Wii; largely thanks to women, by the way, Nintendo's Wii Fit is now outselling Grand Theft Auto IV.)

Without women, your virtual world looks like this:  dozens of male avatars pathetically ramming themselves into the few females who dare to enter.  (Or perhaps more likely, the few dudes who decided to cross-dress their avies.)  Video possibly NSFW:

(Thanks to Dusan Writer for this link.)

Lack of internationalized keyboard-based communication will prevent community of hardcore users from taking hold.

I believe the lack of a keyboard has prevented any virtual world from succeeding on a console.  Text chat adds richness to communication, creates bonds that extend beyond the avatar visuals and the virtual space.  Voice chat does not seem to be a viable option; the virtual world There has had VOIP for years, and that's done nothing to build its user base.  Arguably voice chat is a detriment to growth, since it forces people to immediately reveal a lot about their real life identity, and very few people are extemporaneously witty and charming in voice.  Further, a large percent of the Playstation 3's audience is in Japan, making this communication problem even worse. 

Dearth of user-created content will drastically increase development costs.

By description, Sony Home will allow an extremely limited amount of user-generated content. Beyond the utopian "build your own world!" rhetoric of Second Life and other user-generated platforms, however, there's actually good hard-nosed capitalistic reasons for embracing UGC: developing and maintaining a world, constantly adding fresh content to keep existing users interested, costs money.  A lot of money.  Even in economically prosperous times, this burn rate would increase the pressure on Home developers to show return on investment quickly.  Which brings us to the next reason Home is so unlikely to succeed:

Sony corporate woes put under-performing properties in the hazard.

After a recent layoff of 8000 employees and many more contractors, Sony's Playstation division is under review, with underperforming properties likely to get the axe in these recessionary times.  Google killed Lively after only a few months of failure; with the economy in even worse shape now, how long do you suppose Sony will let Home muddle on?

Despite the foregoing, Sony Home may still carve out a niche.  If they were to ask me, they should link it with Little Big Planet, which enables user-generated content, and is appealing to women.  For now, however, it's very difficult for me to see Home surviving 2009 as a successful property.

Image above: a comparison to Sony Home and Second Life in Shadowdraft.

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Jovin

Why are so many SL Residents wishing death and doom on Home? Isn't that a bit pathetic?

Sony have one big advantage you failed to mention - CONTENT. Tons of it. It's owned by Sony who own some of the worlds biggest TV, movie and game companies. Home was never meant to be another SL, full of user-content - it's a means to deliver (and monetize) Sony's own commercial content. Get your friends together for a movie/TV show/game - and pay for the privilege.

I guess it depends what you think the future of virtual worlds actually is - seems to me Sony have a more innovative vision than Linden Lab, who want to turn SL into a conference center, wow...

Eric Rice

@Jovin yeah, I'm just assuming "SL fans = Home haters" which is a cousin to "gamers != virtual world residents" when 'virtual world' = a construct unto itself. If you assume game editors (like my current love, Far Cry 2), gives you the ability to create a world, why is the stigma absent from there.

I, for one, am excited and optimistic about home, and how it might be able to contextualize itself into gaming. What's awful is how the first stories HAVE TO MUST ALWAYS WILL BE about the sex, pervy avs and all that.

Par for the course.

Doubledown Tandino

I'm going to guess that HOME goes onward to a tangent and niche that SL does not imcorporate...

HOME, I'm sure in the near future will be the connection hub for gamers and gaming, in relation to Playstation. Guilds and groups of players will form, and I'm fairly certain home will be a tool to connect with other online gamers in a new way.

Personally, I don't wish death to Home. I also don't hear playstation comparing Home to SL.

But, Home is already on the slow death pace.
In my opinion, the #1 reason as to why it will fail is because the Home residents will not be able to make their mark even when they are logged off. In SL, I can build my own home and it's still there when I log off. In Ps3's Home, what's still left of him or her inside the world when one logs off?

Crap Mariner

"and very few people are extemporaneously witty and charming in voice"

I don't own a PS3. Sorry.

Eric Rice

@doubledown Not entirely true, as there are group features and shared spaces that your friends can use, even if you aren't logged in.

We're watching the media angle, as youtube and other tech was allowed at one point (now it's not), and the music interface is curious, esp with regards to voting on songs.

Sigmund Leominster

It seems like "Home" is being subjected to the "Oh, I hope it fails" mentality that is often directed at Second Life. Sadly it looks like some of the critics are going to be Second Life residents! The new kid on the block is the new target.

Sony's "Home" may have a linger lease of life than Lively but still suffers from not yet being able to sustain a user-driven economy. Giving Homers the ability to create product and sell it allows them to build up a stake in their virtual world.

There may also be some truth in the notion of needing women. Odd as it may seem, relationships are an important, if not critical, feature of a sustainable virtual environment. The over-focus on sexuality in Second Life is merely one aspect of the intensity of relationships, which includes non-sexual ones.

So I'm not going to join the "Die, Home, die" bandwagon but wait to see how it pans out for the next 2-6 months. If Sony can inject user-created products and more opportunities for close interactions, Home may well surprise its critics.

Faerie

I would have thought that World of Warcraft would be a bigger threat/cmpetitior to Home than SL.

evonne ~inKenzo~

Sorry Home, but Little Big Planet or Habbo sound like more imaginative fun to me. You look pretty but give me a single reason why I should give you my time?

Apparently not horny enough,
~female tech betatester~

ethan

The fact that HOME is bringing the virtual world concept to WAY more people than SL ever could is a great thing for ALL virtual worlds. HOME is brand new and has most likely already surpassed SL's best day of most concurrent users EVER. If not now...It'll happen in the very near future. Keep in mind the majority of people playing games could CARE LESS about creating content and the things SL lovers use the program for. I create AAA games for Xbox & Playstation, as well as content in SL so I see both sides of the coin and know this to be true... TONNES of SL users don't even create content on the level I think alot of you believe goes on.

HOME is in fact about monetization and product placement for GAMES... with the bonus being a social layer. On a side note...Even the new XBox experience allows avatars to be created and that has proven to be VERY popular...and growing unbelievably fast...with XBOX Live making more $$$ than ever because of the NXE update. I believe it's only a matter of time before HOME starts to take off as well. People need to get grip when it comes to bashing HOME...it's new... of course it's not gonna work 100% right off the start.... SL was pretty much crap (compared to now) for the FIRST FEW YEARS when it started... VERY unstable, VERY limited in function as well....but most of you probably weren't even around back then to say otherwise. But hey...if it makes you feel better to bash a company with over 14 MILLION active users trying to bring VW's to a larger world audience than SL EVER could... go ahead... you only make yourself look like a stupid SL Fanboy/Girl. Time will tell... in a year my bet is that HOME will have a crazy amount of people using it while SL keeps plodding along at its SLOW (in comparison to other worlds) march upward. I love SL for what it is... but the majority of the world will use the VW that comes with the gaming console they are already using. This is just the beginning!

Nexus Burbclave

@Jovin, I don't know that Home is the actual target of any animosity that may emerge in the Second Life blogosphere/user base. I think that most of us get that Home is a different beast than Second Life as you pointed out in your comments.

The target is not Home, but rather clueless mainstream biz, tech and gaming journalists that don't get the differences (often because they've never even logged in to Second Life), and insist on reporting (insert flavor of the month virtual world) as a potential Second Life killer even though it lacks 90% of what Second Life users consider Second Life's killer apps. When people make such invalid pronouncements, we can either roll our eyes silently or make an effort to correct them publicly. Many of us feel the need to do the later.


Nexus Burbclave

doh, apparently typepad ate my corrected version and I accidentally posted an earlier version. The last sentence should read:

Many of us feel the need to do the latter, because the misinformation is far more damaging than the "competition"

spud

Home may be much more attractive to corps because of the high quality spaces that can be created there.

In Second Life, lots of people create but very few actually look at what's being created outside of stores. It has a very self-centered userbase. I believe this is mainly because of the general poor quality and performance of Second Life.

YP

I had high hopes for Home. I originally bought my PS3 for it. Two years down the line though I'm very disappointed.

I look at the avatars in Home and think of all the fun they are missing in SL.

In Home nothing changes, in SL the horizon is always changing. In Home you look out from your apartment balcony and see no one. In SL anybody can pop by, anytime.

I like the randomness of SL, were anything can happen.

I see Home as just a hub for launching games with a friend in the long run.

Jovin

Yup, I think Ethan's basically right - HOME could be a perfect 'training-wheels' partner to Second Life not its enemy.

The mentality that sees a failure for HOME as a victory for SL is delusional and adolescent. It would be another public failure of the idea that virtual worlds are viable engaging platforms - and in that scenario SL loses too.

Hamlet Au

Agreed, Jovin. When Lively tanked there was a lot of "See, this shows virtual worlds are a flash in the pan." Valleywag even said, "See, this means Second Life is going to die too", but then they would.

Iggy O

I want Home to do well, if only to encourage others to roll out their own virtual worlds. Though I agree with Hamlet's assessment of the hurdles Home faces (esp. the low-female usage of Playstations) we in SL need Home to make it: more worlds raise the bar for LL and will lead to a better SL (or kill it, one).

Home's avatars, even on this little video, are impressive, in all their doofus hat-backward glory. There's an "Uncanny Valley" feeling to how they move. I didn't see one penguin-walking noob in the lot.

I'm not interested in joining the Homies: I've no PS and without user-created content there's no draw. The same goes for the much-anticipated Blue Mars VW. Moreover, Home will not do anything for the edu-crowd now joining SL in decent numbers, if EDUCAUSE and other groups are accurate in their assessments.

It might provide a good place to study virtual communities--until some droopy-pantalooned frat-boy bumps you enough and you deck him.

Well, that might be big fun :)

Adrian

I think the point about gender balance is valid, but the point about lack of keyboard support is just wrong. The ps3 has USB ports, thereby allowing players to use any keyboard they want. Furthermore, there are even keyboards made specifically to fit onto a ps3 controller (http://store.gameshark.com/viewItem.asp?idProduct=2883). Players can and do use keyboards with their ps3s (and Home) on a daily basis.

Lili

I envy them their highly realistic, believable environment, though. Look at those shadows! And the water! And the skirts! And the pants's legs! The video and screenshots on the website made me salivate and I find myself pining for a PS3 now when I never cared for game consoles much. Of course I wouldn't go to all that trouble, as there would be little point if it is to confer with gamers when I'm not one myself.

If they would let users create content using the same tools these professionals are using and export "Home" somewhere where it wouldn't be constricted to a community of gamers, I would forget about SL and JOIN IN A HEARTBEAT, I SWEAR I WOULD.

PS3 Controller

I would say that the PS3 has USB ports and allow users to use any keyboard they want. However I want Home to do well. This is quite an interesting posting.

christian louboutin

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Herve leger

Home's avatars, even on this little video, are impressive, in all their doofus hat-backward glory. There's an "Uncanny Valley" feeling to how they move. I didn't see one penguin-walking noob in the lot.

ergo infant carrier

I would say that the PS3 has USB ports and allow users to use any keyboard they want. However I want Home to do well. This is quite an interesting posting.

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