Sony Unveils 'PlayStation Home' Service

Sony is betting its latest creation, PlayStation Home, will help to quell criticism that the console falls far behind its rivals in online support.

Executives for the company announced the service at the Game Developers Conference Wednesday during a keynote address. Sony is banking on the new offering, to be available globally in the fall, as a way to differentiate itself from its competitors.

Like Xbox Live, users would be able to unlock achievements in the games they play. However, adding upon that concept, gamers would also be able to display their achievements in a virtual world, along with personal video, pictures and other digital media.

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The service would take on a Second Life-type feel with virtual avatars and virtual homes, and will be offered as a free download from the PlayStation Store. However, PlayStation Home will not replace the current PlayStation Network, as many had initially anticipated.

"This is a significant step forward in the area of user community services and emergent entertainment experiences," said Izumi Kawanishi, Corporate Executive and CTO Software, SCEI. “I feel strongly that this unique blend of community, user-generated content, collaboration and commerce will expand the future of computer entertainment."

A lack of a decent online service was one of the biggest complaints about the PS3, other than price. The PlayStation Network, Sony’s free online service, and the basic operating system of the console are too simple and unbecoming of such a powerful gaming system, many argue.

Secondly, complaints continue to mount over the lack of exclusive titles. Much of this is Sony’s own fault; when it became clear that the system would be delayed, many game makers chose to port once-exclusive titles to the Xbox 360, which already had a strong user base.

Both issues will be addressed in the coming months, with the racing game MotorStorm being one of the first exclusive titles to take full advantage of the PS3’s capabilities. Games like the Karaoke title SingStar would allow users to create their own content and also share it with other gamers.

A large-scale beta of the PlayStation Home service will be made available in April prior to the final launch.

According to nexgenwars.com, a site that estimates worldwide sales of next-generation gaming consoles, Sony has sold a little over 1.5 million PS3s, far behind the Nintendo Wii’s nearly 5 million sales and the Xbox 360’s 10.7 million figure.

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