PlayStation Home, one of the most ambitious (and weirdest) things Sony has ever done with video games, closes down today. It will not be missed, but it should at least be remembered.
The service… platform… game… thing was first announced at GDC 2007 (well, technically it was first announced here), and seemed as ambitious as hell! Designed to be a virtual space where players could meet, talk, do stuff and then play actual PlayStation games, Sony’s Phil Harrison said at the time it was going to be the dawn of “Game 3.0”, ushering in a new era of connectivity and social gaming and togetherness and…
…and none of that ever actually happened. The service was dry, took too long to get anywhere, limited communication between users and was only used properly (as a means of getting people together to play games) by a handful of titles, most notably Warhawk. Every time Sony tried to drum up interest, whether through the introduction of themed clothing (you could dress like a Helghan, or Chun-Li) or events like live-streaming E3 into Home’s cinema, the world looked, shrugged and went about its business using systems and services that were faster and more fun.
Yet despite the general gaming public’s distaste for Home, it somehow survived over the years and transformed into a sort of abstract art piece, a venn diagram where “European dance music fan” meets “airport clothing store consumer” meets “Second Life”.
Those who stuck around and used Home after everyone else left took a look at what it could do, doubled down and that turned it into something different; a kind of furniture brochure social network, where people and businesses could make a buck or two selling custom cheap games, objects and outfits in the game. It was a… unique place, and definitely not what anyone in 2007 would have expected Home would end up like.
Looking back on Harrison’s grand plan, it’s easy in 2015 to write Home off as a failure, the funniest of the many disasters Sony ran into in the early years of the PS3. Had it shut down in 2009 and never been heard from again, that would be fair. But it didn’t, so it’s not, and I think there’s something to be applauded in the way it stuck around (and, in the end, was actually a profitable venture).
Considering the way it failed utterly to deliver on its initial promise, the fact it survived this long is testament to the loyalty and craftiness of its users, who took a broken thing and turned it into something that might have been less ambitious and much less popular, but at least worked, and served somebody’s needs.