Is PlayStation Home the future of all videogames?

OK, reality check: PlayStation Home isn’t exactly a darling among core gamers. Or is it? According to Home’s director Jack Buser, more than 22 million users have logged in to the social gaming platform, and many of them rank among the most powerful of power users, if only judging from the disproportionately high number or Platinum Trophies they’ve got. So perhaps it’s more of a perception problem.

Earlier today, we unveiled the new core experience in PlayStation Home. After seeing the new Home in action, we chatted with Buser about the challenges faced by Home, and how Home might very well be the future of gaming. Crazy talk? Maybe. But read on and decide for yourself…

GamesRadar: There’s an obvious perception problem with Home. You’ve told me there’s a robust community and I believe that, but those who are not in Home have a notion of what Home is. A lot of them might have come in for an hour, fiddled with an avatar, looked around, and left. How are you going to change those perception problems and get those gamers who either aren’t interested in the first place or abandoned Home after an initial visit to see what the Home has to offer?

Jack Buser: This new core experience is the first step toward that. We have been working extremely hard to bring games to Home, to the point where we now have hundreds. This new core experience is going to immediately tell people who are willing to give us another chance to come in, they are going to immediately see that this is a place for them. Total Game Integration is another initiative, where people will be playing their favorite game and they’ll realize, “Hey, to get this special weapon, to get these extra experience points, to get this exclusive content, I have to go into Home and check it out.” They come into Home, they immediately see how much it has changed and they stick around. We’ve already seen that start to happen. The Killzone 3 event was a tremendous success. We had lots of people just flooding into Home who hadn’t been there in a long time.

GamesRadar: What’s one of the worst things you guys have heard about Home? From the press, or users, or even internally.

JB: We hear all kinds of things about Home, good and bad. I’m a huge gamer and I read everything. I read our forums every day, I read every major outlet and some minor outlets, I read all the comments. The one thing that gets me is when I see folks posting and they say things like, “Hey, I wish Home had voice.” Home has voice! Come in, check it out. We’ve got voice turned on. Or, “There’s nothing to do in Home.” There’s tons of stuff to do in Home! When I see these things it just motivates me to work harder. Many times we see things that we resolved a long time ago.

GamesRadar: So those are outdated or incorrect assumptions about Home? And your overarching goal is just to get people back in?

JB: You’ve got to understand, Home is different from what gamers are used to. Gamers are used to games launching, and that game is that game for all time. It’s not going to change that much. It might get some new map packs and it might get some DLC, but it’s not going to fundamentally change. Home is pointing toward a future that’s not here yet. I always say games will look a lot more like Home than they do themselves in ten years. This idea that you have a persistent game that’s constantly evolving and changing based on user feedback, that on day one provides a day one experience and years from now has grown into this massive gaming experience. That is something that’s totally different than what gamers are used to. I understand if people tried it before, but it’s different. It’s totally different. It’s constantly changing and growing and evolving, and games are actually going to start to look more like that.

GamesRadar: So Home is perhaps the training ground for the future of games?

JB: I am actually very candid when I say absolutely. We are doing things in PlayStation Home that point toward the future of this entire industry. When we look at the competition, we just sort of shake our heads and say, “Wow, those guys are years behind.” We see all these core games starting to look toward social games for new types of gameplay and new types of framework. We also see social games looking toward core games so that, instead of these 2D, flat experiences, they’re actually providing very robust, high-definition 3D core game experiences, but with this really cool framework. We’ve been doing that for years.

GamesRadar: So that gap between Farmville and Killzone isn’t going to be there in 10 years?

JB: Right now, we’re there. Here’s what a lot of people don’t realize, even in the industry: it’s not just about a business model. Social games are not just a business model. When you build an FPS to go on a disk, it’s very different from building an FPS that’s free-to-play. There are game design considerations that you need to take into account, very big ones, when you make a game like that, and you know what? Nobody knows how to do that yet, and we’re there. We’re figuring that out right now.

GamesRadar: So the notion of Home being in perpetual beta isn’t just a gimmick? As much as it’s a destination in itself, you’d like it to be a testing ground and a development space for the future of games as PlayStation sees it?

JB: It’s not just us. It’s our partners as well. You see very large publishers actually building content in Home that they wouldn’t otherwise in very large disc-based games, because they want to try out these new business models and these new types of gameplay. You have players coming in to find an experience they couldn’t find anywhere else. We have our company, ourselves, learning so fast with this platform. We are absolutely blazing trails for the future of this industry.

Aug 23, 2011