Page last updated at 14:47 GMT, Thursday, 11 December 2008

PlayStation Home opens its doors

Playstation Home Screenshot
Users can play numerous mini games within PlayStation Home

Sony's long awaited next-gen social networking site for PlayStation users goes into open beta today.

PlayStation Home will let gamers create their own avatar -a virtual representation of themselves - and then interact with other users in a 3D environment.

Players can chat to other users, invite them into their own "home", and will soon be able to stream music and video.

PS Home will be available free to all registered PlayStation Network users.

Think of it is as a hybrid of Facebook, Second Life and the prettiest game lobby ever
Tim Clark
Official PlayStation Magazine

The concept of a virtual clubhouse for PlayStation owners has been under development for a number of years, although it was not officially announced until early 2007.

Tim Clark, editor in chief at Official PlayStation Magazine UK, told the BBC that delays were expected, as the project was a "hugely ambitious undertaking".

"The idea behind Home is to create a virtual space for PS3 owners to meet up, talk and play games - the easiest way to think of it is as a hybrid of Facebook, Second Life and the prettiest game lobby ever."

"Given the experience is dependant on a stable, lavish 3D environment, and the fact that while every PS3 is broadband enabled - that's obviously not the case with a PS2 - so it's not surprising the project has taken some time."

Cash for corduroys

Although the service is free to PlayStation Network users, Sony is looking at future revenue streams.

Players can buy new clothing to dress their avatar, new more lavish homes will go on sale, and there are plans to add advertising to billboards and video screens.

Sponsorship deals and a source of real-world (as opposed to in-game) money will be welcome news to Sony, which earlier announced plans to cut 8,000 electronics jobs - 5% of the division - as well as shutting 10% of its manufacturing sites.

It is no coincidence that PlayStation Home is launching during the festive season.

According to Chart Track - which report on sales of music, video and software throughout the UK - more than 40% of all console sales take place in the last six weeks before Christmas.

But will PlayStation Home be enough to sway potential customers Sony's way?

Speaking to the BBC, Alex Pell - the assistant editor of The Sunday Times' gadget section, In Gear, said he was sceptical.

"PlayStation Home is great for existing users. It might not have the complexity or depth of Second Life, but it can be played on a console, rather than a computer."

"As you have an avatar, this means it's much more than just a flashy chat room, and as a medium, it's a great way of getting more out of the games you already own," he said.

"But ultimately what really matters is the price of the console and the availability of good exclusive games. You can get an Xbox 360, with four games and two controllers for 130. The best deal I managed to find was a PS3 with three good games for 270"

"Sony needs to find new customers and while Home is great for existing PS3 users, will people rush out and buy such a pricy console on the back of PS Home availability? I don't think so."

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