Home condemned


Sony apologizes for “some people” not being able to get on Home.

In this case, some people would be “everyone who didn’t hit X to refresh every 15 seconds for a few hours.” Just like every other case of opening an online service from a few to all, Sony was unable to serve all who wanted in. Since it does happen to everyone, I almost think it’s not worth being critical, but if you’re opening the beta to “stress test the system” previously and it still doesn’t work, that was one lousy test.

On the good side, I don’t expect them to have this problem for much longer. Not just because they’ll get more equipment, or balance the load better, of maybe even include error message that actually are descrpitive to people who aren’t programming the system, but because the vast majority of people are going to mess around with it for 15 minutes, and then never purposely click on the icon again. It’s a waste of your time.

The idea of Home (the public idea, we’ll get the other one in a sec) appears to be A Place To Hang Out With Your Friends. I like hanging out with my friends in places, this sounds wonderful. Except, I like it so much that I actually already have plenty of places to do it, on the internet* or not*. I’m playing my PS3 – playing it alone, if I’m using Home – because I want to be entertained, probably by video game playing. I could do this with any of the PS3 games I have, or I could do this with Home if there was something entertaining there. In the two+ years it took to put Home together, they forget to put all the entertaing parts in, or at least in sufficient numbers.

Would you like to play chess? Prepare to stand and wait around the three chess boards in the Mall. The boards aren’t a representation of infinite games of chess that could be going on at once, nope, Home allows all of six people to play chess at any one time. Maybe you’d like to wait in line to use one of the 14 arcade machines? Or the 8 pool tables? (It looked like there were only 10 bowling lanes, but that one appeared to have a more unlimited of amount of real games going on. And the fountain/spaceship game may allow unlimited players, but there’s no real interaction between those playing.) One of the advantages of having a virtual world is the ability to remove or diminish physical limitations like only having 8 pool tables in an area – you can have as many or as few as you need, if you just focus the players on the game (which they care about) and not where they fit in on the rest of the virual world. Waiting for a spot on your own is patience draining; if you actually had a group of people, I can’t imagine how frustrating it might get.

A friend, who writes a much better blog, has written recently having fun(/odd conversations) playing Uno on XBox Live. It’s not hard and has all the social interaction Home is looking for, except there’s absolutely nothing as easy, quick and painless as just playing Uno on Home. There’s trudging from room to room, waiting for the next room to load, looking for a free space, and trying to do things pointlessly more complicated. It’s a weird mix of being barren – room/building that aren’t yet open and sparse & sterile places that are – and overcrowded. Even with the server issues, there were tons of people wandering around, trying everything, and generally just giving me feelings of claustrophobia.

The other idea of Home, the corporate idea, is to find ways to pay little bits for lots of useless stuff. Like I’ve said, there didn’t seem to be a lot of things going on, but the items definitely working were the stores in the mall to buy bits and pieces for your avatar and their apartment. As time goes on, I find myself moving farther away from my belief that the current gen of gaming is about bringing new levels of social interaction, and more towards it opening new sources of revenue via supplementary game features. Which is followed by moving the cut off between standard/add-on to get consumers to pay more for what they’re used to receiving without increasing the initial price. There are four pairs of free pants in Home, four styles of pants for the thousands of people they expect to be using Home. Unlike the chess boards, there are infinite numbers of pants to wear, but four styles are all you need to maintain your individuality in this virtual world…unless you’d like to pay $1 to buy these special pants (and shorts!) Why four pants and not six? They $1 pants don’t appear to have taken more time to create or have any other extra value besides the (market forced) rarity – it’s just a cheap way to make a $1 off people who don’t really value their money.

Maybe there is some special about the $1 pants, besides what I see. It’d be hard to find out on without someone else telling you, and that person won’t be Sony. Part of selling is having something to sell, but the part Home fails at is creating desire to actually buy it. You can buy additional furniture to put in your house, but you’d have to be really interested in having furniture to do so, and Sony doesn’t seem to care enough to extol the benefit of buying this additional furniture. If you click thru the menu, you can create a Club for $5 plus some TBD monthly fee. The description goes on about the amount of members you can have a club, when they’d actually start collecting monthly fees (not yet), how many clubs you can own at once, and on. They never get around to the part where they explain what a Club is and why you’d want to join or start one. And on like this.

This is one of those times where the angry rant inside my head is moving far quicker than I can communicate it to my fingers, but I think I’ve reached a point where more in detail the worthlessness of Home is beyond the point. I don’t need to go in details about the how moving from to a new room means a 5-7 minute download (since there’s only about 7 rooms to start, why aren’t they downloaded to start?) and even a lag after you get going, or how underdeveloped everything seems, or the other problems I found – I might have made my point already.

I had low expectations. They were not nearly low enough. Sony will try to defend by screaming BETA, but they still allowed everyone’s to have a first impression, and I can’t imagine most wasting their time with a second. My streaks of charity, morbid curiosity, and hope that it’s not nearly this bad and I’ve completely misses something, will probably lead me to try it again at some point. But I’ll do it knowing it’s a waste of quite a lot of time, and not in the fun way I hoped.

* – not that I’m hanging out nearly enough. sorry.

One Response to Home condemned

  1. The King of Keith

    I agree with everything you said about the microtransactions. Fable II for the 360 is already releasing its first expansion pack. The game came out less than two months ago. Why wasn’t it included in the game when it was released? It’s very frustrating to me that I’m having to pay more for things that should have been included in the game. Hopefully buying clothes, furniture, and clubs will fizzle terribly for Sony and they will offer more free opportunities for everyone.

    Very good article. I shall bookmark this site.