Social media diary 12/12/2008 - PlayStation

Sony launches online community for PlayStation gamers

After many years in development, this week Sony launched PlayStation Home, an online community for Playstation gamers.

The community is something of a virtual clubhouse for PlayStation owners. All registered PlayStation Network users will be able to create their own avatar and then interact with others in a 3D environment. Some are calling this a cross between Facebook and Second Life, but this is really an online community of gamers. Members will be able to chat with and text each other, build their own 'home' and explore those of other members, and take part in mini games and special events.

Building on the popular chat functions that sit alongside many online games, the concept of a central community that allows members to meet and join games has been in development for a number of years. The beta launch of PlayStation Home this week shows us what Sony has to rival Microsoft and to enhance the gaming experience. As Kazuo Hirai, president of Sony Computer Entertainment, says:

PlayStation Home is truly a promising network community service. We are committed to providing PS3 users with exciting gaming experiences with PlayStation Home and together with our partners and users, expand the new world of interactive entertainment as we move forward.

So what can we learn from this?

To some extent Sony is providing its gamers with something they have wanted for some time - a way to meet and exchange with other gamers, to easily identify and join multi-player games and to extend and enhance their experience of using the PlayStation.

There has been much discussion over the last couple of days about the actual functionality and use of PlayStation Home. Microsoft called the technology as "outdated" and some features are not yet live - streaming video and music will be in a later release. But overall response from gamers themselves has been quite positive.

Undoubtedly Sony hope that Home will be a success, and for me success would be if they retain gamers for longer periods of time because of this. They can monetise Home quite easily, either by selling functionality or features within the environment itself (such as selling houses or other property to users or taking a cut of peer-to-peer sales). Or they can monetise through charging for downloads, streaming music and video and entry to special events and games. And let's not forget the benefit they might be able to get from advertising if they so desired.

This kind of online community may seem like a clear candidate for success, and it is certainly true that the members share a common interest and goal (something that is critical to success of any community). But perhaps the real marker of success will be if the community fills a real need that the members have. Home needs to focus on gaming and on making gaming, easier, more fun and perhaps more challenging. They're not building a new Second Life (or Facebook, Bebo or anything) as some people have suggested. Rather they've identified a need that their gamers have and are using social media and online communities to help meet this need. Always a good strategy.

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Matt Rhodes

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