At the first PlayStation Day in London today, Sony Computer Entertainment president Kaz Hirai said that he wouldn't release Home "until he's happy with it." As one of the few individual titles name-checked by Hirai, it's clear that there's a lot of expectation around Home--a title that's expected to be a central hub for online interaction on the PlayStation 3. It may still be in closed beta and only being played by Sony Europe staff, but it's looking more and more advanced, especially when it comes to the game-launching features. We were lucky enough to get a hands-on at PlayStation Day, as well as pitch our questions to the development staff.
While Home was originally pegged as a social networking tool akin to something like Second Life or even Facebook, the developers in the UK have made a more conscious effort recently to reposition the software for gaming. The social networking aspects will still exist with a heavy amount of customisation, interaction, and competition, but the ability to seamlessly move between Home and a traditional gaming experience is going to be something you'll hear being emphasised during the coming months. Taking MotorStorm as an example, the team has made it very easy for you to organise a gaming lobby straight from within Home, using a virtual PSP to customise and launch a game.
We were shown an example of such an experience from a developer who was playing Home in the main home square environment. The home square features video walls (this time playing a MotorStorm Pacific Rift trailer), as well as shops and cinemas, and it's intended to be a hub for up to 64 people to get together and meet. It's worth noting that 64 is the limit on the number of people in one place in Home, while you can only have 50 people on your friends list. The developers clearly recognise the restriction of such a number--Xbox Live has a 100 capacity and still many people do not find this big enough--and expect to increase this limit in the future.
As long as you have a game installed on the hard drive or in the disc tray, you can jump straight into an online lobby from within Home. This means that you skip any of the game's introductions, and in the case of MotorStorm, you even get a custom loading screen that features the Home logo in the corner. Using the PSP interface, you can customise all of the game rules that you'd expect from an online game, including the number of players, private slots, and laps and tracks. Once you're ready to go, a small PlayStation control pad icon appears above your head. This indicates to other Home users that you're ready to play, and they can come over, chat to you, or just join you if they're interested. The demo that we played was running over the Internet, and even in its beta form, moving between Home and a game of MotorStorm was a completely seamless experience.
Home's closed beta has been extended to July, although more and more people will be invited to participate during the coming months. The current plan is to have Home ready for an open beta release on PlayStation Network in November, although given Kaz Hirai's fondness for the project, it's possible that it could slip again. Either way, Home is no doubt going to be huge whenever it launches, so we'll endeavour to bring you more information as and when we can.