PlayStation Home beta opens

[UPDATE] Public trial for the PS3's avatar-based social-networking service has gone live in the EU and US.

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[UPDATE] Via its PlayStation Blog, PlayStation Home director Jack Buser has announced that the PlayStation Home beta is now live. Newcomers can now access the virtual world via a PlayStation Home button in the PlayStation 3's borderline dyslexic XrossMediaBar. Yesterday's original story of the beta launch announcement is below. [END UPDATE]

Since being announced back at GDC 2007 by Phil Harrison, PlayStation Home has been the subject of a lot of expectation. Originally planned for a 2007 release, Home has had several delays and setbacks pushing it back to late 2008.

Earlier this week, The Times suggested that the release was coming "within the next 10 days." As it turns out, gamers won't have to wait even that long, because Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and America today jointly announced that the Home beta will be open to all on December 11.

Dog, string vest, and shotgun not included.
Dog, string vest, and shotgun not included.

PlayStation Home will let users interact and communicate via unique avatars in real time using text or voice. Within Home there will be a variety of minigames, videos, and clubs--areas where users can come together and share similar interests. Each aspect of Home will be customisable, and players will be able to buy new clothes, furnishings, and even whole new apartments direct from the PlayStation store. Clubhouses will also be available for those wishing to create clubs, though for a price--how much was unclear. Sony simply stated that "to be a Clubhouse owner, user will need to buy the entitlement to run the club."

There will also be regional game-related content. Users accessing PlayStation Home in the SCEE regions will have a Far Cry 2 space to explore at launch, with spaces for MotorStorm, Uncharted: Drakes Fortune, and SOCOM promised soon in the region. SCEE and SCEA also confirmed that they are working with EA and Ubisoft, among others, with a view to creating more such spaces. The Far Cry 2 space will also be available to those in SCEA territories, and Resistance and Guitar Hero spaces are promised for the region.

Companies will, as expected, also get the opportunity to use Home as a marketing space. Sony has detailed plans involving both Sony Pictures and Paramount Pictures, which will involve "dedicated spaces, sponsorship of in-world events, virtual items and exclusive media viewings in the PlayStation Home Theatre."

The first such event was confirmed by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and will be centred around the upcoming movie of acclaimed graphic novel Watchmen. It will feature a selection of virtual Watchmen merchandise as well as a chance for some to virtually meet members of the film's cast and crew in a Watchmen-themed environment in 2009.

Ligne Roset joins Diesel among Home's earliest retailers.
Ligne Roset joins Diesel among Home's earliest retailers.

The Watchmen promo accompanies two previously announced sponsorships with fashion label Diesel and energy drink Red Bull. The latter will offer the opportunity to take part in a virtual version of the Red Bull Air Race, a stunt-flying championship around Red Bull Island. Ligne Roset will provide contemporary furniture, and users will be able to customise items before they buy them.

PlayStation Home will be available as a free download starting December 11. It should install automatically after rebooting the PS3 once the update becomes available, after which a PlayStation Home icon will simply appear in the XrossMediaBar (XMB).

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