Sony has managed to generate a respectable amount of buzz for its version of the virtual world, a program the company calls "Home." Since Sony debuted "Home" in March 2007, it has demonstrated the virtual world at trade shows, offered a beta-testing version (yet to be launched) to early-adopting consumers and pushed back the program's projected release from fall 2007 to an unspecified date. All of this has some users champing at the bit to hurry up and get out of this world and into another, possibly better, one.
When released, "Home" will offer PlayStation 3 users the chance to create avatars -- virtual representations of themselves (or what they wish they looked like) -- and their own private space, where they can get away from it all (virtually). "Home" will offer a platform for an expansive social network to develop, all within the confines of a cutting-edge 3-D world.
An online social-networking world where users can virtually interact with people they've never met in real life -- does any of this sound familiar? Since it was first displayed, "Home" has drawn comparisons to "Second Life," the wildly popular virtual world that has become a universe unto itself. "Second Life" users have managed to create a virtual economy that is actually tied to the real-world global economy. Users have found ways to make a living in "Second Life," gotten married in the virtual world, raised money for victims of Hurricane Katrina and seen an interview with author Kurt Vonnegut. The news service Reuters has a "Second Life" bureau that actually reports on happenings in that metaverse, like the opening of the first Armani store. "Second Life" has become a worldwide phenomenon.
Is Sony looking to take a slice of this virtual pie with the release of "Home"? If so, will "Home" crush "Second Life"? We'll get to the bottom of that question in this article, but first, let's take a closer look at Sony's take on the metaverse -- the virtual universe.
The Home Environment
When it's finally released, "Home" will be a free service provided by Sony exclusively for PlayStation 3 (PS3) users. It will launch from the game console in much the same way the built-in media player does. Once online, the user will create his avatar and receive a private apartment. For an as-yet-undetermined fee, users can upgrade to luxury apartments based on some of the most sought-after real estate in the real world: a Manhattan penthouse, a traditional Japanese abode, a Swedish lodge and a beach house.
Users will be able to outfit their apartments with a variety of basic choices. Sony will charge for things like designer furniture, art and other décor to make the personal spaces more customizable. Apartments can be further personalized with real-world items like photos and music, which will be displayed in virtual picture frames and played on a virtual jukebox within the apartment.
A "Home" user can invite friends to hang out at his apartment, but the common areas are where people meet. Sony replaced its original common area idea of an expansive lobby with an equally expansive green space. In the common spaces, users can chat, play pool, bowl and hold break-dancing competitions, among other pursuits.
Unlike "Second Life," the "Home" experience will be like a slicker, glossier version of the real world. While avatars may have exaggerated movements, like dancing wildly, it doesn't appear that Sony will allow them to break the physical rules of the real world. This is a big difference between "Home" and "Second Life," which allows avatars to levitate, fly and perform other feats that defy real-world physics. Characters in "Home" appear to have to obey the laws of gravity.
Though characters can't fly, it looks like "Home" will be a nice place for users to hang their virtual hats. But will it cause a "Second Life" collapse once it's released? Read the next page for the answer to that question.
Home versus Second Life
The similarities between "Home" and "Second Life" are obvious, but the differences that separate the two metaverses may save "Second Life" creator Linden Labs from total domination by corporate giant Sony.
The most noticeable difference between "Home" and "Second Life" is the graphics. "Home" features 3-D graphics reminiscent of a high-end PlayStation game. For example, avatars and other objects cast shadows, and characters feature an array of expressions. Since "Home" exists within a protected game platform, one which will be tightly controlled by Sony, it will have the added benefit of security. In much the same way that government oversight can protect citizens from nefarious elements, so too will Sony protect its "Home" users.
Conversely, "Second Life" operates as a complete democracy, one that borders on anarchy. Real-world users are free to create anything they can come up within the virtual world. A truck driver in Sacramento, for example, may find that he has a knack for designing virtual furniture that is the toast of the "Second Life" metaverse. Whatever he creates is his intellectual property, both in "Second Life" and in the real world.
It is in this manner that the "Second Life" economy has been allowed to develop. The truck driver can sell his furniture for "Second Life" Linden dollars, which can be exchanged for real-world currency through the "Second Life" exchange bank, LindeX. But "Second Life" is little-regulated, which can make it hazardous for users. A program called the CopyBot, for example, ran rampant through "Second Life" last year, able to copy anything created in the metaverse, and wreaked havoc on the virtual world [source: CNet].
With "Home," these potential problems don't exist. Sony decides who is allowed to act as merchants within the "Home" realm. The economy of "Home" will be a virtual extension of Sony's real-world business model: consumers giving their money to Sony rather than to one another. Sony will also have the added bonus of garnering business-to-business (B2B) revenue, by allowing other companies to advertise within "Home," or to sell goods there -- both virtual and real.
Another subtle yet significant difference between "Home" and "Second Life" is the means through which they are used. "Home" is exclusive to the PS3. It will be used just like a game would be played: on a couch, in a relatively open setting with a game controller. To Sony, this will allow for a more open experience, with several people in one real living room controlling what the avatar in the virtual world does and says.
"Second Life" is designed for use on home computers, which generally don't allow for more than one user. This makes Second Life "kind of a solitary activity," as one "Home" developer told gaming site Three Speech [source: Three Speech]. But this is not to say that one situation is better than the other. "Home" and "Second Life" may end up with their user base divided by this distinction: people who like their privacy and those who enter the metaverse as both a virtual and real social experience.
Ultimately, "Home" and "Second Life" are truly distinct creatures, which is to say that there will probably be enough room in our universe for both of these metaverses. PlayStation will offer its users a luxurious, clean and game-based world, where users can meet to see a movie together in a virtual cinema and then jump into a PlayStation game together. "Second Life" is much more a reflection of the real world in which we live, with all of the drama, invention and social decay that seems to emerge when people are left to their own devices.
For more information about "Home," "Second Life" and related topics, check out the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
- Evans, Catherine. "Married In Second Life, Engaged In Real Life." Wales on Sunday. August 5, 2007. http://www.linuxinsider.com/story/58623.html
- Linden, Zee. "The Second Life Economy." Second Life. August 14, 2007. http://blog.secondlife.com/2007/08/14/the-second-life-economy/
- Terdiman, Daniel. "Name That Metaverse." CNet. October 6, 2005. http://www.news.com/Name-that-metaverse/2100-1043_3-5890497.html
- Terdiman, Daniel. "'Second Life' Traces Threat to its Virtual Economy." CNet. November 15, 2006. http://www.news.com/2100-1043_3-6135699.html
- "A Second Life To Live." NPR. October 24, 2006. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6375226
- "Armani Opens Second Life Store." Reuters. September 26, 2007. http://secondlife.reuters.com/stories/2007/09/26/armani-opens-second-life-store/
- "SCEI Announces Ground-Breaking, Next-Generation 3D Online-User Community For PLAYSTATION®3 - "Home"." Playstation.com March 7, 2007. http://www.us.playstation.com/News/PressReleases/382
- "Sony Computer Entertainment America Unveils Additional Details for PLAYSTATION®NETWORK." Playstation.com. July 11, 2007. http://www.us.playstation.com/News/PressReleases/403
- "Sony Home Versus Second Life." Virtual Worlds News. September 12, 2007. http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2007/09/sony-home-versu.html