The word ‘social’ cropped up a lot during Sony’s big PlayStation 4 coming out party late last month, but we’re still yet to learn how PlayStation Home will be integrated into the next generation platform – if, indeed, it will be incorporated at all. The virtual world was Sony’s big bet on casual gaming during the course of the current generation, but while the PlayStation 3-based endeavour has built up a loyal following, has the manufacturer quietly brushed the concept aside?

PlayStation Home remains a core pillar of the PS3, with it still receiving noteworthy updates to this very day. Those of you that remember the virtual world as little more than a bowling alley and people doing the running man may be surprised by the appearance of the platform these days – it’s become something of a haven for free-to-play games, with genuinely enjoyable distractions like Home Tycoon and Uproar proving surprisingly compelling time-wasters between big-budget Blu-ray games.

The biggest new update to arrive in the social district revolves around Pottermore, the online reading experiment created by Sony in collaboration with author J.K. Rowling. The new space will essentially allow you to explore Diagon Alley and participate in mini-games with your friends. For fans of the Harry Potter universe, it should prove to be a particularly enjoyable addition. But while the hotspot continues to expand on PS3, is the manufacturer’s silence a telling indication of the platform’s fate on PS4?

The company failed to even acknowledge the virtual world during its PlayStation Meeting press conference, and subsequent interviews with multiple executives resulted in more blanks. Considering the emphasis that the manufacturer placed on community during its reveal event – talking about video sharing, streaming, and more – its absence was pronounced. But the platform holder’s continued investment in PlayStation Home introduces an interesting counterpoint.

Despite being subjected to waves of ridicule in its early days, the virtual world has blossomed. Sony has listened to the complaints of its user base, and the platform has grown exponentially since its introduction in 2008. Avatars are now able to adopt more interesting personalities thanks to the implementation of full-body costumes (which essentially revamp the original art style) and companions. Furthermore, spaces are no longer empty shells – they are filled with activities and things to interact with.

The improvements have resulted in an active playerbase. While numbers aren’t readily available, the platform is widely believed to be one of the PS3’s stronger money-spinners. This was alluded to by director Peter Edward in an interview published by Develop back in 2011. “From a business point of view, virtual items and microtransactions – it just works,” he said. "We have tens of thousands of items, and they are making money.”

Some studios – such as Nottingham’s Lockwood Publishing, for example – have actually built their entire business around PlayStation Home. And if you log into the virtual world at any time of the day, you’ll spot thousands of likeminded players roaming around with premium goods that they’ve either obtained by engaging in marketing campaigns or purchased through the PlayStation Store. Edward clearly wasn’t exaggerating, and we wouldn’t be surprised if those numbers had grown over the past couple of years.

As such, it seems almost implausible to think that PlayStation Home would be scrapped in the next generation. The brand itself may have been damaged irredeemably in its early days among hardcore gamers, but its core idea – a persistent online world that serves as both an interactive chatroom and a vehicle for expensive microtransactions – feels like it’s only just unlocking its full potential. So, why hasn’t Sony mentioned how the service will factor into the PS4?

Well, its recent PlayStation Meeting was clearly designed around appealing to core gamers, and it may have wanted to avoid anything that would even threaten to upset them. Considering the backlash to Media Molecule’s demonstration, the manufacturer may have been wise in that regard. But – much like most gamers expect new Naughty Dog and Sony Santa Monica projects to be revealed at E3 – it may also be saving the announcement.

A patent filed by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe last February for a service called ‘BigFest’ hinted that the manufacturer may be planning a new version of PlayStation Home for its next generation platform after all. While details are sketchy, the registration describes a social platform intended to bring gamers together. The project’s official website, BigFest.com, currently points to the UK version of the PlayStation.com homepage.

It seems perfectly possible, then, that Sony will take the lessons it learned from PlayStation Home and revisit them in a new format on PS4. Unshackled by the tarnished brand name of its current virtual world, it will have the opportunity to start afresh, while still repurposing the technological and infrastructural investments it’s made over the past five years or so.

For a system that’s been designed around social gaming, we just can’t imagine that the PS4 will ignore Sony's most community-driven initiative in years. PlayStation Home will almost certainly return – it just may have a different name and a more attractive art style next time around. And let’s hope that those promised Trophy cabinets make a comeback, too, eh?


Do you think that PlayStation Home will survive the transition to PS4? If so, how would you like to see the virtual world improve on the next generation system? Let us know in the comments section and poll below.

Do you want PlayStation Home to return on PS4? (36 votes)

Yes, I still think there's plenty of potential for the service

58%

I'll try it out again, but I'm not bothered if it's scrapped

19%

No, it's a waste of resources

22%

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