There's a big 'To Let' sign in the Home Plaza today, and the remnants of makeshift toilet paper streamers scattered about its tufts of unkempt grass. Hours earlier, avatars congregated to wish the virtual world farewell, with one last cabbage patch dance under silky blue skies. Now, the weather is moody, and the animated banners – so vibrant and alive in their prime – have been switched off. The posters have been ripped from the walls, the microtransactions all removed – and all that remains are memories of Sony's big experiment. There really was no place quite like PlayStation Home.
Looking Not-So Good
One area that PlayStation Home will forever be criticised for is its awful character creation process. Rather than opt for a stylised art direction, Sony instead went for realistic – and really ugly. Getting your character to not look like a gormless nuclear disaster survivor was practically impossible, and the platform holder pretty much scrapped the entire system in later years, by releasing costumes that completely overlaid your character. You could play as a giant lobster, for example – or a bunch of balloons. In other words: the way that it always should have been.
Interior Designer Extraordinaire
We remember furnishing our lush studio apartment with nothing but plain white settees in the early beta days. Sony may have built an impressive networking showpiece, but when the pre-release test rolled around in 2008, it wasn't quite what the company had promised. A Sims-esque interior designer mode allowed you to kit out your personal space with objects of all shapes and sizes – in theory at least. However, it took a while for companies to start releasing custom couches, stereos, and arcade machines, so our lush interactive getaway consisted of a single chair in the centre of a very large, very empty room. At least the feng shui rating was through the roof.
Lines Like in Real Life
There's simulation – and then there's simulation. Theme Hospital made you feel like you were managing a doctor's surgery, but it was fun because it was several steps removed from reality – after all, we'd have taken a different career path if we wanted to balance the books for the NHS. PlayStation Home, however, took a little too much inspiration from real-life. We have "fond" memories of the bowling alley, a social hotspot designed to provide the virtual world with fun little minigames. Except, you had to queue for them. Only one group could use a lane at any given time, so if you wanted to show your skittle smashing skills, you'd often have to wait. And we did. For hours at a time.
Blame It on a Boogie
There was a definite war-like spirit to those early days in PlayStation Home. Indeed, with so few things to do, we distinctly remember having to make our own fun. Dancing was the solution for many, with a whole host of animations available, enabling you to pop out the robot with a couple of button prompts. Impromptu conga lines probably showed the service at its embarrassing best, as groups gathered together to dance the night away – often while they waited for a pool table to become available.
All the Fun of the Fair
To be fair (har har), PlayStation Home did eventually evolve, welcoming new social spaces with fresh things to do. The Midway Carnival, which required an admission ticket, was one of the first minigame laden additions that we recall, offering various simple interactions which could be completed in reward for new apartment items. These weren't great, but did show the potential of the service – and later additions like Sodium One and Sodium Two, a futuristic space shooter and racer respectively, brought all new experiences to the virtual world. Unfortunately, by the time that they arrived, most people had already long moved out.
We Laugh, but There Was Something There
PlayStation Home will perhaps be remembered for everything that it wasn't – but we don't think that it was an outright failure. The concept twisted and changed direction far too many times, and its under baked origins left a sour taste, but the idea of a communal gaming hub – filled with activities and other people – could have been great. Even if it was as profitable as people make out, we doubt that Sony will ever give this another stab. And in a way, that's a shame. This is a concept that needed completely rebooting to realise its potential, but it would appear that the door is now firmly shut.
What are your memories of PlayStation Home? Would you return to a rebooted virtual world on the PlayStation 4? Don't start dancing in the comments section below.