News out this week from Venture Beat talks about the growing success of Sony’s Computer Entertainment’s PlayStation Home online virtual world for PlayStation3 game console owners. Sony announced that it now has more than 17 million users who come to the space to play games, attend exclusive events and socialize in places like LucasArts’ Star Wars Cantina. This is an impressive number since you can only access Home from a networked PlayStation3 console, rather than an ordinary computer. Gamers flock to PlayStation Home so they can engage in social gaming across more than 250 relatively sophisticated 3-D games (compared to the more static, Flash animated games on Facebook), at least 100 of which are free-to-play. The focus on games may be the source of Home’s success, notes Venture Beat. There are tie-ins to many popular games titles, like the above mentioned Star Wars Cantina or a game adapted from the hit LittleBigPlanet. There are also stand alone titles, like Novus Prime, which is a 3-D mutliplayer space adventure game.
Sony makes money to support the development of games and run the space by giving users the opportunity to customize their Home avatars with virtual items purchased using Home’s virtual currency, Station Cash. The economy of PlayStation Home is of particular interest because it demonstrates the power of virtual items to fundamentally change the way companies approach game design and marketing. Sure the games aren’t as visually stunning as Gears of War or Call of Duty, but they still manage to draw in millions of players, many of whom are willing to spend money and get their friends involved. The free-to-play model certainly doesn’t need any advocacy from me, but it is impressive that it even works when users are tied to particular location, such as their living room. It challenges the notion that everything has to be lighter and faster so it can run on a mobile device.