Sony Delays PlayStation Home Again

Posted by: Kenji Hall on April 22

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Delayed again. After keeping gamers waiting for months, Sony has acknowledged that, for the second time, it will postpone the rollout of Home—the online, real-time social networking service for the PlayStation 3 video game console. Sony now plans to release a test version this summer to a limited number of users in Japan, the U.S. and Europe. After getting user feedback and giving Home a few final tweaks, Sony will open it up to all PS3 users in the fall, though it’s likely to remain a “beta”, or test, version.

That puts the project a year behind schedule. The service, which resembles Linden Labs’ Second Life, will let users meet, chat or play games with others through avatars in a computer-generated 3-D setting. It was supposed to be rolled out last fall. But Sony games honcho Kaz Hirai told an audience at the Tokyo Game Show last October that the start would be delayed till spring, 2008.

At a game developers’ conference in Tokyo in mid-March, Ryoji Akagawa, senior producer of the Home Project Steering Department in Japan, was still insisting everything was on schedule. When I asked him for details, he got sheepish and refused to talk about it. No wonder.

What’s taking so long? Ask Sony and you’ll get a vague explanation. “We needed more time to give it features that will make it a lot more fun for users,” says Sony Computer Entertainment spokesman Satoshi Fukuoka, adding: “You’ll see when it’s released.”

That’s too bad because leaving PS3 fans in the dark only gives them the impression that something has gone terribly wrong. It’s also a shame because the PS3 is still trailing the industry’s best-selling console, Nintendo’s Wii. According to NPD, Wii unit sales in the U.S. in March were more than double the PS3’s—721,000 vs. 257,000—and Sony placed last among the three hardware makers for the month. Home and the video and music download service PlayStation Network, which is slated for this year, should give PS3 users more of what they’ve been expecting from their souped-up machines. The clock is ticking, though.

Recently, there were signs that something was amiss. In late February, Phil Harrison, London-based Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios president and the exec in charge of developing Home, suddenly resigned after 16 years with the company. My guess—and this is purely speculation—is that Harrison’s boss, Hirai, was none too happy that Home was facing yet another delay and gave him his marching orders. Hirai is acting as head of the worldwide studios until he finds a replacement for Harrison.

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No longer child's play, the booming global games market is worth billions of dollars. In Games, Inc., BusinessWeek Innovation writer Matt Vella and Tokyo correspondent Kenji Hall analyze emerging business trends in video games and interactive entertainment. They’ll examine everything from button-mashing, chart-topping, console games to serious games commissioned by big corporations to train staff. They’ll also map the evolution of expansive virtual worlds and go behind the strategies at companies that are turning play into big business.

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