The Playstation Home will allow you to extensively modify an avatar

The Home is customizeable; users can edit, add or change the setting at will

Users can invite others to their Home to chat or share media

Global lounges allow you to chat and interface with others

Small sports games also allow users to interface and chat with each other

The Hall of Fame allows users to show off their achievements

The Home also provides interfaces for other Sony products, including the PSP
First screenshots and videos from Sony's new online service

After a week of anticipation, PlayStation Home is finally official. Sony released screenshots of what many have been terming “online identities” or “avatars.” Unlike the cartoony look of Nintendo’s Miis and the feature-filled interface of Xbox Live, PlayStation Home adopts the “virtual world” concept that, at first glance, looks similar to Second Life or The Sims.

“This is about the connected device,” said Phil Harrison, SCE Worldwide,  as he introduced his concept of Game 3.0 in his keynote speech at GDC. “We want the entire game community to add to this and build on this. It’s not something that we want to claim as a copyright or a trademark. It's about community; it's about collaboration; it's about customization. It's about emergent entertainment powered by the audience—with the audience at the center of this universe.”

Avatars in PlayStation Home can be customized with many different variations of clothing, body and facial features. Its character creation process is akin to that found in many MMORPGs. PlayStation Home users can walk around and socialize through voice or text chat, and play together on casual games or those downloaded from the PlayStation Network. Games of pool and bowling were demonstrated on stage from within the PlayStation Home system.

Animated emotes such as dancing are used to convey actions and emotions, also like those found in online games. Players can communicate by typing to each other, where a USB keyboard would be very handy, or through speech by using any Bluetooth headset. Users can also “quick chat” through pre-written dialog and responses, which may open doors for users speaking different languages to convey understandable messages to each other.

Each online persona will have a virtual living space to decorate with various items and achievement prizes. The virtual apartment can be decorated just like the real world, with users able to select different carpets, furniture and other décor.

The room may also be decorated from media stored on the PlayStation 3, such as music, images and videos. Phil Harrison demonstrated this by taking a picture with his camera with the intention of uploading it to his virtual room.

The PlayStation Home virtual world will also serve as a gateway into downloadable media. For example, a user may walk to the movie theater to gain access to videos, and perhaps pay-per-download high-definition movies.

In what is clearly an answer to Microsoft’s successful game achievement system, Sony is creating something in the same spirit. “The final part of the home experience that we would like to share with you is something called the Hall of Fame,” revealed Harrison.

Users can explore a virtual trophy room are where it displays goals that the player has and has not accomplished. “It's not just the games that you own. It's the entire network of games that's available for PlayStation 3. I think this gives you a sense of where this may go in the future as hundreds and hundreds of titles are added,” said Harrison. “You can check out the trophies, and that gives users an incentive to go and buy your game as well. It's a unique real-time 3D community for the PlayStation Network."

As Sony has stressed on numerous occasions, it plans for the online service to be free of charge. Like Xbox Live’s gamer pictures and themes, however, users will have to pay a small fee to gain access to small novelty items, such as unique clothing, to personalize his or her online identity. The PlayStation Home service will also be subsidized by dynamic advertising that will be viewed in the virtual world.

The final PlayStation Home product isn’t set to launch until fall, though a “large scale” beta is said to begin in April. See Sony's promotional video of PlayStation Home for more.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov
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