It was August 13, 2007. I remember clearly sitting in the audience at the Edinburgh Interactive Festival. A calm and smart-sounding Sony manager called Pete Edward stepped up and gave a presentation about their plans for an ambitious new virtual world: PlayStation Home. It blew my mind. I remember instantly seeing the huge potential that a world like this could have. I spent the next few months persuading Sony to let us create something genuinely unique, and managed to convince both Edward and Phil Harrison (Sony's PlayStation Home champion).
Just over a year later, in December 2008, PlayStation Home opened its doors. A few months later, we successfully launched Xi, an ARG (alternate reality game) which mixed Home spaces, games, websites and live events around the world. A game like Xi could only have happened in a place like PlayStation Home.
"I think Home always suffered from the fact that its founding father Phil Harrison wasn't around to promote it, guide it"
Sadly, Home's champion, Harrison had departed Sony earlier in 2008. And whilst many people at Sony worked incredibly hard since then to make PlayStation Home successful, I think it always suffered from the fact that its founding father wasn't around to promote it, guide it and make sure it was championed at the highest levels.
Although initially hampered by a lack of content, PlayStation Home gradually built a passionate and dedicated following. Despite Sony's attempt to make it either an 'advertising platform for PS3' or a gaming platform in its own right, it soon became clear that it was neither. It was a social platform. Users didn't want to play games - they could do that on their PS3 anyway. They wanted to talk, share experiences, party and have fun. That was what made Home so unique. When the PSN returned after the famous 'hack' in 2011, it was PlayStation Home that came back bigger and stronger than any other part of the network. At its peak, Home had several million dedicated users, a large proportion of whom forged genuine, strong friendships that will endure beyond the platform itself.
PlayStation Home also proved to be a fascinating place for experiments. Home saw the first ever free-to-play console games, huge reward-based communities, gifting, paymium gaming and a host of other unique business models. UK developers like nDreams, Lockwood and Veemee owe their existence to PlayStation Home, and vied with each other to create the most interesting and successful content. People say that Home was a commercial failure. But we generated seven-figure revenues for several years from Home, and other studios did as well. Try telling us that it wasn't successful.
Just over six years later, in March 2015, PlayStation Home will be shutting its doors. My feeling is one of sadness. Not because Home is closing (the PS3 is entering its twilight years, and the timing makes sense), but because Sony doesn't appear to appreciate what an incredible experiment PlayStation Home was. Sure, there were many fundamental things wrong with the design of Home. But there was also so much that was right about it. Players loved to spend money on virtual items - the ARPUs were great. But above all, it was the passion - the loyalty generated by Home - that will be long remembered by anyone involved with the platform. The community loved Home. Some people met on Home, then married in real life. For several people it was a refuge from the real world - a place where they felt safe and secure.
"We generated seven-figure revenues for several years from Home"
I still believe that had Harrison stayed at Sony, things may have been very different. But regardless of how you feel about PlayStation Home, no-one can deny that it has been an incredible experiment. Edward and his talented Home team have learnt more about virtual worlds than almost anyone else on the planet. Will Sony make use of this knowledge? Only time will tell.
I remain totally convinced that some company, someday soon, is going to create a virtual world that grows larger than Facebook. And when they do, someone will look back at PlayStation Home and say, "They were that close..."
nDreams is now focused on the virtual reality space and The Assembly will be a launch title for PlayStation's Project Morpheus and the Oculus Rift. For the Samsung Gear VR they've created Perfect Beach, a relaxation game and action title Gunner.