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The Man Pulling PlayStation Home's Strings

A lengthy conversation with the guy inside Sony, overseeing Home's future.

Even the guy piloting Home knows why much of PlayStation's audience hasn't come back.

As the director of Home, it's not a surprise that Jack Buser is also its most enthusiastic cheerleader. I've seen Buser talk about Home before--he genuinely loves it.

The general message I've heard from Sony employees is "hey, you don't use Home, but it makes money," and as my story from yesterday pointed out, it's not only an easy money maker for the company; there are legions of users deeply passionate about Home.

We touched on a wide spectrum of Home topics, including the bumpy early days that alienated a bunch of people, questions over the realistic art style, whether Home will ever appear on a portable, and if the whole point is to make money, how much money is Sony making? (Spoiler: he gets really gun-shy about that part.)

The first thing you realize about Buser is that he loves numbers. He starts our conversation by rattling off a bunch of data about user engagement. That he used the term "user engagement" already tells you something. There are over 20 million registered accounts participating in Home, compared to PlayStation Network's total of 77 million users. Buser won't say how many daily active users, but the average session time for someone is 70 minutes.

Home, which remains in perpetual beta (we'll get to that later), largely works because it's free, he argued.

"[Being free] allows users to have very few barriers to themselves and actually coming into Home," said Buser. "You have different kinds of users. You have users who are spending a tremendous amount of time on the platform, literally spending their lives inside of PlayStation Home. You have other users that are using PlayStation Home as something that they do between games. They'll have a big game they bought, they beat the game or otherwise get tired of the game, so what do they do with their console between that and the next time they buy a game? They use PlayStation Home."

When I started researching this second set of articles, I wanted to gain a sense of Home's demographics. That's been incredibly hard to nail down, as Home fan sites are all over the place. I did have a theory, though, that Home users were not the primary gamers in a household. Instead, it was the brother, sister or mother not really into games.

Sodium 2's a better game than what's been available in Home, but superior to WipEout? Not really.

While Buser admitted Home has all kinds of users, he told me my theory isn't really true.

"If you look at the average Home user, they are the most hardcore gamer on the PS3," he said. "They buy more games than the average PS3 user, they play more games than the average PS3 user. They also watch more movies than the average PS3 user, who is already a highly self-selective consumer. We're talking about rabid consumers of media and hardcore gamers. That's who these people are."

Point taken.

This is not Jack Tretton. This is Jack Buser.

Yesterday's piece was meant to provide a window into the people who are already engaged with Home. There are likely millions who turned Home on the day it launched back in December 2008, realized there was nothing to do but purchase t-shirts and sit on the floor...then tuned out. Heck, I was one of them. Before writing a few stories on Home for G4, the last time I'd turned Home on was the same day it started.

"We would be remiss to ignore the people on PlayStation who may have come in 2008 and walked into Home and said 'yeah, there's nothing here and left' and formed their opinion," said Buser. "We would love to see those people come back in. But I get it. If you come into a platform and there's nothing there for you, you're going to be hesitant to come back. That's why we're very focused on this idea of games, because if it's a great game, why not come back in and play it?"

To that end, while the Home team has spent much of its time building up fan-focused features like the Community Theater, there's been a highly concentrated effort to produce more content in the form of serious games.

"We made one fatal mistake in those early days," said Buser. "You put a bunch of gamers together in a room and you tell them to talk to one another and they don't do it. This is the 20/20 hindsight part. It seems obvious in retrospect, but it wasn't obvious back in 2008. We thought 'here, we'll build these rooms and we'll fill them with gamers and we'll theme these rooms after games and then people will self-select and talk to each other.' What we discovered very early on, even in closed beta...we realized that gamers talk to each other and they meet each other in the context of playing games."

There are about 200 games within Home right now, but many aren't worth your time. Did you know The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom developers The Odd Gentlemen produced a game exclusively for Home? Me either! Sodium 2, however, is the high-profile recent addition to Home, billed as something closer to a racer you'd find on PlayStation Network or on a disc. It's certainly better, but you won't be ditching your traditional games.

Perhaps more than anything else, the most blunt criticism against Home is simply the way it looks. The realistic style is...well, have you seen those Street Fighter avatars? There's just something off-putting about them. Buser mostly dodged that critique, pointing towards the 9,000 virtual items available, some of them complete replacements of the default avatar. He tried to position the style as an advantage.

...yeah.

"Let's just say for a moment we wanted to launch an FPS [in Home]," he said. "We could do that in a way where you could maintain your identity and still have some sort of believability in that kind of experience, as opposed to being a super cartoony looking character. I think the realism of the avatars is one of our huge advantages, especially now that we're focused on providing a robust game platform with the service."

Even though Home fans I talked to rarely brought up games, it's what Buser returns to over and over again, essentially his catch-all defense against questions about users not interested in Home. If he builds enough proper games into Home, Buser believes people will stop by and check Home out. The theory is not without merit, but the problem remains building a game compelling enough to rope people in.

Perhaps more important than anything else, though, is that Home makes money for Sony. Unfortunately, Buser would not budge on disclosing any specifics. Even when asked in especially vague terms, such as whether Home's profits had managed to offset the years of research and development that went into the project, he side-stepped.

"We don't comment on exact revenue for PlayStation Home," he said. "PlayStation Home is heavily reliant on the microtransactions business model. Microtransactions tend to be profitable due to the low cost of virtual item development and the high traffic on the platform."

Room, as announced, wasn't supposed to be a complete copy of the PS3 experience.

There was a point when Home was going to be on PSP, too, called "Room." Revealed at Tokyo Game Show, it was never released, and quietly shelved without much fanfare. Buser would not comment on whether the Room concept would return for Vita.

He was also coy about the beta tag attached to Home. Buser made the argument that having "beta" attached to Home helps underscore its design philosophy. He refused to provide any specifics on if "beta" would ever be lifted. Maybe closer to Home 2.0? The service hit the 1.5 milestone this past spring.

"We're in open beta," he said. "We don't talk much about it. The reason why the tag is there is because we really want to drive home this message that Home is always evolving, it's always changing, that we're always working on it. [...] We don't have anything to announce at this time, but we do like the idea that that tag reinforces this always evolving message. But I can't say more than that."

The point of these stories wasn't really about convincing anyone they should suddenly care about Home. Yours truly doesn't even really care! This was all to provide a look into why some people do care, and Sony's approach to appeasing the already happy audience, while trying to pull in the other people who've outright dismissed it.

Maybe games are the key, maybe it's too late.

Now, the question is when I'll decide to boot up Home again. Any bets?

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Posted by patrickklepek
Even the guy piloting Home knows why much of PlayStation's audience hasn't come back.

As the director of Home, it's not a surprise that Jack Buser is also its most enthusiastic cheerleader. I've seen Buser talk about Home before--he genuinely loves it.

The general message I've heard from Sony employees is "hey, you don't use Home, but it makes money," and as my story from yesterday pointed out, it's not only an easy money maker for the company; there are legions of users deeply passionate about Home.

We touched on a wide spectrum of Home topics, including the bumpy early days that alienated a bunch of people, questions over the realistic art style, whether Home will ever appear on a portable, and if the whole point is to make money, how much money is Sony making? (Spoiler: he gets really gun-shy about that part.)

The first thing you realize about Buser is that he loves numbers. He starts our conversation by rattling off a bunch of data about user engagement. That he used the term "user engagement" already tells you something. There are over 20 million registered accounts participating in Home, compared to PlayStation Network's total of 77 million users. Buser won't say how many daily active users, but the average session time for someone is 70 minutes.

Home, which remains in perpetual beta (we'll get to that later), largely works because it's free, he argued.

"[Being free] allows users to have very few barriers to themselves and actually coming into Home," said Buser. "You have different kinds of users. You have users who are spending a tremendous amount of time on the platform, literally spending their lives inside of PlayStation Home. You have other users that are using PlayStation Home as something that they do between games. They'll have a big game they bought, they beat the game or otherwise get tired of the game, so what do they do with their console between that and the next time they buy a game? They use PlayStation Home."

When I started researching this second set of articles, I wanted to gain a sense of Home's demographics. That's been incredibly hard to nail down, as Home fan sites are all over the place. I did have a theory, though, that Home users were not the primary gamers in a household. Instead, it was the brother, sister or mother not really into games.

Sodium 2's a better game than what's been available in Home, but superior to WipEout? Not really.

While Buser admitted Home has all kinds of users, he told me my theory isn't really true.

"If you look at the average Home user, they are the most hardcore gamer on the PS3," he said. "They buy more games than the average PS3 user, they play more games than the average PS3 user. They also watch more movies than the average PS3 user, who is already a highly self-selective consumer. We're talking about rabid consumers of media and hardcore gamers. That's who these people are."

Point taken.

This is not Jack Tretton. This is Jack Buser.

Yesterday's piece was meant to provide a window into the people who are already engaged with Home. There are likely millions who turned Home on the day it launched back in December 2008, realized there was nothing to do but purchase t-shirts and sit on the floor...then tuned out. Heck, I was one of them. Before writing a few stories on Home for G4, the last time I'd turned Home on was the same day it started.

"We would be remiss to ignore the people on PlayStation who may have come in 2008 and walked into Home and said 'yeah, there's nothing here and left' and formed their opinion," said Buser. "We would love to see those people come back in. But I get it. If you come into a platform and there's nothing there for you, you're going to be hesitant to come back. That's why we're very focused on this idea of games, because if it's a great game, why not come back in and play it?"

To that end, while the Home team has spent much of its time building up fan-focused features like the Community Theater, there's been a highly concentrated effort to produce more content in the form of serious games.

"We made one fatal mistake in those early days," said Buser. "You put a bunch of gamers together in a room and you tell them to talk to one another and they don't do it. This is the 20/20 hindsight part. It seems obvious in retrospect, but it wasn't obvious back in 2008. We thought 'here, we'll build these rooms and we'll fill them with gamers and we'll theme these rooms after games and then people will self-select and talk to each other.' What we discovered very early on, even in closed beta...we realized that gamers talk to each other and they meet each other in the context of playing games."

There are about 200 games within Home right now, but many aren't worth your time. Did you know The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom developers The Odd Gentlemen produced a game exclusively for Home? Me either! Sodium 2, however, is the high-profile recent addition to Home, billed as something closer to a racer you'd find on PlayStation Network or on a disc. It's certainly better, but you won't be ditching your traditional games.

Perhaps more than anything else, the most blunt criticism against Home is simply the way it looks. The realistic style is...well, have you seen those Street Fighter avatars? There's just something off-putting about them. Buser mostly dodged that critique, pointing towards the 9,000 virtual items available, some of them complete replacements of the default avatar. He tried to position the style as an advantage.

...yeah.

"Let's just say for a moment we wanted to launch an FPS [in Home]," he said. "We could do that in a way where you could maintain your identity and still have some sort of believability in that kind of experience, as opposed to being a super cartoony looking character. I think the realism of the avatars is one of our huge advantages, especially now that we're focused on providing a robust game platform with the service."

Even though Home fans I talked to rarely brought up games, it's what Buser returns to over and over again, essentially his catch-all defense against questions about users not interested in Home. If he builds enough proper games into Home, Buser believes people will stop by and check Home out. The theory is not without merit, but the problem remains building a game compelling enough to rope people in.

Perhaps more important than anything else, though, is that Home makes money for Sony. Unfortunately, Buser would not budge on disclosing any specifics. Even when asked in especially vague terms, such as whether Home's profits had managed to offset the years of research and development that went into the project, he side-stepped.

"We don't comment on exact revenue for PlayStation Home," he said. "PlayStation Home is heavily reliant on the microtransactions business model. Microtransactions tend to be profitable due to the low cost of virtual item development and the high traffic on the platform."

Room, as announced, wasn't supposed to be a complete copy of the PS3 experience.

There was a point when Home was going to be on PSP, too, called "Room." Revealed at Tokyo Game Show, it was never released, and quietly shelved without much fanfare. Buser would not comment on whether the Room concept would return for Vita.

He was also coy about the beta tag attached to Home. Buser made the argument that having "beta" attached to Home helps underscore its design philosophy. He refused to provide any specifics on if "beta" would ever be lifted. Maybe closer to Home 2.0? The service hit the 1.5 milestone this past spring.

"We're in open beta," he said. "We don't talk much about it. The reason why the tag is there is because we really want to drive home this message that Home is always evolving, it's always changing, that we're always working on it. [...] We don't have anything to announce at this time, but we do like the idea that that tag reinforces this always evolving message. But I can't say more than that."

The point of these stories wasn't really about convincing anyone they should suddenly care about Home. Yours truly doesn't even really care! This was all to provide a look into why some people do care, and Sony's approach to appeasing the already happy audience, while trying to pull in the other people who've outright dismissed it.

Maybe games are the key, maybe it's too late.

Now, the question is when I'll decide to boot up Home again. Any bets?

Staff
Edited by TwoSe7enFive

does this work? 
 
Edit: Yes, yes it does

Posted by Spikey

Frankly, Home just isn't that interesting.

Posted by Daryl

butters

Posted by HadesTimes

Oh, so Home is a micro-transaction scam. You know buying virtual goods with absolutely no worth. Don't tell Microsoft, we will have Microsoft Avatar Home next. On the internet, if you build it, a niche group of people will go there and play in it. But I don't think anyone outside of Sony takes Home seriously. Considering, how much publicity ANY OF IT, gets.

Online
Posted by Sammo21

But seriously...who cares? If these dedicated people use it and it makes Sony and its partners tons of money, more power to them. This is the same argument over anything like this, be it Farmville or Second Life. I don't understand why their are paintball video games yet there are, but I don't think there needs to be a hard hitting expose on them or "Why Does Cabella Sell?" Haters gonna hate, especially when it's not for us.

I also think Avatars and Miis are stupid, and I bet you anything Avatars are basically 100% profit.

Posted by RockinKemosabe

When I first saw Jack Buser's name I thought it said Jack Bauer. Went from excited to disappointed.

Posted by MisterMouse

hmm it is interesting to hear that he side steps some of the questions...

Posted by rudyarr

@HadesTimes: you'd be surprised how many people really love how. It isn't for everyone, but for the people that do enjoy it I think that is great. I slip in there from time to time to check out the new stuff. It isn't that bad.

Posted by Ragdrazi

I'm confused as to why we're doing this Home retrospective. I'm not really learning anything from it that wasn't readily apparent at first glance. More then that, Home just isn't an interesting topic. It's gaming's vestigial appendix. At some point, it may become infected and need to be removed, but never will anyone care.

Posted by mnzy

Still sounds like IRC with hats to me...

Posted by Zaph

@HadesTimes said:

Oh, so Home is a micro-transaction scam. You know buying virtual goods with absolutely no worth. Don't tell Microsoft, we will have Microsoft Avatar Home next. On the internet, if you build it, a niche group of people will go there and play in it. But I don't think anyone outside of Sony takes Home seriously. Considering, how much publicity ANY OF IT, gets.

What makes you think it's a scam? Just because it's not for you or I doesn't make it a scam.

And you say the virtual goods have absolutely no 'worth'. What defines worth? I could argue that all entertainment for the sake of entertainment is worthless.

Your profile says you're currently enjoying Dungeon Siege 3. What gives it 'worth'? Is it the entertainment? The co-op social factor? Its artform?

Why cant someone appreciate those same things in Home?

Posted by RedRocketWestie

I didn't even have a PS3 when Home came out, but I read the stories and dismissed it as a total joke. It sounds like a vocal minority are still fighting the good fight, desperately hoping that it's not. On the one hand, I feel like I should check it out just to make an informed decision. On the other, I can't help wondering if there aren't a thousand better things to do with my time.

Posted by Sooty

Can you research interesting things instead of boring failed projects that nobody except Internet creepers care about?
 
I went on Home a few times and within minutes you just encounter people crowding around female avatars. It's pathetic.

Edited by whatisdelicious

The reason why I'm not into Home isn't because it doesn't have enough shitty games in there. I don't want games in Home. The most I ever wanted was like... a billiards table. Cards, maybe. Darts? Just games like that, that don't require much mentally or physically so I can concentrate on socializing.

No, the reason why I'm not interested in the reality of what Home actually is as opposed to what it was supposed to be is because it's poorly made. It takes forever to load anything, most people don't have mics, the "realistic" art style looks way better in theory than in execution, etc. If Home wasn't such a drag to use, I probably would've stuck with it for longer after it launched. But instead, it was a broken piece of shit, and last time I logged in, it was still a broken piece of shit so I deleted it.

Posted by dvorak

@mnzy said:

Still sounds like IRC with hats to me...

Don't forget pantaloons and steampunk goggles.

Posted by chickdigger802

Would love a new QL for today's Home Patrick! With July being pretty dull on games, it would be a great time to get that rolling!

maybe even a Home TNT ;P

Posted by Mongoose

@Ygg: Found the articles pretty damn interesting myself. Has inspired me to go back and check out Home again.

Posted by Slaker117

The thing about Home when I booted it up on my new PlayStation about a week ago is it just seemed bad. Everything about it was clunky and the "style" was severely lacking. I have a hard time seeing it as the virtual chatroom "if that's your thing, with some weird quirks" that's being pitched. It's more just a really poorly designed and poorly executed virtual chatroom. If Sony can make money off of it, good for them I guess, but that doesn't make Home in it's current state any better for me.

Posted by Afroman269

Still not going to bother trying to get into that place again, but this was still a great read.

Posted by shakesvoltage

The thing that always troubled me about home wasn't the lack of content, or the constant grasp of hook-hands after my wallet -- it's the completely blank, dead-eyed expression of the avatars. They're goddamn pod people.

Posted by HadesTimes

Well, I find it incredibly interesting that the crazy that just hit my inbox isn't represented here. Anyway, Home is fine for people who like it, like Farmville. But the experience is created for one reason, to make money. That's all I'm going to say about it. I'm not arguing with anyone. So don't bother...

Online
Posted by whatisdelicious

@chickdigger802 said:

maybe even a Home TNT ;P

Okay, now that's an awesome idea actually.

Posted by patrickklepek

@chickdigger802 said:

Would love a new QL for today's Home Patrick! With July being pretty dull on games, it would be a great time to get that rolling!

maybe even a Home TNT ;P

No comment.

Staff
Posted by laserbolts

Home is a piece of shit but if some people find enjoyment out of it then all the power to them.

Posted by yoshimitz707

@patrickklepek said:

@chickdigger802 said:

Would love a new QL for today's Home Patrick! With July being pretty dull on games, it would be a great time to get that rolling!

maybe even a Home TNT ;P

No comment.

Thanks for confirming it.

Posted by eccentrix

So the official name is Playstation Home Beta.

Posted by brookisol

I'm sure when I went back to Home a while back they'd quietly dropped the Beta tag; I remember specifically noticing it was gone and thinking 'good for them I guess.'

But now maybe it was all a dream?

Posted by Nasar7

I boot up home about once a year just to troll its users.

Posted by Deusx

I hate home but this was interesting. You know what? Barely do I find myself reading a news article completly calm and not skipping paragraphs. Only Patrick has done that for me, I say good job.

Posted by Lurkero

If they would have actually released ROOM I think I would have tried it out. HOME as a virtual world does not interest me, but a virtual room is more personal and relatable to the user. I don't want to browse a world, but give me a really tight looking room as a hub and I'd bite. I could watch the advertisements and play the advergames from my ROOM.

Posted by Delta_Ass

The saying's true: You can't go Home again.

Posted by YukoAsho

The problem with Home is that, while it's incredibly pretty, there's nothing organic about the community.  You go, play a game if you can find one, and leave.  Everything's measured and there's no real room for self-expression.  As a Second Life user, there's no real reason for me to trade it for the pathetic closed environment that is PS Home.

Posted by Ragdrazi
@yoshimitz707 said:

@patrickklepek said:

@chickdigger802 said:

Would love a new QL for today's Home Patrick! With July being pretty dull on games, it would be a great time to get that rolling!

maybe even a Home TNT ;P

No comment.

Thanks for confirming it.

...
Posted by Devil240Z

I really liked home during the closed beta days. But once it opened up I realized that it was never going to become anything much more than what it was already. And that killed my interest in it for good.

Posted by Stahlbrand

Interesting stuff, but it is too bad Buser was not more forthcoming with information. I'm curious about the topic, and I don't even have a ps3, let alone a desire to play Home, just interested in how the money is made, what the ROI has been, that kind of thing.

Posted by tplarkin7

If a product is open to the public, it's not a beta. It's a finished product and it will be judged as such.

Posted by kearakauai

I saw the two article/interviews by Patrick Klepek re Playstation Home mentioned in the HomeForum and in HomeStation Magazine.  After reading both interviews (Jason Sorensen of HSM on June 29 and Jack Buser today), I wrote a lengthy reply which I submitted this afternoon.  Hopefully, GiantBomb will print it.   
 
The bottom line, however, is that you need a lot more than a cursory glance at Central Plaza to get to the root of what keeps so many people in Home.  This is an open invitation:  sign into Home and send me a friend request:  keara22hi    Tell me when you would like a real in-depth tour of the public places, personal spaces, clubs, parties games, people, mini games, and other fun stuff in Home.  I will delighted to show you the real Home experience.    Come as a group or alone.  I'll leave the porch light on for you.

Posted by Nate
@chickdigger802 said:

Would love a new QL for today's Home Patrick! With July being pretty dull on games, it would be a great time to get that rolling!

maybe even a Home TNT ;P

Yes!  This!  LOL 
 
But yeah, great article Patrick. I'm really loving that GB has original reporting for real now. 
Posted by Jayross

Cool article, but like you said, not interested.

Posted by geirr

A home Quick Look or even TNT would be so freakin' awesome.

Posted by Milkman

I love these kind of articles. Patrick may be the best thing to happen to Giant Bomb in a long, long time.

Posted by tsang

@patrickklepek said:

@chickdigger802 said:

Would love a new QL for today's Home Patrick! With July being pretty dull on games, it would be a great time to get that rolling!

maybe even a Home TNT ;P

No comment.

I don't want a Home QL or TNT...... Vinny and Patrick team up together for ... ENDURANCE RUN 2012. A whole year of continuity before the world ends.

Posted by Nunchuckles

Really liking the new revamped news section. Every site posts the same news that you can find anywhere else. But in-depth articles like this is really making me love this site even more.

Posted by McGhee

I've never gone onto Home. I imagine the kind of people that would spend time on Home are some of the last people I would want to hang out with.

Posted by P_Pigly_Hogswine

I haven't used Home in a long time, but my memory of it was this: my avatar had to stand in line to use a virtual arcade machine. Yes, that's right. Hey kids? Play the newest, greatest game around: Waiting In Line! All the fun of standing in line in 1080p! I'm assuming they fixed that, but yeah, that's my memory of Home. Oh, and $4 Diesel shirts. 

Posted by dagas

Interviewing the head of Home is fine, but it would be more interesting to read interviews with some Home user's. Let them say themselves why it is they like Home.

Posted by LeetBalla

That Street Fighter picture is terrifying.

Posted by PieGuy

Playstation Home
 
The Home of sexual predators.

Posted by matti00

@mnzy said:

Still sounds like IRC with hats to me...

...Okay, I'm back in.

Anyway, like I said in the last story, I find this stuff genuinely fascinating. Good write up Patrick

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