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PlayStation Home Open Beta's Troubled Launch

Sony launched the PlayStation Home virtual community on Thursday, and while the closed beta has been up and running for quite a while, gamers are experiencing issues with the public new version.

The biggest issue with Sony’s PlayStation Home program thus far is actually connecting to the virtual environment itself. Gamers click on the icon via the XMB only to get a popup box saying “Network Error, The connection to the network was lost, C-991.” Meh. The problem just doesn’t happen once or twice; it’s usually over and over for quite a while. At the time this article began to take shape, there was no official word as to what the problem really was, only speculation that Home may be experiencing a loading issue. It seemed possible that the Home servers were completely overworked, that Sony didn’t anticipate the huge load of connections despite teasing the PlayStation 3 community with bits of Home information since the console first reared its head, thus is now scrambling to set up more bandwidth or whatever it takes to get screaming complainers off their backs.

Unfortunately, the initial load issue is only one of Home’s current problems. We discovered that, once permanent connection to Home was actually made, another issue immediately arose: an area refused to load. In fact, the Apartment was the culprit, and the virtual avatar remained stuck within the apartment complex entrance, unable to move forward or backward without another connection error popping up like some virtual middle finger. The Apartment eventually loaded, but only through the handy, virtual PDA. The loading error was quite embarrassing actually, as other avatars tried to pass through the door. “Umm yeah sorry I’m a loser, stuck in a door” was the apologetic explanation offered to other users.

If connection issues were not enough, gamers wandering into the virtual Theater were somewhat sour by what appeared on the silver screen. In the closed betas, Sony threw up a SOCOM documentary that was somewhat entertaining to watch. Unfortunately, the Theater only played that one movie, initially downloaded when the gamers enters the theater for the first time and thus repeating it continuously. But now the SOCOM documentary is replaced by a short teaser trailer from the vampire movie Twilight, followed by a cheesy Twilight music video. Needless to say, Theater visitors had nothing positive to say about the showing, complaining that it wasn’t worth the long download, and popcorn would have flown like fluffy darts had there been any to pop (some third-party developer should create tomatoes or something else to throw at the screen).

Sony certainly has a way to go in setting up a stable environment for the multitudes of PlayStation 3 owners, but it’s somewhat surprising that Home users are experiencing connection issues with the public release. Actually, it’s surprising that any issues of the sort arise considering the overall development time and the extensive closed beta testing. Home has certainly changed quite a bit since the last closed beta client; the developers even overhauled the main plaza, adding a shallow pool and redesigning some of the surrounding buildings. Fresh new content have hit the in-game display screens, and Sony even implemented virtual arcade machines featuring the PlayStation Network favorite, Echochrome.

Thankfully the cries of PlayStation Home users have caught the ears of official Sony minions, including one Patrick “I-cannot-comment-on-that” Seybold , Director of Corporate Communications and Social Media. “We are aware that some people may be experiencing difficulty in accessing the PlayStation Home beta at present. This is due to overwhelming demand for the service as people access Home for the very first time since it became Open Beta and appeared on the XMB."

"While we prepare solutions to ease the problem, you may continue to experience difficulties accessing Home," he added. "We kindly ask for your patience as we work to meet the incredible demand for this revolutionary service.”

So indeed, Home is suffering from a flood of gamers as originally speculated, overloading the network and causing mass hysteria. Looking back, PlayStation Home is actually acting like a fresh MMORPG just birthed from the developmental womb, quirky, whiney and unable to pick its nose until it discovers a hand. Until then, Home users will have to stick a passie in their mouth and suck up the annoyances until the bugs are ironed out and short-term players find something else to flood.

  • bin1127
    It's not unexpected. Nowadays defects during the launch of anything is probably a PR strategy that doesn't cost a penny. but not sure if really want a 3rd Life.

    "like some virtual middle finger" very nicely worded.
    Reply
  • Uhh, one word. Beta. Who ever thought it was a good idea to release a public beta of what could be a fairly complex service to console users? It is not like these are mostly technical people that understand what beta means. This could end up being a black eye for Sony if they do not get this sorted out fairly quickly.
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  • zak_mckraken
    Penny Arcade have been quite harsh with Home. I don't own a PS3 but knowing Sony, I'd say that they're probably right.

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/
    Reply
  • zak_mckraken
    I guess I should have linked the actual article (be sure to check the comic too!)

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/2008/12/12/
    Reply
  • Errr...? Why release an open beta without the proper server support? Was no one aware that people would download this program and try to log on which might cause server problems? I turned on my PS3 fo rthe first time in a month or so to try this out onnly to get crappy errors. I guess it will be hibernating for another winter.
    Reply
  • hesido
    I don't understand the heavenly sword hate in the penny arcade article. That alone lowers the value of their article.
    Reply
  • d_kuhn
    I don't think they need to upgrade their servers at all... probably 90%+ of the traffic they're currently seeing is simple rubbernecking. Folks like myself who listened to 16 months of "it's coming and it's going to be great". I logged in (took a while), created an avatar, and wandered around for 30 minutes... took in the sights.

    I don't think I'll be back for quite a while (until there are some new sights to take in), and I suspect I'm not alone. Give it a week or two and the traffic will be a fraction of current levels and the existing infrastructure will probably not have a problem.

    Where Sony failed is not that they lacked adequate infrastructure, it's that they didn't implement a queue or waiting room to accommodate periods of high demand.
    Reply
  • d_kuhn
    Here's the review I wrote right after I got done playing with it:

    The Web Based EULA and login process was having problems (lots of timeouts) that I'm guessing was load based, but once I got into the environment everything worked smoothly.

    Graphically the environment looked decent, not state of the art but a whole lot better than Second Life (which Sony seems to be modeling Home after).

    Obviously content is very limited at this point, you start out in your relatively empty studio 'condo'. It's got a nice ocean view off the patio but there's pretty much nothing to do there after 30 seconds of looking around (and you can't actually GET TO the boats down in the harbor... which means they're wallpaper). The public space is limited to an open court area, bowling area, and a mall with a handful of stores (each having a handful of merchandise).

    It seems they have not designed the system to provide an immersive experience, you don't 'walk' to the public space, you disappear from your appartment and appear there. Going between areas also involves discontinuous 'jumps'... I suppose that makes coding easier, but it also hurts the "virtual world" feeling of the environment.

    I'm also sure that everyone actually lives in the same virtual condo, which also takes away from the feeling of having your own space in the virtual world. I never saw more than maybe 30 or 40 folks in the public space, so they're obviously setting up multiple spaces that you get automatically shuffled into, but all that happens transparently.

    I guess given the complexity of MMO worlds these days I was hoping for more (especially given how long it took to get this far) like a node based setup where you started in a 'Town' made up of folks in your geographical region maybe... and could travel to other towns if you wanted.

    I was also hoping for more immersion... like you having a distinct "Condo" to give you an illusion of actual ownership - and seamless connection to public spaces.

    Obviously Sony is planning on financing this environment through sales of virtual items like furniture, clothing, and upgraded living spaces (prices seem pretty reasonable given that expectation... if they can get 50 bucks a year out of you then you're into it for the same as XBox Live)... but for me the environment lacks the immersion needed to make it a compelling experience. It's not like I can pop up a Map of "PS3 HomeWorld" and point at a spot and say "that is where my 'condo' is", or "that is where my 'town' is". Instead you have an arbitrary space that you can pay real money to put arbitrary stuff into... but without even the illusion of solidity to anything (except the money... hence the problem).

    I'm sure things will improve as more features get added, but at least for me... the current basic operating premise will prevent me from becoming more than peripherally involved in "Home".

    I suspect if some of my friends had PS3's then Home would be more interesting (at least as a chat space)... but since I'm the ONLY one of my friends who has one, even the social aspect is unconvincing.

    And all the options for facial hair were horrible, so I couldn't tune my avatar (I wear a goat or beard depending on what mood I'm in any particular month) even to the same level of similarity as my Mii and XBox 360 Avatar.

    For me the analysis is: Home has potential but needs work.
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  • antilycus
    yet again, sony makes it sounds like everyone on the planet is after their product... when don't they do that, seriously
    Reply
  • falchard
    Atleast the characters don't look as gay as they do in XBox.
    Reply