The news has been around a little while now, but when we saw the PS3's PlayStation Home this afternoon it exceeded our expectations completely. The depth and attention to detail in the service is very impressive, and the fact that's it's going to be provided for free to all PS3 owners means it's near certain to create a MySpace phenomenon all of its own.
At first glance Home looks a bit like a (very pretty) MMO-style chat room. There's avatars running around, speech bubbles popping up and emotes being liberally flung every which way. Your own character in PlayStation Home can be customised at any time in an in-depth slider-based system not too dissimilar from Oblivions.
But the apartments in Home are far more interactive than in any MMO we've seen; walking up to a pool table initiates a seemless jump into a physics-based snooker bout, and every piece of furniture can be nudged or moved. You can even use the many Sony-branded tellies to play your own videos, though it's not clear at this point how the company plans to censor the world from the wrath of pornography.
Interacting with other users is also ramped up from the usual text messages and emotes you'd expect to see. Home lets you stream music to other players or chat to them through a Bluetooth headset, as well as inviting them back to your pad for a spot of interior decorating.
And this is where Sony's Game 3.0 philosophy comes in to play; Home users can decorate their room however they like, with wallpaper, furniture tweaked to their desire and even the option to put hard drive pictures framed on the walls.
There's even a movie theatre for players to visit and it makes YouTube look very basic indeed. The lobbies, snack aisles and sticky seats of a real movie house are all there, except it's movie/games trailers and user-created content that's playing on the big screens. You can also visit specific cinema sections for various game publishers, including EA, THQ and Rockstar.
Because of this Home expectedly offers a huge potential for in-game advertising, including video bill boards with high-definition game trailers. We expect to see these explode later in the year.
Home also offers its own answer to the Xbox 360's achievements in the trophy room, which is where all your game-specific trinkets will land when you complete various in-game tasks. All of your game rewards can be sorted and displayed to your desire, with room for potentially hundreds of different games (the large trophy room looks more like the senate building from Star Wars).
Beyond that, you'll also get rewarded with game-related clothing and items for your achievements, which you can dress your avatar with at any time. A few examples that have thus far been demonstrated are the Singstar and Heavenly Sword t-shirts, which look surprisingly better in-game than the game shirts we get in PR tat bags.
Large-scale beta trials for PlayStation Home begin next month, with full launch currently planned for fall 2007. Unless there's a spectacular shortfall between now and when it launches, Home could to out to be the service that finally drives sales of Sony's next-gen console, and we cant wait to finger our virtual PSPs.