Home – the long awaited 3D social network for the Playstation 3 – was released to the general public for download last week.

In case you haven’t heard, Sony have had a vastly ambitious idea ever since the PS3 was released. They wanted to create a 3D world as the ‘hub’ of the PS3 experience. The idea was to allow people to interact with other users on the Playstation Network in order to make new friends and undertake shared activities with one another, whether it be watching something on a virtual cinema screen, or playing various mini-games.

It was also intended to allow game launching – so that one could forego the use of the Cross Media Bar menu system completely. You could find your friend in the 3D world, and start a game of Pro Evo together rather than having to navigate through a long list of tedious menus.

As someone who despises social networks and 3D virtual worlds such as Second Life, I am probably not the target audience for this type of product. Yet the seemingly bottomless pit of potential this idea brought to the table drew me in somewhat, and I was eager to try it out as soon as I could.

Since that initial idea, Home has been pushed back repeatedly, presumably because they wanted to get it right before releasing it to hungry PS3 owners. That was a very wise thing to do.

What wasn’t wise is what they released last week.

The ‘Home experience’

After downloading the v2.53 firmware update (which, as Playstation Network users may know, takes far longer than it should), I clicked on the Home icon. I was actually excited for a few minutes as I wondered about all the things that I could now do that I couldn’t do before.

The Home download was a tad above 70MB, which sounds fine at first. However, you have to set aside just under 4GB solely for Home. This made sense, since 70MB is pretty small for a full blown 3D world.

Yet, my happy thoughts were already interrupted as I kept getting a C-931 error – telling me that the connection to the server was lost. Even now, it takes me about 10 attempts to get a successful connection (or until I give up and play a real game instead).

You start in your generic apartment overlooking a marina. Nice. Unfortunately, that’s where the good stuff ends.

The first screen prompts you to customise your avatar, of which there are about 5 sets of clothes you can choose from and a few face models. That’s pretty pathetic considering that the point of Home is to give each user an individual identity. The result is that most people look very, very similar.

I’m sure Sony expect people to pay for additional clothing and items, following the models of PC virtual worlds. The difference is that most people will see this as pointless. The ones that won’t will be the people who prefer using the said PC MMORPGs and virtual worlds anyway.

Exploring

Apart from looking out of your balcony at a Monte Carlo-esque view (and realising that the water looks like a plastic bin liner), it’s quite apparent after a minute that there is nothing much to do. Hence I tried to leave my apartment… only to face another screen that tells me I have another 50MB download to move into the next area! It would make much more sense to have been able to download at least the core areas in one go – surely Sony must have realised that people might actually want to move out of a 10m x 10m confined area fairly soon after starting.

After moving into the main square (and by this time I was already fed up), I saw other users for the first time. “Great”, I thought. I might be able to do something. I was wrong again. Apart from making random gestures or talking loads of crap, there was nothing of substance to do.

There was a large screen with some music blaring out and people virtually dancing (that’s what all this has come to?) and since I could think of nothing to do, I went there on a recruiting drive. I had my character say “Follow me!” and ran around in circles in a vague attempt to form a rampaging conga-line/crew. But no, everyone was too enthralled with standing around or dancing.

Feeling dejected, the only other thing I could think of doing (apart from going to another area and facing yet another download) was to find some sort of glitch or anomaly. I loved Brian Lara Cricket on the PC, not because it was good, but because it was so buggy that it became funny. But I couldn’t even get this sort of twisted pleasure out of Home.

A wasted effort?

Well, maybe not. If Sony’s plans are to continually develop Home by listening to feedback and integrating it more with the rest of the Playstation experience, then over time, Home might actually be worthwhile. The PS3 as a whole was pretty slow to get off the mark, but Sony do seem to listen more than most, and as a result, the PS3 has now become a solid platform for games.

That said, as it stands, the problem with Home is that it has absolutely nothing to offer that isn’t more convenient to do elsewhere. It is much quicker and easier to view movie trailers on the internet with a computer. The same goes for communicating with friends through social networks and instant messaging. Putting a 3D gloss on things just wastes time rather than improving the situation.

Finally, there have been many people pointing out that Home still has the word ‘Beta’ next to it, and so it is likely to have problems. Well, the closed Beta has been running for quite a few months before it was made open last week. The fact that it was made open means that there must have been at least some confidence that the product was ready for everyone to use. They could easily have waited longer to release it, since they had been pushing it back for long enough anyway.

With Sony having to cut a minimum of 8000 staff recently, for their sake, let’s hope that they didn’t put all their eggs in this basket.