PSLS Presents – Jack Buser, Director for PlayStation Home

PlayStation Home has come a long way compared to when it was first released in 2008. The service recently saw its second anniversary since entering the public beta, and PlayStation LifeStyle got a chance to speak with the program’s Director Jack Buser on this latest milestone.

So Home is now two years old. What do you have to say about that?

Jack Buser: For us, it’s such an awesome time to be working on the platform. We’re two years old [as of last weekend], you probably saw the infographic we released talking about the growth of the platform…17 million userbase, 100’s of games now to play on the platform, 7,000 virtual items, 600 events. It’s crazy to think just how much we’ve grown in two short years. The other half of the announcement for our second anniversary is just talking about the latest games that have come out or are soon coming out for the platform.

That would include Novus Prime, correct? What can you tell us about that game?

For people who aren’t familiar with Home whatsoever, I would tell them to just come in and check it out. Right when you boot up Home, you’re going to see a ton of stuff under new and recommended on our navigator – it’s going to show you all the cool stuff there is to play inside Home. There’s also now a special Games section of the navigator, which, again, is the first menu you see when you first boot into Home. Most of these games are free to play, so you can go in and just start playing games for free! The fact of the matter is that there’s just hundreds of games on the platform. So, you know, if you have a PS3, and you love to play games, come on in!

What can you tell us about Midway 2?

First of all, it is an expansion to the Midway, it has all-new games, all-new rewards, all-new challenges. One of the cool things about Midway 2 is that, from a business perspective, it shows that our developers are finding success on the platform, and they’re coming back and making sequels. We also announced Sodium 2 – same thing. You’re seeing people release games in Home, and they’re doing so well that they’re coming back and releasing part two! It’s fantastic, and just really speaks to the health of the platform. Midway 2 is a blast. If you’re new to Midway, basically, it’s a bunch of carnival games. If you’ve ever been to a carnival, it’s literally exactly like one. You’ve got 100 prizes to win in Midway 2, there’s another hundred in Midway 1. If you win all 20 games you win a meta game, and can win a Scrabble game for winning all five thousand points. Basically, the way it works is the more you play the games in Midway the more you unlock. You’ll see that one of the things about the Midway is right away, right when you start playing these games, you’re going to start to unlock things. These are rewards, they’re going to be clothing or an object for your personal space. If you go into our Central Plaza right now, it’s actually a blizzard in there right now! You’ll see the cannon actually from the Midway 2 in the Central Plaza. You can play it for free, and it will automatically start unlocking free rewards for you. So if you want to check out Midway 2 and see what it’s all about, just go into the Central Plaza, and they have one of the games right there that you can play and start unlocking rewards from.

There is one more recently-announced game, titled Conspiracy, launching in January. What can you tell us about that?

Conspiracy‘s awesome. Basically, Conspiracy is an action puzzler. It’s actually created by a company called Jet Set Games. They are the developers of another game called HighBorn, which has done very well on iOS. They decided to move from the iPhone/iPad platform to developing this game for Home. It was actually a top-selling game on iOS, so this really speaks to the business potential of the platform to see top-tier developers like that to come into Home to build their next game. They are actually the same guys that did Command & Conquer. This is an action-puzzler, again, you’re in Home. It’s all about going on raids and infiltrating these companies and basically stealing their information. It is so fun and so intense. I like to say that during our review of this game it resulted in multiple high-fives across the table it was so intense.

So besides new games, what can Home users look forward to in the next couple of months for the platform?

I think that games are obviously the thing we hang our hat on in Home. Games are the reason why people buy the PlayStation 3. Home gives people a reason to come in and play. But Home offers so much more beyond games. Obviously, it is filled with millions of people – these are all people just like you: they love to play games, they love to talk about games. There’s all kinds of events to attend. Most nights of the week there will be an event going on in PlayStation Home. I think that is obviously a ton of fun. You can meet all kinds of celebrities, for instance we’ve got the folks from Robot Chicken coming in for a Magic: The Gathering event. You never quite know who you’re going to meet in Home. We’ve also got some new kinds of spaces, including the Ameratsu yacht, as well as the Hollywood Hills house, that actually allows you to watch full-length video content with your friends if you want to just chill out and watch some TV with your friends, even if your friends live in different states or across the country, even if you’ve never met them in real life before, you can watch TV with them. There is so much stuff to do in Home, it’s so massive, that I would challenge anybody just to find all the content, let alone play it all. It is just huge.

What would you say is the biggest improvement in Home versus two years ago when it first launched?

It’s the games. Absolutely the games. One of the untold stories here is all the stuff that is going on underneath the hood, on the client. Throughout time, we’ve not only been bringing more and more content to the platform, but the platform itself continually improves. We’ve brought voice chat to the platform, inventory management, we’ve got zero wait time for the games now. Our load times are very fast, faster than many [retail/PSN] games. So we’ve constantly improved the client itself such that we’re able to provide these world-class gaming experiences not unlike any game experiences you’d find on any gaming platform. But we’re able to do it with the latest and greatest business models, like free-to-play. That’s the bread and butter of PlayStation Home. So I’d say one of the untold stories here is how Home itself as a client has really evolved into a premiere game platform in and of itself. It’s a game platform that isn’t like any other game platform out there. It’s a world of games. It’s this universe that’s filled with games, so that costumes that you’re unlocking from one game can be just carried over to another game. Rewards that you carry around with you in this continuous universe. It’s amazing!

Speaking of Rewards, the recently-launched PlayStation Rewards program includes different Home items, such as clothing for your avatar. How did this come about, and what can we look forward to in the future?

I think that having Home content as part of a rewards program is amazing, because you are really able to show off to other gamers in a full hi-def 3D context how awesome you are. I think that is extremely powerful. Being part of the Rewards program is one aspect of how Home itself integrates with so many different points across the PlayStation Network, whether it be the PlayStation Rewards program, or what we call “total game integration,” this idea that you can do things in a game that will unlock it in Home. For instance, Red Dead Redemption will unlock a bunch of virtual items for Home, and you can use virtual items to show off how awesome you already are. Home even has new technology that allows activity in Home to unlock content in games. We actually did that with SOCOM: Confrontation – if you assemble a golden AK47 in Home in a certain amount of time you can actually unlock the golden AK in SOCOM: Confrontation. You can expect to see more of that kind of thing coming soon to the platform, we’re you’re actually doing things in Home to unlock special bonus content in a game. Really, this idea of “total game integration,” where Home integrates with things like the Rewards program, it really becomes this hub for folks that want to participate in the PlayStation Network is just amazing.

Any plans to expand the Club spaces, in terms of both size and/or functionality?

(Pause) Nothing to talk about at this time. (Laugh) I can say this – clubs in general are a huge part of PlayStation Home. If you’re new to PlayStation Home, you can form a club, and you can invite friends and they can make use of that clubhouse even when you’re not there. So you have clubs formed for so many different things. I don’t care what you’re into – whether you want to find a study group for a particular subject, or whether you want to talk about your favorite hobby, or if you just want to find a bunch of people who are into the same kind of game you’re into, there’s going to be a club for it. It’s just amazing how many clubs that folks have formed on PlayStation Home. The club functionality is something that is used very heavily by the Home community. I really cannot say more than that right now!

You mentioned the Hollywood Hills space and its video-sharing functionality. Is this video built into the space, or video off a PS3 user’s hard drive?

This is actually video that is being streamed from a technology created by the Loot team. They’re the ones that brought Ghostbusters to Home. They’re actually part of Sony Pictures, and these guys have created a new system for delivering on-demand video, called “Entertainment on Demand,” or EoD. It’s a new technology that actually allows them to stream content to video screens on demand in PlayStation Home. Basically, if you use these spaces, you are presented with this menu that’s filled with all different kinds of content, and depending on the space you may have different kinds of content. You can actually choose what kind of content you want to watch with your friends. It’s quick, and will instantly start a stream of whatever it is [you chose]. So it’s kind of like an on-demand video service. It’s very, very cool technology.

Are there plans to expand that technology to other spaces? Maybe a TV to purchase from the store?

Nothing to talk about at this time, but stay tuned! Obviously, you know, the EoD system is an extremely powerful technology for PlayStation Home. We just launched it, just got started – the team has just been doing a fantastic job. Right now there’s two spaces, the Hollywood Hills in, and the Ameratsu yacht, and stay tuned for future announcements…Don’t want to spill any secrets!

Ok, ok…So, although Home has improved a lot over the past two years, what in your eyes could use some improvement?

In terms of things that we are looking at in PlayStation Home, we will never stop looking at Home as a game platform. We’re able to create amazing games inside PlayStation Home, and I think users can expect these games to only get better and better and better as time goes on. I actually responded to one of the blog comments [on our announcement post]. Somebody said “congratulations on the first two years, you guys have come so far…” and I said “Just wait. Just wait.” We are now realizing the potential of this platform, and the next two years are really going to be about blowing that potential out and creating amazing content like you’ve never seen before. When we did this second anniversary announcement, we pre-announced two games – Sodium 2 and Conspiracy. It was tough for us to pick those games, because there are so many amazing games in development, you wouldn’t believe. It’s staggering to see how many games we have in development, and most of which we haven’t even announced yet! I think that would be the number one big thing [to improve] is to bring it back to games. These games are just going to keep getting bigger and better and better!

How would you describe the community in Home?

Here’s the deal with the community in Home. It is a very active community, the people in Home tend to be the most active people on the PlayStation 3, they tend to play more games, they tend to spend more time on their console. They tend to be the most active users of the PS3. But it’s huge; the community is absolutely massive. It’s as close-knit as a huge group of people can be. What you do actually find in Home, and to bring it back to clubs, is you do find groups of folks that find that they’re all into the same kind of stuff. Or maybe they just want to form a group for fun! There’s so many different groups of people that have these fantastic reputations inside of PlayStation Home; it’s so amazing to see the kinds of user groups that sort of naturally evolve out of a community of this size. From Homelings, to GamerInDepth, the PlayStation Home Today crowd, it’s just amazing how many communities you have within the community. There are so many different kinds, just the variety and the creativity that comes out of these people – we have people running record labels in Home, a whole group of musicians getting together using Home as a way to promote their music and get their sound out there. We have people running night clubs in Home, and a whole nightclub community. I could just got on forever. You name it, if you can form a group around it you’re probably going to find it in Home.

Speaking more on the Community, have they done anything that surprised you?

All the time. All the time. One of the biggest things that we’re most proud of from a community standpoint is our community theater. We’ve given our community a megaphone on the console, to be able to put their video content up in Home. [Sites] from PSNation all the way to people like GamerInDepth, which started out as a club in Home! And now here they are on one of the big screens in the theater, talking to the millions of people in Home. It’s just amazing.

Is there any news about streaming music or videos from your own PS3 to friends? What about that trophy room?

The big news on the video front is the EoD system. The big news on the music front is that we started to release boomboxes. These are radios that you can put in your personal space. Different-themed radios will have different styles of music. So, for instance, right now you can go into the Winter Wonderland space, and there’s a couple different music-making virtual objects that you can get. There’s also the very popular Playground boombox, there’s a ton of original music inside it as well. You’re going to see more and more music come to PlayStation Home in the form of virtual items for your personal space. In terms of the trophy room, nothing to announce at this time.

Where do you want to see Home go in the next two years?

I think in the next few years you can expect to see Home really skyrocket from a game perspective. We are hitting our stride with games, [with us] having hundreds of games on the platform. You can expect to see that continue with that momentum, and continue to see tons of games. And the quality of those games will improved tremendously over the coming years. I think a good example of that is Sodium 2. If I showed that to you even a few short months ago, and told you that was Home, you wouldn’t believe me!…When we first got it running I called my whole team down and said “you’ve got to see what Lockwood has just created!” We came in and [thought] “oh my gosh this thing is amazing!” And you can expect to see that in PlayStation Home, where these games are going to get bigger, badder, better, and you’re going to continue to see us innovate from a game experience standpoint. It’s no secret that Home is able to provide gameplay mechanisms that no other game platform can deliver. So a lot of the things that you see that are so popular on the web – free-to-play games on Facebook that are highly social, but the actual gameplay experience of a lot of those games aren’t very great. A lot of them are 2D, and flat. The fact that we can have that free-to-play experience but at the same time render it in full high-definition with 3D graphics is amazing stuff. So you’re able to get the best of both worlds. You’re able to get the experience of a traditional game but with some of the latest gameplay mechanics that people are experimenting with on the web. That’s huge, and you can expect to see us innovate on Home more on that in the future.

What are some of your long-term goals with the platform?

You know, when we look towards the future – where is this all going? I really bring it back to Home as this world of games. This continuous environment where you can just discover games naturally by just walking over to them and say “hey, what’s that?” Then all of a sudden you find yourself in a game. Often times you’re in a game and you don’t even know you’re in a game! This idea that you can unlock things in a game, and then you can carry over things that you’ve unlocked into some totally different game. Where you can have them just out there in the environment to show how awesome you are. That’s so much better and so much more compelling than just a simple score! So…Home really points towards what I believe to be the future of this industry, where you have these continuous worlds just populated with tons of games. I bring it back to TRON – I remember sitting there watching TRON in the early eighties as a kid just going “that’s where I want to be.” This world just filled with all these awesome games I can play. The fact of the matter is that’s been a vision of the future that we’ve had for some time, but it hasn’t been until the PlayStation 3 and the power of the hardware that anybody’s actually been able to realize it. And we’ve done it! We have it up and running in Home. It’s like, “oh my gosh! Somebody’s done this!” It’s amazing to think about.

A noticeable aspect of Home is that the competition (Microsoft, Nintendo) have yet to answer back with anything that resembles this service. Assuming there were to be another platform competing with Home one day, what advantages would you say the Home platform has over others?

We are miles ahead of the competition with Home. Miles. Building something like PlayStation Home is extremely hard. This is cutting-edge technology that is only made possible due to the power of the PlayStation 3 hardware. You just could not deliver this kind of experience on any other platform. Home could not exist without the PlayStation 3. In so many ways, now that we have this hardware, we are able to realize this vision of the future that we’ve been dreaming about for so long, and here it is. It’s in the PlayStation 3 – an entire world in the PlayStation 3 filled with games. It’s amazing, and that is not easy to do. The fact that the competition hasn’t even started, we’re miles ahead of anybody in this regard.

PlayStation LifeStyle would like to thank Jack Buser for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with us, and of course you can look forward to reading all the late-breaking PlayStation Home developments on PlayStation LifeStyle.