by NorseGamer, HSM Editor-in-Chief
Somewhere along the line, I just tuned out.
At the time of this writing, I’m thirty-two years old; some of my very earliest memories involve video gaming. This doesn’t make me special; I’m one in a sea of brown-haired, brown-eyed suburban kids who grew up with video gaming. It’s simply a part of my life. But when I got to the beginning of this current console generation, I just…lost interest.
I’m not entirely sure why. At first, I think it was because I was just disgusted with the launch titles the new consoles offered. The last half-dozen years have been obsessed with dumbing-down games, sacrificing innovation for graphical superiority. Nothing stood out and grabbed me, save for Valkyria Chronicles. And when my backwards-compatible PS3 died from the Yellow Light of Death, I just washed my hands of the whole business. Not that the XBox 360 is any better, mind you. And the only reason I bought a Wii was to download a bunch of Virtual Console games and relive the fun I’d had back in the ‘eighties.
Granted, real life also played a factor. When you’ve got a couple of resorts to manage simultaneously and a $72M budget to take care of, and you’re trying to make life work as a (then-) married man, the immersion required for video games just isn’t very feasible. Worse, because the games industry is so hell-bent on sacrificing the beauty of the single-player experience in favor of multiplayer online gaming, I now have a choice of the following AAA games:
- A multiplayer military simulator in which I play a grizzled thirtysomething mercenary with a troubled past, fighting through a series of classified missions somewhere in southeast Asia;
- A multiplayer military simulator in which I play a grizzled thirtysomething mercenary with a troubled past, fighting through a series of classified missions somewhere in central Asia;
- A multiplayer military simulator in which I play a grizzled thirtysomething mercenary with a troubled past, fighting through a series of classified missions somewhere in south America;
- A multiplayer military simulator in which I play a grizzled thirtysomething mercenary with a troubled past, fighting through a series of classified missions somewhere in outer space.
And, worse, I have to put up with kids half my age who think they’re SAS commandos because they spend all day playing whilst I’m out earning a paycheck. And I’m sorry, but I have no patience for juvenile smack-talk.
So, yeah. I tuned out, and let this console generation largely pass me by.
Then I discovered Home in 2009.
Home isn’t my first MMO experience. But it was the one thing I hadn’t seen anywhere else in this console generation: something new. Something innovative. Most games bore me today because they’re wholly predictable; they’re either FPS shootouts, RPG grinds, or some other mashup of scènes à faire that I’ve seen a thousand times before. Home, on the other hand, is a sociologist’s wet dream, with enough casual no-strings-attached gaming experiences to keep the variety flowing.
It’s time same innovation that leaves a lot of people scratching their heads. About once a year, some gaming outlet takes a shot at asking what the hell Home is; last time, it was IGN. This time around, it’s Kotaku, with this article.
And that’s when it occurred to me: my PlayStation is, to all intents and purposes, a HomeStation.
Yes, in the last few years, I’ve gotten largely caught up on what today’s hot IPs are, and I’ve obsessively studied the industry’s business trends. But that still doesn’t change my perspective that Home is really one of the few truly interesting innovations to come out of this entire console generation. It’s an emerging medium, and I like being there at the onset of it — because even if it feels like nothing more than an afterthought in Sony’s current business plan, it has numerous elements which will translate well for the next console generation. As Microsoft and Nintendo both know.
But here’s what I find fascinating: there are other people for whom their PlayStations are HomeStations.
I first saw this when the old EA poker rooms were yanked out of Home, without warning or official statement. I was never a part of the EA poker scene, but members of this publication were. And I recall hearing reports from them that when poker went offline, some rabid Home users not only left Home — they switched off their PS3 consoles. Permanently.
Certainly, that may be a somewhat extreme example. But perhaps not so extreme; in the last console generation, I was solidly in the PS2 camp until Knights of the Old Republic was released on XBox. I bought a new console just to play that game — and then, to justify that purchase, opted with XBox instead of PS2 any time a title I wanted was released for both consoles.
The point: one desirable game can dramatically alter consumer behavior.
And this is a very important point, because Sony has doubtlessly noticed that the core Home user base might not necessarily correlate to the core user base for their other products — so it becomes a question of how to translate that audience out of Home and into the wider world of PlayStation products. You need only look at their new Digital Platforms initiative to see this process beginning.
We do the same thing in resort development; when you build a new resort, you have to sell all the people who love your old resort — and invested in it — on why the new one is even better. Migrating and “reloading” audiences is an arduous process — which is absolutely necessary. If you’re an ardent Sony fan, you’ve already been reloaded twice — with a third coming up soon on the horizon.
The problem with trying to homogenize an audience, though — of trying to make them a one-size-fits-all consumer bloc — is that it assumes everyone has the same tastes. And that just isn’t true. Crusade, which was a really fun TV science-fiction series with respectable audience numbers, was killed by TNT because its audience didn’t bother to stick around for wrestling. Crazy, right? And yet it happens.
For me, personally, my PlayStation is a HomeStation. It’s not that I have an aversion to other gaming attractions in the Sony pantheon — indeed, I’m fervently waiting for something to come along that inspires as much enthusiasm out of me as Home has — but my consumer habits in Home are unique to Home, and don’t translate to broader revenue gains elsewhere for Sony.
Does this really sound so strange? RPG enthusiasts, for instance, usually won’t be caught dead playing an FPS game — or vice versa. Yet they’ll spend insane amounts of money on their genre of choice. Home is, frankly, much the same. When other gamers stare at Home users in disbelief or disgust that someone could spend hundreds of dollars a year on Home, they’re missing the whole point. It’s no different than any other hobby which someone might spend crazy amounts of time and money enjoying. Golf, for instance.
So here’s what’s got me thinking: how many others out there treat their PlayStation as a HomeStation?
Go on, admit to it. HSM’s got something like 15,000 unique visitors per month these days, so you’re hardly alone. And our partner site, AlphaZone4, pulls more traffic than the offiical Sony Japan blog, as far as we can work out. So you’re really not alone. And this begs a few interesting questions:
1. Has Home’s shift from a social network for gamers into a gaming platform increased or decreased Home’s hardcore user base?
2. Are Home’s gaming attractions pulling more money out of you than you spent in years past?
3. Does your consumer spending in Home translate to non-Home spending for the Sony PlayStation brand — or is your PlayStation a HomeStation?
The reason why this merits discussion: Home is just another revenue channel within the PlayStation business unit. At some point, Sony’s got to analyze the behavioral economics behind the revenue — both for the middle-of-the-road consumer and the whale — and figure out whether or not it merits sufficient investment to deepen their experience. Simultaneously, they have to examine how to migrate that audience out of Home, introducing them to the broader PlayStation world and enticing them to generate the same sort of revenue that they were producing solely within Home.
Which brings us back to you. If your PlayStation is a HomeStation — if you’re one of those people who’s a hardcore Home user — what has brought you back for years at a time? And, more importantly, what’s actually motivated you to spend money? This publication caters, on average, to Home’s core user base (and, further, our demographics tend to skew older — closer to the age of the average video game purchaser, according to the ESRB); we are, in short, a rather interesting focus group. And thus I am genuinely curious to discover just how many HomeStations are out there.