Sony Set To Launch Online Virtual World - InformationWeek

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Sony Set To Launch Online Virtual World

Home, PlayStation 3's long-delayed online 3-D social networking service, will debut Thursday.

Sony on Wednesday said it would launch its online 3-D social networking service, Home, Dec. 11, ending months of delay in the long-awaited service for users of the company's PlayStation 3 video-game console.

Home is similar to Linden Lab's Second Life in that it lets people create virtual characters, or avatars, to interact in cyberspace. PlayStation 3 users will be able to join the virtual world through a free software download.

Home is the latest online service for the PS3. Sony recently added video downloads to the PlayStation Network, which, according to the company, has 15 million subscribers worldwide. Nevertheless, Sony is seen as behind rival Microsoft, which makes the Xbox 360, in launching online gaming and video-download services.

In addition, Nintendo, which launched its Wii video-game console the same month as Sony launched PS 3, November 2006, has outsold Sony more than 2-to-1. Nintendo has sold 34.5 million units worldwide, compared with Sony's 16.8 million units.

Sony is hoping Home will help take its struggling video games unit to profitability. The unit has lost about $3.8 billion over the last two years, according to BusinessWeek magazine.

While PS3 users will enter Home for free, Sony hopes to make money by charging companies to interact with participants. The first companies to join Home include clothing designer Diesel, furniture designer Ligne Roset, energy drink maker Red Bull, film studio Paramount Pictures, and video content providers Hexus TV and Eurogamer.

Besides offering mini-games, videos, and special events, Home will make it possible for users to create their own social networks and set up meetings in their own virtual apartments or in public gatherings. Home will offer instant messaging, voice, and video communications.

Sony first announced Home in March 2007, saying it would launch the service later that year. The company announced the first delay in October 2007, and again in April 2008. Sony launched a trial of the service to a limited number of PS3 users in August.

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