Sony’s virtual world, Home, won’t be released until 2008, according to reports coming out of the Tokyo Game Show .
For educators, this is more of an FYI than a warning to redo your lesson plans. Unlike Second Life, to which any new virtual world is compared, Home has little if any capacity for user created content. At the far end of the consumerist model, players can buy virtual items and interact with a variety of them. Sony dangles video games and music as enticements into their world. But the ability to create your own simulations, models, or other educational materials appears to be non-existent, putting Home on a different level than user-created virtual worlds such as Second Life or Active Worlds (the PC only offering). While you could still use it as a simplified, self-contained world in which to test basic principles from economics, sociology, communications, and so on, the ability to place recognizable educational content limits the range of possibilities.
On the other hand, the building restriction does have certain advantages for the educational market. Limited end-user creation will severely limit a lot of activities that draw criticism to Linden Lab’s Second Life such as cyber sex animations, avatar assault, automated creation scripts that overload sections of the grid, virtual gambling (or is it real gambling?), and so on.
Another advantage to Home is that it plays on a console rather than a general purpose computer. Second Life continues to be plagued by not only a lack of robustness but also incompatibility with a wide range of standard video cards and the Vista operating system. Choice in platform configuration can play havoc with stability of any program, but Second Life has experienced more than its share. Putting a virtual world on a console eliminates most of this potential area of conflict. And it also puts the virtual world in affordability range for more families. Families in lower SES brackets are more likely to buy a popular console on which their favored games will play than a general purpose computer sufficiently powerful to run a high end virtual world such as Second Life or Activeworlds.
On the whole, Sony may be making the right moves to bring people Home.