We all know that Home provides a space for gamers to meet and launch into games - but there's much more. We caught up with the Home team to talk concretely about the money-making opportunities for developers, UGC and how it could be a new platform for smaller game development...
What would you say to those who think that Home is just another job for already overburdened developers?
James Cox (senior producer, tools): In terms of extra work, that’s a difficult question – you are creating something for a new platform. If you want to have the same content on different platforms, you can do that; you can definitely vary the amount of effort they want to spend. It is still some effort to support Home, but it can be very simple: if you just want to do a few clothing items to advertise your game, you can do that. Development times for making a whole clothing set could be a day or so.
Or, for instance, if you’ve got a minigame in one your games or a Flash game on a website, you could convert that across to Lua quite quickly – we’ve seen people knock up 2D arcade games within two weeks or so. But then again, we’ve seen people make brand new arcade games for Home, spending anywhere between one to three months. It all depends on what you’re making. It’s not free, but you are making more content for another platform – a software platform – but you can sell it to your key demographic on PS3.
Peter Edwards (game director): The website thing is an interesting point – it’s almost obligatory for a game to have a pre-launch website to drum up interest and promotion. Websites are relatively quick, but they’re expensive; it’s development that for a large part has to be outsourced because it’s a different set of skills. In terms of costs it’d at least be comparable, but you can use internal resources to do it because, largely speaking, it’s the same skillset as you’re already using. It’s a practical way of producing that sort of pre-launch focal point.
Is there the possibility for Home to actually save people time – could developers use it as their online system?
Mitch Goodwin (lead programmer): Instead of writing a full lobby system to get users together you could use the community and groups within Home as a way of doing their online services. You can imagine a title that just has an offline component, and the only way to get the online stuff is to go through Home because we get provide that for them. It’s pure functionality that developers are getting for free in a sense – although they’d have to do at least some work.
Is it viable for studios to see Home as an additional revenue stream?
MG: You can potentially see games making as much money out of their themed spaces within home than with the title itself – it could balance the cost of development, make the upfront cost of the game cheaper, supported by extra functionality through Home microtransactions.
We’re not doing this as a charity, and we’d not expect any developer to do so either. It may take a bit of time as things progress and more functionality is exposed with updates, but it definitely should be the case that people want to do this not only to create communities but also for the financial prospects.
Another aspect for making money opportunities and working within Home is to make minigames, or games within the Home framework itself, and sell those. We can provide a platform that eases the process of developing something like that, and people will be willing to pay for a decent game that’s written within the SDK. So maybe it’s a case that people working on triple-A titles can work on a little minigame in their downtime after the project’s wrapped and they can sell that, and that’s another new revenue stream. The precedent for that exists.
PE: Well, look at PSN – people will happily pay £3.49 for a game. That’s where some of the most exciting development is happening, because it’s relatively low-budget and you can afford to take chances. Home gives the same opportunities – it’s cheap to develop a minigame in Lua for Home.
MG: It’s an interesting area, because we are in a sense in competition with the PSN games available on the PlayStation Store – people who are making a small game could go down the route of doing it within the Home framework. I don’t think SCEI are too scared about the competition, though. We’re having conversations with third-party groups and outsourcing groups where they’re seeing that this is how their company could be working in the future, the whole company dedicated to designing and building minigames in Home. Hopefully it’ll take off.
Could that also serve as an avenue for newer developers to get into the business?
PE: At the moment, the only requirement is that you have a licence to develop for the PS3. We are looking to remove that if possible, specificially when it comes to minigames and things like that. But yeah, there’s a self-publishing ability on the PSN, and there’s a similar kind of opportunity with Home.
With regards to third-party spaces, will you have guidelines on the amount of ‘advertising’ that goes on in there?
PE: Obviously there are standards of acceptability and good taste that we are able to enforce. But having said that, what we don’t want to do is have a kind of green-light board that passes or refuses any content that goes on to the platform. We’ll be giving guidelines, we’ll be offering feedback on what content is going to work well, but ultimately I’d like to think that the user will decide what will be successful in there. The users will visit everywhere once, but they’ll return to the places that are good.
Who’s to say that there’s too much advertising in a space? I don’t think we can say that there are too many video screens or posters. But if users don’t like that, they won’t come back – and what we will be able to do is track this, and if you know that visits are tailing off then something’s going wrong. So, to a certain extent, we don’t need to be too stringent, because time will tell what works and what doesn’t.
Are there any plans for user-generated content further down the line?
MG: It’s always been on the list, and a lot of decisions we made with how the framework works, and that fact that we’re using the Lua scripting language, have been made with that possibility in mind. That’s the ultimate goal that we work towards – allowing UGC. Obviously we’re not naive, and we know that with an online service you have to have strict moderation – we don’t want the user to be exposed to rubbish. But with the right things in place – some process, such as user-reviews or pre-moderation – there are ways of getting that, and that’s ultimately where we’d like to go, but there’s a lot to be dealt with on that front.