The day after Phil Harrison’s keynote speech at GDC, we had a chance to interview him. Naturally, the focus was on the implications and details of Home and LittleBigPlanet. Obviously there were things that Harrison was reluctant to divulge just yet, but his answers offer some good insight into the two hotly anticipated items.
Q: Home looks great, but it begs a few questions. Presumably there will be moderation, at least in the public spaces?
PH: Exactly right. Public spaces will be moderated, and we’ll use the same rules of parental control as we do for the PlayStation Network, so parents can control whether people have access to the network or not. Then, in the private spaces, it’s unmoderated - exactly in the same way that you can send an e-mail to somebody with an attachment on it, or you could have a video chat with somebody.
Q: In terms of some of the actions you can do within the world, presumably there’s no adult content there?
PH: Well, it’s absolutely deliberate that there is no physical impact between characters, between avatars. We are going to have animations that will allow you to shake somebody’s hand or to have some social touch but in a very, you know, appropriate way. But no, we’re not going to have ‘those’ kind of animations that I’m imagining that you’re thinking about.
Q: What about uploading porn from your PS3’s hard-disk to your private space? And maybe inviting people you don’t necessarily know back and them being slightly offended by what they see, then going to a moderator?
PH: Well I’m disappointed that you would use those as the first questions. I think Home should be used for a much wider and more beneficial scope than that, but I think that people can express their creativity inside Home in a wide variety of ways and it’s not necessarily for us to dictate what that should be. However, if somebody feels uncomfortable about an encounter on Home, it’s very easy for them to ban that person from their friends list…
Q: So if people offend you, you’ll be able to blacklist them?
PH: Your friends list is here just the same way as it is on the PlayStation network, it appears inside the virtual PSP and you can make all the same changes to it.
Q: Is there an area where you can just get a list of all the things you want to go to in Home without having to physically walk to all the areas?
PH: You’ve got shortcuts which are built into the virtual PSP. You’ll be able to go to what — this is a working title – is called the World Map. this is just our internal model. This is still being worked on, but there’ll be search in here, there will be ways to filter, there will be ways to group, there will be ways to identify particular spaces that you want to go to. This will be a lot more sophisticated than what we’re showing at the moment – it was intended just to give a sense of a vast galaxy of connected spaces where you can find a new space and download it, check it out and, if you like it, it’s just like bookmarking a webpage. So you can dictate that the Socom barracks, or whatever, would be your landing point every time you come back into Home.
It’s exactly like a Web browser, but it has a very clever twist, in that when you create the bookmark, it renders a 3D screenshot of the place you were standing when you bookmarked it, and then the next time you come back into Home it will populate a list of favourites. When the service is up-and-running and new spaces are being added on a daily, or even hourly, basis, you’ll want to be able to check back into the world map to see the new spaces that have been added. There’ll be a sort, search and filter control over this, and your friends can also recommend spaces to you.
Q: In terms of the virtual cinema, you talked a lot about trailers, that kind of thing, will you be showing full films in there?
PH: No. The best place to show a film is running off the Cross Media Bar. But short clip content yes, user-created content definitely and possibly news and daily programming.
Q: But no TV shows?
PH: I wouldn’t say no TV shows, but I don’t think you would want to stand there for an hour watching a TV show when the best way is to watch it from the Cross Media Bar.
Q: But I assume that’ll be linked, if the film is available, on the online store, then there’ll be a one-click buy?
PH: That’s exactly the intention. You would be able to preview something in the preview theatre and then link to the store to be able to download it, exactly right.
Q: Do you think different types of PS3 owners will use Home in different ways, maybe hang out in different places? Can you give examples? I can see the hardcore guys sort of maybe spending more time in the private apartments than the public areas for example.
PH: Absolutely. We’re creating a platform, and populating that platform with a few content ideas ourselves, but ultimately we want to democratise it and allow anybody to build spaces in Home, and those would be the kind of extremes of experience that you would get on the platform anyway. There might be a SpongeBob space in Home, and there might be a Killzone space, and you know, everything in between. I think that when non-game brands come into the space as well and offer particular themed areas which appeal to particular groups of people – girls as well as boys, older people as well as younger people – then you’ll start to see that difference be more pronounced.
Q: Are you going to charge brands for having a space on Home?
PH: We’ve not made announcements on the specific business model, but the three basic sources of revenue for us are in advertising, in item sales, and what we loosely call B-to-B, selling opportunities to different brands, but I’m not going to go into any more details today on that.
Q: Will there be incentives for users to run adverts in their private apartments, like ‘run this ad, show it to your mates and we’ll give you something,’ say?
PH: We haven’t considered that, but it’s an interesting thought. In the last 48 hours since we’ve shared Home with the world, every time I sit down with somebody to have a discussion like this, the list of ideas gets longer and longer and longer, which is fantastic. That’s what resonates with me so strongly, the fact that we’ve got something here which has sparked everybody’s imagination.
Q: Are you going to allow players to set up their own online businesses? Selling, I don’t know, T-Shirts and that kind of thing.
PH: I think, if I’m imagining where that question’s coming from, in the kind of Second Life sense of the word, no. Because Second Life takes a very different approach. It’s all about user generated content, and doesn’t provide any content. We’re all about entertainment, we provide a lot of the framework for entertainment to take place in. Having said that, we do hope to offer some kind of user-to-user transactional elements in the future, but it won’t be day one.
Q: We were discussing outside the prospect of getting bigger apartments in Home and A) how much that might cost and B) whether you’d be able to get an extension to your apartment if you get a certain number of trophies, or something like that. Have you been thinking along those sorts of lines?
PH: Yeah, once again we’re not talking specifically at this moment but I’ll give you a general flavour of what we’re going to do, so here we’ve got a patio, but why not have a bigger patio, why not have a patio with a dock that goes down to the lake, and why not have…
Q: A Sunseeker?
PH: Yeah, or rather than an alpine mountain scene, why not have a desert island? There are lots of different ways that we can extend that; users will be able to extend their visual experience to customise their apartment through buying items from the store, by being given items through playing PlayStation 3 disk-based games or through items that we ourselves donate into the community.
Q: Regarding LittleBigPlanet, how much pre-made content will go out with it? And secondly, how important would a tutorial be, for example?
PH: We’re going to debut the product on the PlayStation Network first, as a commercial release, and then it’ll be on Blu-Ray disk in 2008 — hopefully early 2008 — and our goal is to be able to access some of the user-generated levels onto the disk when we sell it at retail. Maybe not the first version that we sell at retail, but future versions that we sell at retail can have user-aggregated content on them.
As far as a tutorial is concerned, I’m sure we’ll do something to make it easy for people to start off, but that’s also part of the interesting cross-over between Home and LittleBigPlanet; we could have a LittleBigPlanet space in Home where you can show expert user videos — imagine that in a classroom setting where you’ve got people sat down who are LittleBigPlanet designers and somebody going: “This is how you make boxes, this is how you make spheres, this is how you assign behaviours to them.” That’s really interesting.
Q: What’s the reward system going to be — what will you get if you make the number one played level?
PH: We’ve got some interesting ideas on that which we’ll share a little bit later, but we hope that star creators will be recognised and rewarded for their efforts.
Q: Maybe with jobs in the games industry?
PH: Why not? Why not? If that is one of the side benefits of what we do with LittleBigPlanet then I will be extremely happy, because that will help address some fundamental challenges that we have in training and creating new human resources to take our business forward.
Q: And I assume if your level is put on the Blu-ray disk you’ll be paid as well?
PH: Like I said, we’re not ready to talk about the specifics and I’d really prefer not to get drawn into that too much right now, but we’ve got some cool ideas.
Q: It seems to me the key to a game like that is finding out all the best things you can do that maybe not everyone else knows about?
PH: But that’s the great thing about the social element of audience-created content or user-created content. The fact that somebody makes an innovation, they upload it to the network and instantly everybody can see that innovation and it filters to the entire network. That’s the emergent entertainment that we’re most excited about, that we are not going to define, we’re not going to set the rules, so we’ll just see where people run with it.