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PlayStation Home, Sony's cross between a social network and a games platform for the PlayStation 3, appears to be doomed for eviction. But before we can shutter the windows and board up the doors for good, let's take one final tour of the old estate and remind ourselves what made this side attraction for last gen gamers worth visiting.

Sony Japan announced today that PlayStation Home will be closing its doors for good in the region come March of 2014. Kotaku broke the news Stateside this morning, leaving many a bit saddened and likely a comparable number surprised that Home was still running in the first place.

But while PlayStation Home was often little more than a punchline for many gamers and forum visitors, those who took the time to dive into the Second Life-esque service often had a different story to tell. Home is actually a bustling hub of social activities, entertainment, games and more. People spent hundreds of dollars on virtual homes, furniture, clothing and the like. They took part in experimental games, danced and even formed entire in-game communities. They watched movies in a virtual theater, bowled the night away, and met up for a chess rematch. You could play driving games, shooters, puzzle games, mini golf or even dive into an MMO-esque space world. In short, there was a hell of a lot more to Home than most give it credit for, offering up a wealth of content for exactly zero dollars.

I'll admit that I was a Home addict for quite some time, taking part in the earliest phases of the beta and following the service through multiple overhauls, redesigns, new game implementations and much, much more. I have a lot of fond memories from Home, so I thought it might be fun to run down five of my favorites before the virtual bulldozers come and wipe it off the face of the Earth.


Ridiculous Swag
From massive virtual homes to ridiculous outfits and silly pets, PlayStation Home had everything you needed to live the fantasy life of your dreams. Housing started simple, giving players access to a tiny apartment with a boardwalk view, a balcony and a single room to decorate. From there, things started to build until they got out of control. Eventually, you could pick up an entire mansion, filled with rooms to decorate and interactive objects including multiplayer games and TVs for streaming video content.

Themed housing was also an option, allowing you to set up shop within your favorite in-game location, like the Bat Cave. And don't even get me started on the outfits. From outlandish costumes to virtual representations of branded clothing, you could drop a dollar here and there on an unimaginable wardrobe. Based on the number of people I saw running around in so many different get-ups, I can only assume that, for a time, Home transactions were a decent way for Sony to make some money. There was an outfit that cost like a hundred real world bucks, folks, and I saw more than a few people running around in it, too.

Lots of Games
In the beginning, the only games available in home included bowling, pool and a few arcade games, all of which were actually pretty dang fun to play with friends. You also had to go to a virtual bowling alley to get in on the fun, making the experience a social interaction to boot. My online friends and I frequently had bowling nights, meeting up for a couple of hours to play games and chat about how our weeks were going.

Eventually, more games were added to public spaces and, in more recent years, even allowed in your own virtual home. Home settings designed to promote upcoming games also introduced more games on a regular basis, such as a nuts and bolts version of mancala for Far Cry 2. Eventually, games no longer needed to be tied to developer or a title like, say, Resident Evil 5, and legitimate, in-Home only titles started to be created. Some were rather brilliant while others were mediocre at best. Still, for the cost of exactly zero dollars, there was more than enough fun to be had in Home for those who just wanted to get in some light gaming in a more social setting.


The Homelings
While I never became a Homeling myself, this intriguing group of individuals became a Home icon, most readily recognizable by their big, bald heads and simplistic attire. They looked a bit like those aliens from the Twilight Zone episode, “To Serve Man,” but they were all about having fun and being courteous to one another. And yes, being courteous online is a very rare and foreign concept, but that was their intention and for the most part it at least seemed to work for what the group intended to do.

The Homeling group eventually grew massive in scale – although not quite as big as some other gaming communities – with hundreds of members and an actual hierarchy of leadership. It's also one the few times where someone could join a group and legitimate say "Take me to your leader". Many unified groups evolved in Home, but none ever compared to the size or infamy of the Homelings.

A Bustling Community
I've always been amazed by how many people would poke fun at Home, assuming that it was little more than a few boring areas populated by a handful of people. The fact of the matter is that Home, at least in my day, was absolutely overflowing with visitors, playing games and chatting up a storm in every nook and cranny of the dozens of explorable areas. While there were certainly a fair share of troublemakers, one of the things that surprised me most about Home was how the majority of folks seemed like they were there just to have a good time and be cool with each other.

Being a more social setting than regular online games and missing the competitive nature of, say, a first-person shooter, the unspoken rule seemed to be “dude, just be cool,” a doctrine that was self policed. Whenever a troll decided to poke their head out from under a bridge, it was amazing to see their negative behavior corrected (in a friendly manner, no less) by their fellow Home residents.


The Xi Experience
Finally, I can't write about Home without giving a special shoutout to my most favorite aspect of the service, Xi, the alternate reality game. The amazing creation of the team at nDreams, Xi started off as a mystery wrapped in an enigma, popping up in bizarre fashion with quick video clips and, eventually, a mysterious hatch that led to an underground lair. Xi was an interesting collection of games, puzzles and challenges that bled over into the real world, spawning thousands of forum topics and dedicated websites to unraveling its mysteries. Players had to keep their eyes and ears out for clues as mini-games, text logs and clips were rolled out on a regular basis, and each piece of the puzzle added to the lore that it was creating.

Players had to work together to solve many of Xi's mysteries, including visiting real world locations or digging through all manner of content before reporting back to the community with your findings. Xi kept me coming back for more and the community gaming experience was unlike anything I had experienced before or sense. It feels weird to say this, especially since it was born of something like PlayStation Home, but taking part in Xi as it happened has become one of my favorite gaming experiences, period.
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