Sony is delaying the start of its "Home" virtual world for its PlayStation 3 video game machine until the latter half of this year — the second time the Japanese electronics and entertainment company has postponed the online interactive service.
"Home" is a real-time interactive online world much like Linden Lab's "Second Life" and other so-called "metaverse," or a virtual world in computer graphics on a personal computer that allows people to walk around and interact with each other.
The product had been initially promised for last year. But in September, Sony delayed its debut until early this year to spend more time to create a better product.
On Tuesday, in yet another major embarrassment for the delay-plagued PlayStation 3, Tokyo-based Sony delayed "Home" again delayed until this autumn. No specific date was given. A limited test service is set to start this summer, it said in a statement.
"The wait has been prolonged for PS3 users, but we plan satisfying entertainment by spending more time on development to improve the service, " Kazuo Hirai, chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment, the company's gaming unit, said in a statement.
Another drawback for Sony
Hiroshi Kamide, analyst at KBC Securities, said it's another drawback for Sony, which has struggled against rival Nintendo Co. with its hit Wii console.
But he said "Home" wasn't likely to be that critical in boosting PS3 machine sales and software delays aren't that unusual in the industry. Price cuts and better game offerings are helping spur PS3 sales, he said.
"If you look at the U.S., the console that's growing fastest year on year is the PS3," Kamide said in a telephone interview. "Things are definitely getting better."
Millions of people now enter "Second Life" on personal computers, moving avatars — or computer graphics images of themselves — in a virtual universe.
Major companies are also setting up shop in "Second Life," and analysts see potential for such virtual worlds as a communication tool and real-life business.
Sony officials have shown the demonstration video of "Home" with much fanfare on various occasions, promising new kinds of businesses, such as advertising and electronic shopping, as well as games.
Blu-ray victory could boost PS3
Sony has had previous delay problems with PlayStation3. The machine went on sale in the U.S. and Japan late 2006, but its European launch was postponed for several months due to production problems.
The version of "Home" promised for later this year is called an "open beta," which means it isn't officially finished and will keep evolving with new services and features being added later.
Sony didn't say when a finished version was expected. Many software products are offered in such to-be-updated versions.
The basic application for "Home," which will be available as a download, and the communication tool for interacting with other PS3 users are free of charge, said Sony Computer Entertainment spokesman Daisuke Nakata, while declining to disclose details of what else was in the works.
Sony once dominated the gaming industry with PlayStation 2, predecessor for the PS3, but now faces intense competition from Microsoft Corp. with its Xbox 360, as well as from Nintendo's Wii.(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
PlayStation 3 could get a critical boost in global sales from the recent victory of the Blu-ray disc format over rival HD-DVD, backed by Toshiba Corp. The PS3 also works as a Blu-ray disc player.
Toshiba acknowledged its defeat in February when almost all major Hollywood studios opted for Blu-ray.
Sony has sold about 10.5 million PlayStation 3 machines worldwide, fewer than the 20 million Wii machines and 17.7 million Xbox 360 consoles sold globally.