Sony Computer Entertainment will open up its Home online virtual environment to all PlayStation 3 users on Thursday, the company said.
Home allows users to create their own avatars and participate in a real-time virtual world, something like a cross between the Mii avatars on Nintendo's Wii and the Second Life community. Users can interact with others through voice and text chat and the service also offers mini-games, videos and special events.
The opening up of the beta test, which has been anticipated for sometime, follows several delays for the service. It was first unveiled in July 2007 and initially promised for a global release later that year but was pushed back once to early this year. It was again delayed due to Sony's desire to "refine" the service and rescheduled as a "fall" launch as an open beta.
From Thursday Home will be available to any PlayStation 3 user that has their console hooked-up to a broadband Internet connection. Users will be able to download the software from the PlayStation Network section of the menu.
"We are committed to providing PS3 users with exciting gaming experiences with PlayStation Home and together with our partners and users, expand the new world of interactive entertainment as we move forward," said Kaz Hirai, president and CEO of Sony's gaming unit in a statement.
Some content will vary by region.
In North America virtual environments will be launched for the "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune," "Far Cry 2," "Warhawk Resistance" and "Guitar Hero" games in which users can talk strategy, discuss games and get additional content and clues. Sony said it is working with Activision, Disney Eidos, Electronic Arts, Lucas Arts, THQ and Ubisoft, to develop virtual environments among other content for PlayStation Home.
Commercial tie-ups with companies including drinks-company Red Bull, fashion-house Diesel and furniture-designer Ligne Roset will also bring content to the service.
In Europe and other PAL territories the environments will start with "Far Cry 2" and be joined soon by those for "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune," "Warhawk Resistance," "Motorstorm" and "SOCOM." European tie-ups include Atari, Electronic Arts, Midway, Sega and Ubisoft on the games side. Video content will also be available from Hexus TV and Eurogamer.
In Japan content includes "Namco Museum" and lounges for the "Siren" and "Everybody's Golf" games. Sony also plans special events including a Christmas event and New Year countdown through the service.