Sony has launched Sodium One, a new sci-fi MMO that is part of PlayStation Home, its virtual world for the PS3. The online game breaks new ground on the PS3—it's a sci-fi space world with a virtual economy and virtual goods, a series of casual mini-games, and "Salt Shooter"—where players pilot a hovercraft to kill robots and earn resources to upgrade their ships and on components for Home.
Released by Lookwood Publishing, Sodium is aimed squarely at those who've dabbled in social games on sites like Facebook but want something more. "Most of those games are 2-D. They pale in comparison to a traditional gaming experience," PlayStation Home director Jack Buser acknowledges, adding, "Once people play Sodium they will realize social gaming can be just as enjoyable and compelling as traditional console games." With 10 million users on Home, there is a built-in audience that could help Sodium become bigger than most other massive online games.
Buser and Sony aren't the ones trying to push the social-gaming envelope. Virtual goods developer Ohai has launched an invite-only Alpha for their vampire MMO, City of Eternals, which immediately feels more compelling than any social game on Facebook. When your character rises from its grave, it has your name—and you immediately come across a tombstone named as one of your friends on Facebook. It is a complex RPG with levels, skills, items, and all part of a virtual economy.
Susan Wu, the founder and CEO of Ohai (and Fast Company creative person) said she wanted to do something that others on Facebook were not. "Social gaming companies like Zynga are making a lot of noise, but are not really gaming companies. They are social marketing companies. Then there are traditional MMO games like World of Warcraft." She thought you could do both by "building MMOs for everyone, from your Aunt who plays Mafia Wars to you cousin who can't play WoW on his school computer."
With over 200 million users on Facebook, it is ripe for a contained gameworld that capitalizes on the social network and other social tools like Twitter. "Our game is designed for people already socializing," Wu said, "I can tweet a URL from the game and anyone clicking on it can immediately join me." And the freemium model—free to play with virtual goods to buy—is already a success with social games like Farmville. Wu said City of Eternals was built from the ground up for virtual goods, "Every single thing in the game is a URL and is sellable." Users' vampire personas can learn skills to create items, and in the future users will be able to sell the things they make.
Sony took heed of such success. "Sodium is the first social game based on a Freemium model on a video game console," Buser said, "and you can expect that content to innovate extremely rapidly. We expect to have a leadership role in this space." As the first of its kind on consoles, Sodium isn't as built up as other online games—it's almost a proto-MMO—but that will change. Buser confirmed that the Sodium world will evolve: The main feature is called Sodium One, so we can expect a Sodium Two, Three, or even Four that will expand the sci-fi world.
Whatever lies in the future of Sodium or City of Eternals, the success of such virtual economies seems guaranteed. Buser offered the fact that there are over 2000 virtual goods in Home, from clothes for your avatar to accessories for your virtual apartment, and all of them have turned a profit. "Virtual goods are one of the highest margin goods in the games industry," Buser said.