Sony (Finally) Lets Us Play In Home

imagePlayStation Home, Sony’s PS3-based virtual world is finally live. The free service lets gamers plug into the PlayStation Network and create avatars, living spaces and socialize. Of course, there are casual games like bowling to play, movie trailers (and eventually original series or full-length shows) to watch, and brands like Red Bull and Diesel to buy things from. Gamers can buy clothing and accessories for their avatars and customize their “homes” with themes from their favorite games. If Home is able to keep PS3 owners engaged beyond the initial stages of curiosity, analysts say its virtual goods sales could add millions of dollars to Sony’s bottom line.

The open beta was announced via the PlayStation Blog today and has received tons of coverage. And for good reason. The long-delayed world (which was first demoed back in early 2007) has been one of the key features Sony (NYSE: SNE) has dangled as a reason for gamers to stick with the PS3 despite its relatively thin roster of blockbuster titles.

Too bad Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) beat Sony to the (virtual) punch when it launched the new Xbox Live Experience in November — complete with customizable avatars, social features and content partnerships with *Netflix* and NBCU, among others. Aaron Greenberg, a director of product management for Xbox at MSFT said that Sony unveiled Home a little too late, calling it “2005 tech in 2008,” in an interview with gaming site Kotaku.

Still, some analysts say Sony will be the victor in the long run, particularly when it comes to the virtual marketplace. Michael Cai, Parks Associates’ director of digital media and gaming told the FT that Sony would “beat Microsoft in virtual item sales.