Company unveils new initiatives for console

Striking back against its surprisingly strong competition in the area where it’s been perceived to be weakest, Sony has unveiled two major online initiatives for its struggling PlayStation 3 console.

Sony Computer Entertainment worldwide studios prexy Phil Harrison made the announcement in a Wednesday speech at industry event the Game Developers Conference.

“Home” is an online world similar to Web phenom “Second Life.” Players will be able to create their own 3-D avatar and virtual apartment to show off their personalities, interests and videogame achievements in the form of virtual trophies, as well as meet other players to vie with. It’s Sony’s attempt to compete against Microsoft’s Xbox Live, which helps players meet and compete over broadband. It’s expected to launch by the fall.

In addition, Sony is launching online game “LittleBigPlanet,” which will let users create their own levels and characters for an online game and share them with other PS3 gamers around the world. If successful, it could bring to the vidgame world the YouTube-esque phenomenon of simple tools with which users can generate their own content. “LittleBigPlanet” will demo by the fall and debut early next year.

Sales for the PS3 thus lag those for the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Xbox 360. Many critics have pointed out that the PS3’s online capabilities are inferior to those of the 360, even though Sony’s machine costs $200 more.

In addition, Electronic Arts revealed at GDC that it will publish the next game from Harmonix, developer of the ultra-successful “Guitar Hero” music franchise. MTV bought Harmonix for $175 million last year, but publisher RedOctane, owned by Activision, held onto the “Guitar Hero” rights and is making the next sequel with a different developer.

Though Harmonix hasn’t yet revealed details on its next game, deal with the world’s No. 1 publisher shows that it will be a very high profile release. Title is expected to be branded as an MTV release.

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