MTV recently toured EA Sports upcoming PlayStation Home Space. To quote:

The Sports Complex is an EA Sports shrine and gaming center. It is still being built, scheduled for a partial April opening. By the time it is launched, two of a planned three games will be available within it: racing and poker, with a golf game to follow.

What you see in this post is what the Sports Complex will get you, for free, through Home. But what's hard to see is how it works. An EA rep walked me through it.

The most important thing to note for Home skeptics is that EA is trying to make boredom in this virtual place impossible. The space is designed to keep as many as 70 people busy with something, though Sony's 'Home' service starts pulling people into duplicate 'instances' of its regions once about 50 people are in it.

The 70 or so stations are spread across the gaming activities and other hangout areas. For example, there will be eight golf stations, accommodating two groups of four people. There are three tiers of poker tables, each seating up to eight players, with slots for other 'Home' users to secure a spot in the next round.

The games are designed as feature attractions rather than as throwaways. The EA rep boasted to me that the poker game, for example, is as complete as the "Texas Hold'Em" game on Xbox Live, except that, through "Home," it's free.

Doing well in poker earns players virtual money, which unlocks EA items for "Home" avatars and grants access to higher-stakes tables. TV screens hanging above the tables show who is playing and how the game is progressing, making it easy to decide if the game in session is one you want in on.

The racing game is presented as a row of arcade racing cabinets. Sitting at one produces a view of an "RC Pro-Am"-style track. The trick is that the track is rendered as part of the "Home" space, which allows other players to walk to a balcony that overlooks it and watch the player-controlled cars race around.

(The balcony is designed to discourage players from stepping onto the track, in order to avoid a collision-detection disaster - but apparently it is possible in the non-final version of the space to get down there if you're crafty).

Like the poker game, the racing game rewards skilled play. Gamers win points which they can cash in for optional speed boosts and other car add-ons. These add-ons aren't permanent, so as to not perpetually imbalance the gameplay. Races are designed to last about two minutes, with up to four players racing at once, with staggered starts. The best time wins.

Golf was the least-finished of the games I discussed with the EA rep. The goal is for the 'Home' space to include a closest-to-pin competition as well as par three and par four holes.

The EA Sports space will also include a shop that sells items for real money, though the EA rep couldn't name specific items that would be for sale. He said an EA Sports pro shop may open in Sony's main "Home" mall as well.

In recent months, Sony reps have promoted "Home" primarily as a social space. They pitch it as a place for gamers to meet gamers. EA's space may enable that, but in a fashion that has a more understandable potential. Say what you will about the likelihood that people will want to form bonds by loitering in a "Home" movie theater or by hanging out near a "Home" water fountain.

But if EA's space is as well-conceived as it seemed at first play, there's a good chance people will find some new friends over games of poker and golf, games in which skill is rewarded - and where spectators may prove to be as entertained as the players themselves.

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