Second Life’s Steam-powered approach to new users

Linden Lab has issued a blog post announcing that Second Life will be expanding to steam “in the next month or so”. The announcement reads in full:

As some sharp-eyed developers have speculated, we’re going to make Second Life available on Steam in the next month or so. 

Many of us have friends who are avid Steam gamers, but if you’re not familiar, Steam is a very popular online game platform that offers a wide range of titles (and will soon also offer other software as well). 

What does this news mean for Second Life? You’ll still be able to access Second Life just as you can today; there won’t be any change to that. But, the more than 40 million people who use Steam will also be able to get Second Life as easily as they can get games like Portal. 

We’ll make an announcement on the blog when Second Life is actually available on Steam, but in the meantime, if you have friends who are Steam gamers, let ‘em know it’s coming!

Steam is a digital distribution platform developed by Valve Corporation. It is used to distribute games and related media online, from small independent developers to larger software houses. The primary service allows users to download games and other software stored in Steam’s virtual software library (some 1500 titles as of August 2012) to their local computers. In addition, Steam offers a range of other services, include the ability to purchase games in your local currency, some DRM protection for titles, and a comprehensive communications platform service that allows for direct contact between users, the ability for users to join in multi-player games, etc.

It is estimated that Steam has some 54 million users world-wide as of August 2012, with an average concurrency rate of some 5 million users.

Given the volume of users enjoyed by Steam, and the fact that many SL users are also engaged in games and may well use Steam already, this move is clearly aimed towards increasing SL’s visibility and increasing the potential influx of new – and retained – users. As such, it is no coincidence that this announcement comes almost hand-in-glove with the blog post about materials processing coming to SL.

With pathfinding now “released” on the main grid, the promise of much improved materials processing on the way which should, among other things, lead to a much more “realistic” looking in-world experience, and the roll-out of advanced experience tools, the move to make SL accessible to “hard-core” gaming community using Steam could be seen to be indicative of Linden Lab’s desire to have Second Life perceived more as a “games enabling platform” than perhaps as a “virtual world”.

We’re promised a follow-up blog piece when the service is launched, possibly some time in September. It will be interesting to see how the platform is promoted and what the potential response is from the world at large.

15 thoughts on “Second Life’s Steam-powered approach to new users

  1. Wow. Linden Lab is really going with all steam ahead in releasing new features… (pun intended!)

    This is rather interesting. Rod Humble really wants to catch those gamers. And he’s also clever with the wording: instead of the silly Cloud Party claim that they are now “available to 800 million users”, which is stupid, they prefer to say “our viewer will be part of a community of 40 million hard core gamers”, which is rather more accurate. It will be interesting if they are able somehow to integrate Steam’s community features — user registration, profiles, etc. — to make the process of registering to SL easier: after all, one of the reasons for Steam’s success is that people can have one login for a lot of games, and easily find who is playing what, exchange messages, join common interest groups, and so forth.

    That reminds me to update my Steam profile 🙂 Since a good friend of mine offered me Half-Life 2 on Steam (and then of course I had to buy all the extra episodes after finishing it, hehe…) I never logged back to Steam.

    This is very welcome news indeed, even though I’m sure that hard core gamers are not that interested in SL. But a few will come. And yes, with materials support, they won’t find the rendering engine so obsolete…


    1. I’ve actually signed-up to Steam simply to find out how the sign-up process works when things go live and what happens to incoming registrations.

      As we all know, simply offering sign-up channels isn’t enough to boost retained users, and while Steam has some potential in addressing the more “social” aspects (I assume if someone invites a friend to sign-up to SL through Steam, they’ll be able to use Steam’s communications platform to help their friend through sign-up and then meet them in-world, for example), there is a lot more that needs to be addressed around user retention for which improved technology, “first five minute” solutions, etc., play only a small role.

      So, interesting time all around!


  2. This explains a lot of the Linden trend toward gaming features — attract the people with the hardware to really enjoy SL.
    The question is, once they complete this transition will they work on the other end of the spectrum — the housewives, housebound and socially challenged who have traditionally made up the social core of SL but often lack the hardware to enjoy it to the fullest visually.
    My experience is that many of the people who sign up then never come back never really *saw* SL due to marginal computers and connections.
    On the other hand, maybe they can make a better viewer for those folks through steam than we have now.


  3. It might also be interesting to note that Valve recently officially announced that they’ll be opening the Steam store up to non-gaming applications. While it certainly makes sense that this would be presented as a game on Steam given who is currently CEO, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. I can’t really imagine what other category it would wind up in, though, that would make sense to most users.


  4. Haha, interesting. However, I don’t know what will happen with the Third-party viewers, since only a small part of the users uses the Official viewer, most gamers will tend to go toward Firestorm, Exodus or other viewers like Nirans Viewer. Firestorm has a alot of options, Exodus has too, in adition to (imho) better code and more graphics-aimed features, while Nirans Viewer is having more and more features that gamers are used to. None of there nice extras are available in the official viewer by Linden Labs, and I think that a lot of the gamers who will try Second Life via Steam will be highly deceived by the viewer that will be available to them, unless they add a link to the TPV, or maybe even open doors to the Workshop for those TPV. That would be a great way to stay up to date with your favorite viewer.


    1. The lack of any edit or preview ability for comments is a constant source of headaches, I know., in their wisdom, simply don’t provide the capability. There is an active campaign among users to get this changed, but whether it gets anywhere remains to be seen.

      In the meantime, all I can do is apologise.


  5. This is an interesting development, as it is yet more movement away from SL being a “second” life and an extension of RL. Yet another move away from creating an avatar and instead just creating a log on to a service. I can see the appeal and the rational, but I still feel it is yet more erosion of the core values of SL.

    Having said that, I agree with Shug – you are far more likely to find the kind of people with the computer hardware necessary to get the most out of SL on Steam.


  6. I’m not worried about this development at all. Second Life will still be available to people using older computers, and slower network connections. Every graphics option that has been added to Second Life thus far has been optional. There is no reason to believe that the new materials rendering will be mandatory. If anything though the new material options will allow mesh content creators to make lower detailed models that still look good. I model modern weapons such as combat rifles in Blender to script, and sell in SL. A gun such as this:

    Is roughly 18-20,000 polygons when uploaded into Second Life. With the new materials options modelers such as myself will be able to fake a lot of that geometry detail with lighting effects. For instance I can forgo modeling in the hollow barrel, and use a normal map that will adjust to different lighting conditions so it looks like the barrel is hollow when it is in fact not. This ultimately means that there will be less strain on people’s computers to render mesh objects in SL which means better performance.


    1. Agreed on all points – see: Materials Processing: the what, why and where, although there are liable to be some performance hits as well as benefits, see this update report, which also covers materials processing. You can find the entire thread of materials processing articles here.


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