Valve Steam ahead with creativity and productivity software

On October 4th, at the same time as Linden Lab’s Patterns was launching in its Genesis Release using the Steam Platform, Valve, the owners of Steam released a update to the Steam client and website which included their new line of non-game software, which they originally described as being “creativity and productivity” applications.

The update initially sees seven titles listed in the new Software category of the Steam client / website, including a free copy of the basic Gamemaker Studio for Windows (with the cross-platform suite available for £314.00 ($508)); 3D modelling software 3D Coat, Art Rage, a painting and drawing application; Camera Bag 2 photo editing software, 3DMark and 3DMark Vantage PC performance tools and Valve’s own Source Filmmaker.

Software on Steam

There has been some speculation (both in this blog and elsewhere), that this new category might be where Second Life appears when it is finally made available through Steam. However, on the basis of this initial selection offered through Steam, it would appear increasingly likely that SL may appear under the Games category.

No date has been given for Second Life’s appearance on Steam – nor should this update from Valve be taken as a sign the SL’s Steam debut is drawing close. Currently, the deployment of new versions of the SL viewer are being held up while a serious crash  / memory leak issue is rectified. Until such time as this has been taken care of, the updates to the viewer which are specifically aimed at the Steam tie-in are subject to delay.

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Steam: some news, further speculation

The TPV/Developer meeting on the 24th August included an interesting, if brief, discussion on the forthcoming link-up with Steam, in which a little more information was revealed, and comments were passed that allow for further speculation as to how things might be handed.

In keeping with the Steam format, there will be a promotional video for Second Life which will be available for Steam users to view prior to initialising the Steam download / installation process. This video (produced by Linden Lab) apparently does not promote Second Life “intensely as a game”, but rather as a “place with a lot of cool content”, with the overall approach to the video being described as “kaleidoscopic” and fast-paced in terms of images shown.

Perhaps the most interesting comment however, came from Oz Linden in response to a question relaid by Jessica Lyon, on users being able to log-in to SL “from Steam”, in which he said, “Yeah, it creates a Second Life account…I don’t know how the name gets created … the two are connected somehow.”

This sparked a short discussion on how this might be possible, and what the mechanism would be for handling names, with some in the meeting wondering if the link-up would allow them to use their Steam user IDs with SL. I’m going to go right out on a limb here, and suggest that when it comes to creating an SL account “from Steam”, we might already have the answer sitting in front of us.

How Steam Works

For those unfamiliar with Steam, obtaining a new game is a matter of using the Steam client or web page to browse available games (listed in several categories). Individual games can be previewed in a dedicated panel / page, which includes the options for promotional videos and stills to be added, as well as a description of the game provided.

A typical Steam client game preview panel

Should the user opt to play the game, they can start a download / install process from within Steam (on PCs running Windows 7 32-bit, games are installed into C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\ common, for example). Links are created to the user’s Steam library, allowing games to be launched from there as well as through things like short cuts on the desktop, etc.

What is interesting here is that many of the games have some form of sign-up process. However, rather than being incorporated in Steam itself, these generally take the user to an external website to complete the sign-up process. Could Second Life simply take the same route?

The Answer, My Friend, is (Maybe) Written in the Viewer (apologies to Bob Dylan)

Last month, I commented on changes made to the SL Development Viewer’s splash screen – specifically the dialogue box pointing the user to the need to sign-up for an account in order to access SL.

SL Development Viewer 3.4.1.263582, (August 16): initial prompt asking the user to create an account – included for the Steam link-up? (click to enlarge)

This has been included in all subsequent Development viewer releases since August 16th, but is only displayed if there are no avatar account files located on the host PC. Once somone has logged-in to SL and the account files created, the prompt is no longer displayed in starting the viewer.

At the time I reported this update I speculated as to whether it might be related to the upcoming Steam link-up. It’s hard to see why else LL would add such a prompt to the viewer’s splash screen – and the arrival of the update, just a couple of days after the original announcement did seem rather timely (although the splash screen changes have yet to be seen in any other flavours of the official viewer). Certainly, handling things this way would eliminate the need for complicated links between the Steam client / website and the SL website / sign-up page, and eliminate the need for any API interaction between the two.

If this is the case, however, one assumes steps will be taken to update the SL sign-up pages – the final step of which is to download the viewer; as Steam users will have already have effectively done this already, having the prompt without clarification could lead to some confusion.

The potential rebuttal to this is that Oz is involved with the viewer – so if the sign-up process was simply a matter of adding a dialogue to the viewer in order to direct the user to SL’s sign-up page, he’d know? Or is he simply being coy in his response, pending the official launch?

Will SL be Promoted as a Game?

During the TPV/Developer discussion, speculation is voiced that SL will in fact be promoted by Valve as a game on Steam. If correct, then one assumes that SL will be appearing in the Free Games category on Steam. However, this did not apparently come from Linden Lab, but rather from one of the TPV developers at the meeting.

As it is, Valve are due to launch their non-game offerings (described as “creativity and productivity” software this coming Wednesday, September 5th (which some have taken to be the date SL will appear on Steam, although this again is by no means clear) – so we might gain some further insight as to how SL might be pitched then – assuming SL isn’t one of the first offerings on the list.

Given that the original blog-post from the Lab announcing the link-up stated it would be happening in “the next month or so”, it would seem that we may have a couple of weeks yet in which to speculate, rather than perhaps getting a definitive answer this week.

Time will tell, as they say…

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Steaming into new waters

There has been a lot of humming and hawing since the announcement of SL’s forthcoming dip into the world of Steam. I passed brief comment at the news, but refrained from saying too much because a) I’m not a “gamer” and b) I’d never used Steam (although I did sign-up as a result of LL’s announcement to see what things are like for myself).

Steam client

Some of the feedback has been downright thoughtful and thought-provoking, as with Darrius Gothly’s take on things. Others have been the expected doom-laden predictions.

Sure, there is a potential for some trouble to come as a result of the link-up. Some will find temptation calling and coming into SL with the express intent to cause trouble; but I seriously doubt the amount or impact of outright griefing, will be anywhere near as bad as the doom merchants predict. What is more likely is that the vast majority of Steam users will like as not ignore the arrival of SL on their collective doorstep, either because they are too busy doing other things like knocking seven bells out of a digital foes somewhere, or because their preconceptions about SL are such that they have no interest (beyond, perhaps, poking their nose in to confirm those preconceptions).

As to those that do decide to take a leap of faith and sign-up for SL, why do people automatically assume they’ll do little than turn up and stomp all over our virtual daisies? As Darrius notes in his piece. A lot of SL users are also gamers themselves. They manage to bridge the “divide” between SL and games without issue – so why can’t people coming from the other direction do the same? Not every gamer is a hoodlum looking for the digital equivalent of a forehead to nut.

Steam is Also Opening It’s Doors

The negative bias expressed by those unhappy with the link-up seems to be born out of an assumption that Steam is all about playing games. It’s not. While games are the central emphasis, Steam is far more a community of people interested in a wide range of activities that reach beyond shooting up the next zombie or six. There are 3D modellers, content creators, machinima makers, and so on. In fact, such is the breadth of interest among users that Value, the company which owns the site, recently announced that they’ll  be launching a new “non-game” software service on Steam. In the official press release announcing the move, they state:

The Software titles coming to Steam range from creativity to productivity [my emphasis]. Many of the launch titles will take advantage of popular Steamworks features, such as easy installation, automatic updating, and the ability to save your work to your personal Steam Cloud space so your files may travel with you.

More Software titles will be added in an ongoing fashion following the September 5th launch, and developers will be welcome to submit Software titles via Steam Greenlight.

Ergo, when considering how SL will be promoted and where the appeal will lay, it’s worth remembering that there is an even chance it will not be placed within the “game” categories within Steam, but rather in the “creativity” category – something which immediately puts a different spin on how it will be perceived.

This would additionally fit with the fact that – for now at least – Second Life isn’t ready to be promoted as any kind of “game platform” (or as I prefer to term it, “game-enabling platform”). Oh, true enough, almost the entire thrust of LL’s development with the platform over the last 18 months has been to make it far more capable of supporting games and game-play environments; it doesn’t take a particularly keen observer to spot that. However, the platform isn’t there yet, not by a long shot. As such, it would be foolish for LL to push the platform as some kind of wonderful new game development tool or gameplay environment for a while.

The Needs of the Not-So-Many

I’d also tend to suggest that far from seeing the link-up with Steam as a means of trying to bring gazillions of users (“gamers” or otherwise) into SL, again as some have suggested (and others have blown raspberries at), Linden Lab are looking for something far more modest – again, at least to begin with.

Continue reading “Steaming into new waters”

SL Viewer: getting up steam for Steam?

secondlifeFollowing-on from the announcement that Second Life will soon be available through Steam, it appears the viewer itself is going through some small changes in order for it to be better used with SL.

Yesterday, I downloaded the latest Development version of the viewer. As per usual, I performed a clean install, removing the older version & the associated user and log files. On starting the viewer, I was surprised to see the log-in screen displayed with an additional pop-up:

SL Development Viewer 3.4.1.263582, (August 16)

Clicking Create Account pops-up the familiar “Do you want to open your web browser” dialogue box, prior to taking you (on clicking OK) to the SL sign-up page. I confess I have not (as yet) run through th actual sign-up process to see if that has changed in preparation for the Steam tie-in, but I’ll be doing so around the time the tie-in is announced as being live, if only out of curiosity.

Clicking Continue from the prompt will allow you to log-in using an existing account, and the prompt to sign-up is not repeated the next time you launch the viewer.

Alongside the new pop-up message, the actual log-in area of the viewer splash screen has been tidied-up and made more presentable.

The cleaned-up log-in credentials area of the splash screen, completed with grid access option enabled (Main and Beta grids only)

Assuming these changes are a part of the preparations for the link-up with Steam, they would appear to answer how users coming to Second Life via Steam will be directed to the sign-up pages. As such, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, will be done to make at least the initial sign-up page more informative as to what Second Life is, or whether this will be handled directly through the SL page(s) on Steam itself (I personally suspect the latter).

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.