Monday, September 10, 2012

How Will Steam Change Second Life?

Second Life is supposed to be available on Steam within a few months. Steam is an online game distribution platform that's captured about 70% of the downloadable PC game market.  It provides 50+ million active users with access to more than 1500 games including Skyrim, LOTR, Age of Empires and Eve Online.

The power of Steam isn't just that it aggregates so many games into a centralized marketplace. The unique value it provides is wrapping games within an integrated social network, an online community, cloud-based configuration management and a virtual goods marketplace. So I wonder how integration with Streamworks and Steam Cloud is going to impact Second Life.

I doubt that hordes of gamers are going to bail out on their current games of choice, become active Second Life participants and end up hijacking the existing culture. But I think it's likely that Second Life culture will be impacted through the addition of Streamworks functionality such as forums, voice communication, matchmaking and configuration management. Unless Second Life is subsumed completely under Steam's umbrella, I wonder how Linden Lab is going to approach the difference in user experience for those who access Second Life via Steam.

Another big question mark is how the business arrangement between Valve and Linden Lab will play out in functionality and pricing. Will Second Life be free to play on Steam? Seems likely. If so, will Steam only get a cut from premium membership or will Linden Lab integrate its marketplace into Steam. Will Steam get a cut from land purchases and monthly tier?  If so, will that impact the pricing or cost structure for everyone? Given the continuing decline of land ownership, will there be a change made to monetize the purchase of virtual goods? I guess it's even possible that Linden Lab will launch a new version of Second Life for Steam that is based on a completely different business model.

At the moment, I have a lot more questions than answers. Actually, zero answers. But it's interesting to think about.

10 comments:

daleinnis said...

How and/or why do you think it will change the SL user experience? I use Steam a bit to play a few PC games, but I never use any of the "forums, voice communication, matchmaking and configuration management"; do most people? And those are all things that you do outside of the world anyway; they're completely optional and don't directly impact the in-game experience at all.

How do the SL-related forums and weblogs and things change the SL experience? Not at all, really, I'd say...

Botgirl Questi said...

Hi Dale,

If those features would have an impact, it would be in the way that the Second Life community's extension onto social networks and blogs impacts our in-world experience. For instance, If (an that's a big if) a large percentage of Second Life users start using Steam their discussion boards are likely going to become a new center of conversation, media sharing and perhaps even virtual product exchange. I think that new center of community attention might have an impact (possible positive).

My real question is more in the business model area. Even before the Steam announcement, it seemed like they were going to have to do something to offset the declining revenue from private island ownership. It seemed like transitioning to a revenue stream from the sale of virtual goods (which I believe is IMVU's model) would be one plausible solution. Integration with Stream would position them to move to that approach. That might not be on their radar, of course.

Do you have thoughts on how Linden Labs might share revenue with Steam?

Matthieu said...

To be honest, it is worrying me a bit still. Integration with Stream may well end up as integration within Stream ... thus leading to a dilution of Second Life own identity. What made Second Life so unique and so original at first was, I believe, that it was not a game per se. The movements that Linden Labs seem to do to make it more a "game" seems to me a bit dangerous, as there are far better online "games". Sure, Second Life users and community(ies) may get larger exposure using the Stream social media platform ... or not ... Just think about how much Linden Lab is currently supporting Second Life communities ... while in the same time there are still vibrant blogs and posts and tweets about Second Life. Not sure Second Life communities need to integrate to a social network mostly aimed at "gamers", and not sure that "hardcore" gamers will be interested to move to Second Life either. But, well, it is evolution and it is fascinating to observe anyway !

Gaga Gracious said...

I agree that there are more questions than answers and I tried to explore this issue on my own blog. I think the Lab is taking a lot of risks here and I am pretty sure now that Rodvik was brought on board to police the existing SL community into a quiet corner while the business model of Second Life is changed. The SL community are not to be walked over easily, history has proved that time and again. I think a beautiful storm is brewing.

daleinnis said...

(I notice we are typoing "Stream" instead of "Steam" all over the place here. Too much thinking about cloud rendering?)

Note that Steam is almost completely a way to get TO a game (or in general a program / application / world), and to find / download / discuss them; it doesn't have much impact within the world itself once you're there. So just being one of the things that one can get to via Steam doesn't necessarily make SL more "gamelike" at all, or change the experience a all.

The main impact I can see Steam having on SL would be to bring in a new set of users / residents. And that's always interesting. :)

Some of them will be annoying doofuses, of the kind that for instance WoW Trade Chat crawls with, but I think that's okay. Interesting and/or annoying people always liven things up.

The only (other) part of Steam that I can see having any inworld impact is the "stats and achievements" support, which might make some of the Gamification stuff easier ("ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: CHANGED CLOTHES!"). But as far as I know that would *require* Steam, and so far I haven't seen any suggestion that SL is going to require Steam in order to run.

(Steam also has support for microtransactions, which might possibly work better than the current extremely creaky infrastructure behind the SL marketplace, but that might also make SL require Steam, I'm not sure.)

I am by no means a business model or revenue sharing expert. :) I don't know what Steam's business model is, either; as far as I know it may just help drive game sales. Obviously LL could pay Valve / Steam for every new Premium user that comes in via Steam, for every Linden that gets bought during a login session that came from Steam, and so on. Whether that works out to be profitable for Valve or LL or both or neither is well outside my field of vision, though, I'm afraid...

Yordie Sands said...

In theory this seems like a logical move for LL.

I have a lot of questions like: what are the Steam members gonna do when they get to SL? Will this be another round of noobies asking where the "game" is?

I hope Steam breathes new life into Second Life, but I doubt that Steam will be of any value to me personally (unless I start leaving the SL nest for other games).

Geo Meek said...

I maybe wrong but Steam may make it easier to port Second Life to smart devices and tablets,just my 2 cents

Noodle said...

I think Geo Meek has a good point. Steam will enable SL to run on any platform supported by Steam. Phones, computers, pads, whatever... I like that because - honestly - Pocket MV isn't much fun. Also, I'd love to get rid of the trouble with overheated grafix cards. Steam might also get new users on SL;

Botgirl Questi said...

Steam doesn't allow software to run on platforms other than the ones it supports natively. For instance, I use a Mac and many of the games only support Windows.

CronoCloud said...

Gee, there sure seems to be a lot of "The sky may be falling" hullabaloo over this:

I will simply post what I posted in response to Prokofy Neva's questions:

Valve has NOT bought Linden Lab it would have been BIG news.

Steam is essentially PLaystation Network or Xbox Live for the PC.

Steam will soon have a category for non-game software...that's where SL will be.

Being on Steam doesn't mean that SL will have ANY Steam integration, other than being able to download it and launch it from Steam. SL will still have it's own registration and login system.

You can already download games on Steam, like MMO's, that have their OWN login systems, communication tools and marketplaces, like LOTRO (Turbine Account). Eve Online (CCP account). Final Fantasy XI (Square-Enix's PlayOnline), that are totally separate from Steam. You don't communicate IN these games using Steam, but their own systems. Steam is just an easy way to buy, download and launch such games.

You can actually use steam to Launch non-Steam games you buy on our own either online or brick and mortar stores, just to keep all your games in "one place"

Steam does have communication tools...chat, message boards...they are separate from any similar things individual games might have.

So in other words, it's just another way for Linden Lab to market and distribute SL.