Steam Punked

We have always, since as long as I can remember, spent a good amount of time trying to understand what on Earth has possessed the upper management at Linden Lab. By “We” I mean myself and the general blogging population out here. While some of us are content to sniff around at LL’s heels and put up any scraps they drop while calling it “reporting”, those with an actual brain in their skulls prefer trying to be out ahead of the barreling avalanche.

Sure, some of us have some pretty wild thoughts. Some of us are even accused of being mentally unbalanced. (Waves hand!) But I’m reminded of the fact that today’s best fighter jets are as nimble as they are simply because they ARE totally unbalanced … and then I feel all better. But anyway, sometimes the imbalance that passes for my thought process also sometimes comes up with stuff that just might actually be right. And that’s when I post it here and try to pass it off as reality. And so we come to today’s wild-ass theory.

Steaming Up The Windows At The Lab

Not that long ago it was announced (okay, more like whispered) by Linden Lab that they were in some fashion hooking up with Steam. As is typical, whenever the Lab lets something out in a really quiet voice, it turned into a rather furious tempest among the forumites and blog-o-beaks .. myself included. At first we didn’t see the connection between Second Life and Steam. All sorts of theories floated around, but voices were shouting things like “But the SL Viewer is Free!” and “Second Life is not a game!” and other such epithets in defense of our core assertion. What was our core assertion? That listing Second Life on Steam is just another example of the boneheaded moves cooked up by Linden Lab.

Just like trying to make SL Residents go out and get Facebook profiles (despite the fact that it was against Facebook’s TOS to open accounts under “fake” names). Just like their insistence that all adult content be moved to a wholly separate and isolated set of Sims (Zindra) and then changing the impossible to operate “Adult Verification” process to a simple “Promise me you’re an adult, go right on in.”

LL even tried to make things look like their typical efforts at making one of their boneheads work; they right away forked off a version of the Viewer with a special Steam Logon screen. However last I heard, that version was pretty buggy, was missing some of the recent fixes that were in the main viewer (and TPVs) and even looked butt-ugly. Ahhh, but you see … that was their RUSE!

The Electronic Arts Connection

I know this is gonna give her no end of fits, but Prokofy Neva gave me an idea by posting a rather broad and yet scary question on the SL Forums. In that post she asks if Valve will be wanting a cut of LL’s action on the Second Life income stream. She points out that an earlier attempt at a deal between Valve (the owners of Steam) and Electronic Arts (Rod Humble’s Alma Mater) went south because Valve insisted on getting their fingers into EA’s pie. EA went their own way, creating their own Steam-alike, but so far hasn’t had the same cross-platform or cross-manufacturer appeal that Steam has. But even though it didn’t work out as intended, there must have been something in Steam that caught Rod’s eye … and I think I might know what that something is.

The Marketplace Fiasco

I have to say that I’m hard-pressed to come up with any initiative inside Linden Lab that has turned into a bigger pile of steaming refuse than the SL Marketplace. When LL first bought out XStreet, they made some changes to it that were jarring but overall beneficial. The merger between XStreet and Second Life accounts was a stroke of genius in my book. Of course they also canned the Product and Merchant Forums, but that was more to do with their paranoid fear of outside conversation than anything having to do with XStreet.

But then shortly after they took over the last worthwhile Virtual Goods sales site, they closed it. They closed it because their new Golden Child … the SL Marketplace … was ready for action. (Pardon me .. I need a moment to recompose myself. I just had a hysterical laughing fit … )

Before the Commerce Dev Team (the OLD Commerce Dev Team, not the one we have now) set off developing what is now the SL Marketplace, the Merchants were promised a state of the art, top of the line, gold-plated, better than Amazon internet sales site the likes of which we could only dream. They knew this to be true because … because … oh yeah, because it had a Shopping Cart! They also found some free software they could adapt (read “butcher”) into working with the rather unique situation existing in Second Life, and they just KNEW they could make something that would put all those other “Also Rans” to shame.

The promises they made to us Merchants and Customers must have paled in comparison to the promises they made to LL Management. They got the funding and approval to totally throw away absolutely everything that LL had just spent a lot of money buying, and design it all from scratch. Whatever dog they sold Management, the dog they delivered has yet to hunt, preferring instead to lay under the front porch and fart a lot. Even though the latest Commerce Dev Team has managed to amputate the Magic Box delivery system and graft on Direct Delivery (which seems to be working rather well), there are still so many outstanding issues (like the cross-linked listing problem) and failed promises that no one seems to have any clue how to fix.

To put it rather bluntly, the SL Marketplace has been the biggest glop of egg on Linden Lab’s face … ever! Even when compared to all their other boneheaded ideas, SL Marketplace stands out in a way no one wants anything to stand out (like a 2-inch zit on your Prom photos). So if LL can somehow get rid of Marketplace, all the better. But where are they gonna find a ready-made virtual goods sales site that works?

You’ve Been Punked!

Did y’all rush down here ahead of me? Daggone it! Well anyway, since you ruined the surprise. Steam!

Yeah, I kinda rolled back in my chair when it hit home too. After all, Steam already has a very active and very operational Virtual Goods sales system. Valve has been looking for ways to get into the Virtual Goods business for the various in-game micro-economies, thus why they wanted a piece of EA’s take for their in-game sales. Steam has a very large and active contingent of customers with money to burn and a willingness to buy stuff they can’t actually hold in their hand. (In fact, a lot of them even brag about NOT having to deal with physical goods.) Even better, those customers have a particular bent for online games and aren’t totally adverse to virtual world and simulator type experiences.

For their part, Linden Lab has been looking for a way to offload this piece of crap hanging from their neck called Marketplace. But they don’t want to totally rewrite it .. again. That would be too painful and would take away from their efforts on their other new products. What they need is a ready-made sales site that can (fairly) easily get into the sale of Second Life goods, won’t drive them nuts with customer service and migration issues, and already has a micro-economy all their own.

The Synergistics

Valve gets quite a benefit out of this arrangement. They get an intro into the burgeoning (and predicted to burgeon a whole bunch more) Virtual World market. They get to try their legs in a community of people that are familiar with their operations and, for the most part, has a good impression of them. And they damn sure can’t screw it up any worse than it’s already screwed up. Not to mention the doors it opens into the other competing grids like OS Grid, etc. etc.

Linden Lab gets out of a royal nasty bog by stepping out from underneath of the Marketplace and all its attendant negative feelings. They will no doubt benefit from having someone else do all the customer support, so they can afford to take a much smaller cut of the proceeds. Besides, as many have mentioned in the past, stuff sold for use in Second Life … gets used in Second Life. And to use it, people gotta have land. And LAND is where they make their real money anyway.

So it’s starting to look like a Win-Win to me. Except I’m not sure how the Merchants and Customers will fare. We may get a raw deal in the form of listing fees, increased commissions, new guidelines … who knows? But since the delivery mechanism is now handled all through database operations that are wholly owned and controlled by Linden Lab and their Asset Servers, it’s not like we have a say-so anyway. If LL decides to sell off the delivery system and servers to Valve, they can without any concern whatsoever.

Final Thoughts

This all may just be the product of the long week I had today. It could just be that spicy chicken I had for dinner. But from looking at it in the direction I am right now, it looks like the players in the … ahem … game stand to make some major benefits on both sides. That often spells “inevitable” to me. I guess the coming months will tell, eh?

In the meantime? Maybe I just oughta go get myself a Steam account, huh? 😉


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Comments

One Comment on Steam Punked

  1. Lord on Sun, 30th Sep 2012 1:12 PM
  2. hmmmmmm…if they combine this with auctioning off the mainland to the land barons…and pulling thier viewer from the public eye (making it only a reference viewer for tpv and platform development)…..they would cut alot of overhead expenses…..hmmmmmmmmm, I wonder…..