Second Life will soon be published on Valve's Steam distribution network, Linden Lab just announced, news that comes on the very same day that the company unveiled a plan to greatly improve SL's graphics quality and rendering performance, so visuals look like what you see in this video below.
The two moves are clearly related. By adding Second Life to Steam, the virtual world becomes accessible to the service's 40 million or so users, nearly all of whom are hardcore gamers almost by definition.
By improving the graphics, SL becomes much more appealing to them, and frankly, largely accessible at optimal levels only to folks like them. Second Life already has extremely heavy 3D graphics and broadband requirements, and the new graphics requirements
will may make them much more so. For most gamers, however, this is not a problem.
I speculated that something like these moves were coming (or would need to come) a couple week ago, when I wrote about Second Life's new era, in which the virtual world is no longer a chief focus of Linden Lab:
DayZ, the zombie survival MMO, is one of the most popular games on Steam right now, but here's the interesting thing: It's actually a mod of Arma II, an older game few actually played. In the same way, a multiplayer game built within SL using the new game-centric tools and launched totally apart from the usual first-time user experience, could find a new audience, whether they give a damn about Second Life or not. And the thing is, there are already successful mini-MMOs like Bloodlines in SL, even without the new tools.
However, while Bloodlines and other roleplaying games in SL are popular, most users enjoy Second Life as a light 3D social chat experience. By moving SL to Steam and increasing the 3D graphics card requirements, Linden Lab is decisively moving away from this audience, in a bid to attract gamers who might enjoy a game like Bloodlines, and definitely enjoy Steam-powered games like DayZ. It will be interesting to see how this move changes SL's userbase.