Skip to comments.The Uphill Climb of Linux Gaming
Posted on 08/09/2012 4:43:24 AM PDT by ShadowAce
For years, there has been one constant for users making the switch to Linux: gaming was going to be a thing of the past.
Not that people havent tried, of course. Software like WINE (with its gaming spin-offs like Cedega and PlayOnLinux) have made it possible to run Windows games on Linux with mixed results. There have also been the occasional forays into official Linux support in a handful of titles, but outside of the Humble Indie Bundle, Linux games sales have never been able to touch even Mac OS, let alone Windows.
Linux users who wanted to do any serious gaming were left with the unpleasant prospect of dedicating a partition on their machine to Windows for the express purpose of gaming.
But if recent news is any indication, we may finally see that changing.
Certainly the biggest piece of gaming related Linux news has been the long awaited arrival of Steam for Linux. For the uninitiated, Steam is a service where users to can purchase and play PC games. Instead of purchasing games separate from various online and physical retailers, and having them scattered all over your computer, Steam consolidates everything into one application. Steam also uses DRM to tie purchased games to a specific account, ensuring you can install them again the in the future without having to repurchase them.
Steam for Linux had been rumored and hinted at for years, but it wasnt until recently that, ironically, Microsoft made it official. The outspoken head of Steam developer Valve is so unhappy with Windows 8, that hes gone on record stating Linux may be the saving grace of PC gaming:
The big problem that is holding back Linux is games. People dont realize how critical games are in driving consumer purchasing behavior.
We want to make it as easy as possible for the 2,500 games on Steam to run on Linux as well. Its a hedging strategy. I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space. I think well lose some of the top-tier PC/OEMs, who will exit the market. I think margins will be destroyed for a bunch of people. If thats true, then it will be good to have alternatives to hedge against that eventuality.
Steam is the dominant game delivery service on Windows, youre unlike to find a gaming machine that doesnt have Steam installed. Bringing Steams extensive catalog of games to Linux would represent the largest software migration the platform has ever seen. Even if only half of Steams collection of games made the jump, it would completely change the landscape of gaming on Linux.
While Valve may have started its migration to Linux due to Gabe Newells concerns over the future of Windows, it may end up that Linux is where Steam is better off anyway.
Just a few days ago via their blog, Valve noted that the development version of their wildly popular Left 4 Dead 2″ was able to achieve an incredible 303.4 Frames Per Second (FPS), easily outpacing Windows on the same hardware, which clocked in at 270.6 FPS. Valve believes this is a very promising start for bringing their games to the platform:
That the Linux version runs faster than the Windows version (270.6) seems a little counter-intuitive, given the greater amount of time we have spent on the Windows version. However, it does speak to the underlying efficiency of the kernel and OpenGL.
The fact that Linux is more efficient than Windows on the same hardware is probably not much of a surprise to anyone who has used it for very long; increased performance is one of the reasons many people made the switch in the first place. Its good to see the subjective observations of Linux users backed up by some hard numbers from a respected developer, and goes a long way to legitimizing the platform as a whole.
Not everyone in the game industry is quite as convinced about the success of Linux as a game platform as Valve. John Carmack, the co-founder of iD Software and creator of milestone titles such as DOOM and Quake, doesnt think Linux has what it takes to become a viable source of income for game developers:
Linux is an issue thats taken a lot more currency with Valve announcing Steam for Linux and that does change things a bit, but weve made two forays into the Linux commercial market, most recently with the QuakeLive client, and that platform just hasnt carried its weight compared to the mac on there. Its great that people are enthusiastic about it, but theres just not nearly as many people that are interested in paying for a game on the platform. And that just seems to be the reality.
The reality that Carmack refers to here seems a bit questionable, however. As Carmack himself has said previously, Quake Live has been a financial failure in general, so to claim that Linux has proven itself to not be a viable source of income when even the Windows build didnt generate a positive cash flow seems a bit disingenuous.
As for the second attempt iD software made to monetize Linux gaming, there is actually some debate as to what Carmack is referencing. iD has released Linux builds of a few of their games (such as DOOM 3), but they were simply Linux binaries on iD softwares FTP servers that required the Windows version of the game to play. How can you track sales of a game which was never technically for sale? Is Carmack using their FTP server logs as a metric to determine how many people played DOOM 3 on Linux? Not quite the scientific approach that Valve has taken.
Carmacks claims are also in direct opposition to the wildly successful Humble Bundle, which has shown time and time again that Linux users are very much willing to put the money out for native Linux games.
More to the point, iD Softwares halfhearted attempts to bring a handful of FPSes to Linux simply cannot be compared to Steam and its catalog of multi-genre games. The failure (if it can even be called that) of one has no bearing on the other.
Of course, it wouldnt be a debate about Linux unless the Free Software Foundation (FSF) chimed in. Recently, FSF founder Richard Stallman recently went on record with his uncharacteristically mixed feelings on Steams arrival on the operating system he had a hand in building:
Nonfree game programs (like other nonfree programs) are unethical because they deny freedom to their users. (Game art is a different issue, because it isnt software.) If you want freedom, one requisite for it is not having nonfree programs on your computer. That much is clear.
However, if youre going to use these games, youre better off using them on GNU/Linux rather than on Microsoft Windows. At least you avoid the harm to your freedom that Windows would do.
Thus, in direct practical terms, this development can do both harm and good. It might encourage GNU/Linux users to install these games, and it might encourage users of the games to replace Windows with GNU/Linux. My guess is that the direct good effect will be bigger than the direct harm.
Stallman has often gone on record saying that, if given the choice between expanding userbase or compromising freedoms, the FSF would rather maintain the rights of a smaller group. The GPL v3 specifically includes a clause ensuring just that.
Its somewhat surprising then that Stallman has taken his current stance on Steam. While he doesnt agree with the idea of DRM in general, it seems he at least concedes that its better people run DRM-controlled software on an operating system which otherwise respects the users freedom. This is something of a change of heart for the usually unwavering Stallman, and may dictate how rigorously the FSF will be speaking out against DRM in the coming years.
If one thing is for sure in this debate, its that the community needs to give whatever support it can to Valve. Even if you arent a gamer by nature, browse through Steams collection and see if there isnt something that might interest you for a few dollars. Without the financial support of the Linux users themselves, the dangerous opinion harbored by industry leaders like Carmack could be irreparably cemented into the minds of developers.
Combining this with the easy-to-use distros like Kubuntu or SuSE, and Linux might finally gain some widespread traction.
It’s possible, though market share isn’t really that important to me, other than the pressure it exerts on improving quality.
Perhaps what needs to occur is for some journalist to investigate how many people who use Linux as their primary OS are actually interested in gaming.
I see the use of Windows as the gamer's OS of choice as a perfect example of the application (in this case, 'games') driving the choice of the OS, which is how it should be.
Linux is my primary OS because I can do the things I need (or want) with it and the price is low. If I couldn't do what I needed, I'd run a different OS.
You are forgetting that the PS3 (PlayStation3) uses a Linux OS.
2013 will be the year of Linux (gaming) on the desktop! LOL.
Linux will never be more than a hobby OS for geeks. Its fun to play with, but ultimately you have to boot into Windows to do anything productive.
First, that kind of blanket statement makes you look extremely ignorant of the tech world.
Second, it's rather amusing that you mention 'productivity' on a thread discussing gaming.
Hmm. Really? I wonder how I'm the most productive person on my team at work when all I use is Linux.
I also wonder how these people get anything accomplished.
Productivity? You have no clue what you're talking about.
Sorry, do you know how many Linux developers there are making 1000’s of commercial products? It is much more than a hobby OS.
That said, imo Android has the best chance of becoming a great gaming platform (as a “Linux” based OS), because of its standard user-space software stack (well defined).
A couple of Linux fanboys on FR dont make it more than a hobby OS. Fragmented by dozens of distros. No real software publishers support it. No Adobe. No Microsoft. Just guys writing shitty little programs that try to duplicate what real software does. Still cant crack more than 1% or so market share despite more than a decade of “this will be the year of Linux on the desktop!” Have fun with Linux. If you enjoy it, more power to you. I just dont think it amounts to much outside of the server room.
You are seriously “stuck on stupid”...
About 80% of M$ revenue comes from
a) server room
b) Windows (the “forced sale” product)
AAPL Revenue soaring past M$, who is missing the boat. The consumer is no longer supporting M$’s P & L as they did in the 1980’s-90’s. Now, it’s IT shops that don’t quite have a clue yet.
But yes, I agree that Linux is not baby-proofed enough for prime-time, even the desktop environments. Far too many things will bite you as you set it up. And it’s far easier for a person who’s worked in IT than for a civilian to undertand terminology, etc. man pages are... well... forget about that. The commands are mostly big conglomerations of functionality with wacky, cutesy and mostly inconcistent abbreviations.
Security problems plagues Windows even worse than linux, of course.
But Linux needs a real “consumer-oriented” distro; the opensource dudes seem to not be interested in that so far (go figure!). It needs to work out of the box and be locked down tight. Geeks don’t understand “simple”.
You’ve heard of openoffice, right ? It reads all the M$ formats and has it’s own. Word processing, spreadsheet, etc., runs awesome. They just have their own scripting language that’s not MS/VB. Then again only corp fin geeks use Excel scripting.
The GIMP does image manipulation, i.e., photoshop. I have no idea how it compares, but not bad for free.
A lot of opensource now also runs on Windows. Open office does. Download it - the whole thing is only about 150M I think. It’s free, loads up in a few seconds and works great. You’ll never go back to paying for that commodity software again, no need to.
M$ software is not really needed any more; all the apps that you think you need windows for - there’s free stuff out there. So you run it all under windows. Then you realize that all that stuff runs under CentOS, which is the free Red Hat, which is the linux flavor that most big companies are using.
There are all these industry-standard formats of files, a whole world out there that M$ has to begrudgingly support now. The old trick of “you need M$ file formats, languages, etc.” no longer holds. Mostly people need the web browser today, and they’ve been ported to every OS. The people who really are devoted to their hardware/OS - Apple people ! They have no need to switch to anything else; got everything they need.
Adobe supports linux like nobody’s business, BTW. Flash player even works in 64-bit linux. I’ve run all the desktop stuff on an 8-core 64-bit linux box; it was just like a super-fast PC.
So you don't consider browsing the internet and posting articles on FreeRepublic ....PRODUCTIVE?
The games are pretty horrid in comparison.
My niece has a new Sony Vaio with 8gb of RAM and it plays Playstation games with better graphics than the PS.
I think STEAM might be a good fit, I can see some people buying a Linux machine for it. It will never be XBOX Live though, but it could invigorate Linux.
I noticed the games I found for free all look like something that came off NES or so. I do like War Zone 2100 though, that is my kind of game I guess.
If someone could make a browser or whatever to make a game lke HeroUp work on Linux that would be cool.
Sure there are some sites I can’t use, like Star Trek New Voyages forums (for some reason) or the game my nephew liked before my HDD died, Hero Up... (only works for Win and Mac machines)
other than that, Ubuntu 12.04 is fine.