The lights are on
The open-source operating system has long been the exclusive
domain of programmers and other DIY computer nerds, but big players like Valve
have recently begun making real progress in supporting Linux for heavy-duty
gaming. Here's why you should cheer for those efforts rather than laughing them
off or feeling like they threaten your existing PC gaming domain.
You can't throw a virtual rock on the Internet without
hitting a game developer commenting on how dealing with platform holders takes
time, effort, and money away from making better games. The additional coding
required to conform to standards that affect a tiny portion of their audience
in order to pass Microsoft certification comes at a cost. The thirty percent or
so (an extremely vague figure, as it varies from game to game and platform to
platform) of revenues that platform holders take off the top make it harder for
developers to profit from their work. The requirements and restrictions of a
platform's exclusive marketplace can make some ideas impossible to bring to
life - witness the lack of MMOs on Xbox despite a strong network
infrastructure. Finally, onerous burdens like having to pay a platform holder
to patch your game make games like Minecraft and Team Fortress 2 lag far behind
their PC versions.
With an open-source platform like Linux, there is no
platform holder to deal with. Nobody can stop you from making and distributing
whatever Linux software you like, charge you a fee for it, or tell you what you
can and can't do with a Linux game. That has been the advantage of PC gaming
since its inception, and it's done wonderful things for creativity,
flexibility, and pricing over the years. With Microsoft pushing Windows in the
direction of being a closed platform with Windows 8 (ARM-based tablets running
Windows 8 can only run Microsoft-approved programs, and only software sold
through Microsoft's digital storefront can access the full suite of Metro UI
features), this massive advantage that PC gaming holds could be lost. Linux's
open-source nature prevents it from ever being pushed down a similar road.
Valve's Steam service (which recently launched in a Linux
incarnation) shares many of the downsides of closed platforms like consoles,
iOS, or the Windows Marketplace. However, Valve doesn't control your hardware
and cannot prevent any games or content from working on your machine whether it
runs Windows, Linux, or Mac. Lacking that stick, Valve and competing companies
(including GameStop, which owns Game Informer) must resort to carrots like
seamless patching, community features, sales, and other ways to add value in
order to attract games and players to their services. Many developers are happy
to give Valve and other retailers their cut of a game's sale price in exchange
for the visibility and marketing they receive in return, and others prefer
using the pre-fab solutions for anti-piracy measures, community/online
integration, and other developer-focused added value that Steam in particular
Though Steam and similar services share some downsides with
closed platforms like consoles, the key ingredient is choice. If a company
doesn't like the way Valve does business, or doesn't think that Steam's
positives outweigh its negatives, they're free to ignore it and release their
game through other channels. NCsoft and ArenaNet probably didn't need any
additional exposure for Guild Wars 2, and obviously decided to avoid losing the
revenue that using a reseller like Valve takes off the top. Nonetheless, Guild
Wars 2 is available to all PC gamers who own the requisite hardware. Blizzard
sticks with its own Battle.net service. EA and Ubisoft insist on annoying
players with their own proprietary Origin and Uplay systems. Hundreds of indie
developers sell games through their own websites. The PC gaming ecosystem is
wider and more diverse than closed platforms by orders of magnitude, and it's
all due to its open nature. Game development on Linux will remain open to all
business models, types of content, and services, forever.
Finally, a Linux gaming machine will by definition cost
around $100 less than the same machine running Windows. Not having to pay
Microsoft for its operating system is a huge boon, particularly at the lower
end of gaming-capable PC building like Valve's "SteamBox" initiative. A
high-end $1,900 machine going up to $2,000 isn't that big of a deal, but
bringing a $600 box down to $500 is huge.
As glorious as a Linux-centric PC gaming future would be,
there are a number of hurdles that must be cleared for any serious Linux
development to take root. Come back Friday for a look at those, and leave your
thoughts in the comments section below in the meantime.
Email the author Adam Biessener, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.
What a coincidence, just turned to Linux to, without gaming intentions. Sweeeet, gonna get back to the pc groove I had when I still had windows. Beast.
Linux is a very good idea, but not enough games support it to make it worth it atm.
I'm glad you talked about this Adam, but it feels very "1 minute lore" when it comes to the depth of the matter. While I didn't think before about what things like Steam represent to Linux, I feel a few more things could have been brought up on the matter. However, thanks to more open gaming middleware like Desura, Linux gaming is becoming an actually valid option at this point.
Typing this from Linux Mint :)
great article! it sure feels like exciting times to be a pc gamer. I agree that pc gaming, as a whole, represents a certain amount of freedom, and linux takes that a step further. I would love to one day have only linux on my machine
Very true good sir.