The lights are on
An open operating system that you don't have to buy sounds
like a win-win for gamers and developers, but many obstacles prevent Linux from
moving past its current niche status. Here's what needs to happen to break
Windows' dominance of computer gaming.
As awesome as a Linux-driven future sounds, we gamers can do
little to bring it about. Two things bind computer gaming to the Microsoft
platform so tightly that the Linux and Mac ecosystems are still only sideshows
at best: driver support from Nvidia and AMD, and low-level application
programming interface (API) software like DirectX. Understanding these
challenges, even if you're unable to address them yourself, is the first step
Graphics drivers aren't just a way for Nvidia to annoy you
by making you download another couple hundred MB every few months. Think of
them as the bridge between all that fancy custom graphics hardware and your
operating system. These hideously complex pieces of software translate what the
computer is telling it about what it should display onscreen into commands that
can be taken advantage of not only the GPU, but the advanced shaders and other
bits of silicon that make up a graphics card. A modern CPU is an unbelievably
powerful computational device, but it and its supporting architecture on the
motherboard are general-purpose silicon that accomplish tasks by brute force. A
modern graphics card, on the other hand, has highly specialized subsystems that
can do very specific tasks extremely quickly. The driver is the software that
makes those specially designed bits work, and how well the driver itself is
written has huge effects on stability and raw performance.
Because Windows is so ubiquitous, both Nvidia and AMD expend
massive resources in making their drivers as efficient and stable as possible.
Linux drivers, on the other hand, are a much lower priority and in some cases
are even hacked together by the open-source community (which brings its own set
of problems). Both Linux and Mac use the OpenGL API framework, and so drivers
written for both can share large portions of their code – but they're far from
100-percent compatible. This presents a chicken-and-egg problem: Few people
game on Linux because there aren't many games, and companies don't bother
making competitive drivers because the market isn't large enough to make it
This all sounds like doom and gloom, but good news exists in
all this. The traditional solution to this kind of chicken-and-egg problem is
for someone to break the cycle with a large, one-time expenditure that gets
things moving in the right direction. In this case, the obvious target would be
for a company to bite the bullet and invest a big chunk of money into better
driver/API support on Linux, making it easier for developers to port their
games over. Enter Valve and its SteamBox initiative. Making a gaming-ready
computer available at the low cost Valve seems to be aiming for is a lot easier
when every box doesn't include a $100 Microsoft tax. Valve cracking the code to
either make WINE (a Windows emulator for Linux) or native Linux support
approach Windows in stability and performance would be exactly the kind of kick
in the pants Linux gaming needs to get off the ground, especially coupled with
a growing install base thanks to low-cost gaming computers like the SteamBox.
Much of this analysis has focused on Valve, because frankly
the company is exactly the kind of technically talented, cash-rich entity that
might see pushing Linux infrastructure as a good investment. Plenty of other
developers and retail services would no doubt love to expand their businesses
onto Linux, especially in the face of Microsoft's steps with Windows 8 to lock
down its ecosystem into something more akin to the walled garden of Apple's
iOS, but none fit the bill quite so perfectly as Valve.
So what can you do? Let your favorite developers know that
you'd love to see their games on Linux. Making your voice heard does make a
difference. Even if they don't respond, every developer I've talked to about it
insists that they read all their fan feedback. Give Linux a shot yourself – after all, it's free, and dual-booting Windows and Linux is easy to set up.
Popular distributions like Ubuntu are much more user-friendly than they were
years ago, and free software is out there to handle most common computing
tasks. Grab Linux clients for any games you already own, and connect to Steam
and other services with Linux. Seeing their number of Linux users inflate is
one of the most powerful arguments to sway developers into pushing for greater
This may seem like a whole lot of pontificating about a
solution in search of a problem, but I absolutely believe that even though I
like Windows 7 and other Microsoft products, an open-source platform guarantees
a much brighter future for computer gaming. Maybe Microsoft has no plans to lock
down Windows 8 further than it already is, but I'd feel better if my favorite
hobby was immune to being held hostage by any single company. Executives retire
or are replaced, businesses evolve, and priorities change. I'd rather not tempt
great article once again adam, i couldn't agree more with this.
I don't use linux for the same reason I play most of my games on console, which is the fact that I just want to put my game in, and be good to go, while not having to worry about any B.S.
Oh yes. Fu*k Microsoft.
linux has no game support give it games that is how.
No hope there.
Truly hoping Linux will become a viable option for gamers in the near future. I have recently fallen for Linux and am disappointed that I cannot play all of my games without jumping to the Windows partition of my machine.
I'm using Linux and Windows side-by-side, have been doing so for the last couple of years. I could write an entire article about Linux and its various shortcomings. Yes, there ARE a lot of them.
You have to be - almost - a programmer to work effectively with it. You will spend more time working FOR your machine than WITH your machine. You will have to invest a lot of time to do constant updates/upgrades (which sometimes will break your existing system), searching for error fixes, and customizing the OS until it finally becomes kind of usable. You are constantly faced with terrible installation routines, everything that is not part of the repositories is usually a NIGHTMARE to install.
If Linux wants to seriously compete with Microsoft on any level other than servers and backend stuff, they *need* to become more user friendly. They *need* to offer GUIs for everything and must not rely on commmand line or .ini-like text files as primary interface anymore (though it is often denied, it is the de-facto standard). They need "click to install" like ".exe" files which they do not have right now. Many installation guides start with "Open your terminal and..." - No. A normal user won't do that.
I really hope that Linux will improve, especially since Microsoft went totally crazy with Windows 8 after an acceptable Windows 7. However, before we can ever talk seriously about games on Linux, we have to talk about the general stuff first.
I would love to use Linux if i have to do it for PC-gaming sake. I will move to Linux.. When most pc-gamers move to the platform.
I would totally use Linux if it were more user-friendly and supported more games. The cost to install a Windows OS on top of the cost of a new PC is ridiculous.