Linux Gaming: What to Expect in the Future

linux osPhoto by Nick Martin via Flickr Creative Commons

When it comes to gaming computers, Windows is the de facto operating system. As a matter of fact, there isn’t any other operating system commonly available or accessible beyond Windows. The other option is a Mac, but that’s an entirely different topic. When it comes to gaming, Windows reign supreme. Pre-built gaming PCs come with Windows, and many games are developed specifically for that platform.

But what about Linux?

If you aren’t familiar with Linux, it is an alternative operating system. It’s quite the opposite of Windows: it’s free and can be downloaded easily, there are multiple versions and variations available, and it can be edited and customized down to its very structure. It’s often used in servers and other industrial-grade computing tasks, such as banks, factories, and research-based facilities.

Linux by itself is not an operating system, instead, it’s the kernel- or the program that communicates with your computer hardware and interprets it for use. There are many kinds of Linux OS, from purpose-specific ones to general daily use. Often called ‘distros’ or distribution, these OSes are not widely used and are mostly utilized by tech-forward enthusiasts who like to tinker.

But is it any good for gaming?

The short answer is yes, but it’s not wise to expect it will be exactly like Windows. Here’s a quick overview of what to expect.

linux osPhoto by 碁 宏 via Flickr Creative Commons 

Not All Games Will Be Available…

You’ve heard of the latest triple-A game. You’ve seen their online marketing, their hype videos, and the spin articles regarding it. If you’re on a Windows machine, all you need to do is wait for the announcement and be patient until release. It’s not exactly like that on Linux. Being that Linux desktops only take 2% of the desktop market share, many developers don’t particularly see Linux as a viable platform to release their games in. It’s quite understandable: millions of dollars and thousands of hours go into the production of these games, and porting them from Windows to Linux will cost even more money and time. But this doesn’t mean all hope is lost for Linux gaming.

…but More Games are Becoming Available on Linux

As far as sheer statistics go, Windows still dominates the desktop industry. But Linux users are constantly increasing, perhaps out of sheer frustration and bad experience with other OSes, preference for privacy and customization, or out of curiosity. Every year, Linux’s market share increases, and many developers are taking note.

Independent game developers, whose niche market can be rather vocal and active, take the opportunity to develop their games for both Linux and Windows. This comes as no surprise since many Linux users gravitate towards other niche interests, such as retro-inspired platforming games, 2D beat ‘em ups, and other genre-specific games. But it’s not just independent developers who are beginning to take note.

Linux is Beginning to Receive More Major Support

Video game giant Valve expressed support for Linux through its SteamOS project. Using the Linux kernel, SteamOS is a gaming-centric computer operating system that runs only the Steam page and allows you to download and play your games. Many of Valve’s old video games and other intellectual properties are also re-released for the platform with Linux availability, which is a particularly positive addition since Linux is often used to revive older machines.

Other video game publishers are following suit, with Ubisoft releasing Tomb Raider on Linux, and Id Software and CD Projekt releasing the Witcher on the platform. Major video game retailers such as GOG, Humble Bundle Store, and even platforms such as Itch.io also cater towards Linux, increasing the support more and more. From humble beginnings through independent and community-driven support, Linux is beginning to see major companies recognize it as a viable platform, making gaming on Linux ever more feasible.

Or You Can Use Wine

Wine, a shorthand for Wine is Not an Emulator, is software that creates a compatibility layer that makes it possible to run Windows executable on a Linux platform. This obviously has a litany of benefits, from running software initially unavailable to Linux to reviving old Windows abandonware out of sheer nostalgia or for a specific use case. However, Wine works particularly well with games too, albeit not at a guaranteed 100%.

There is some technical maneuvering required, as some Windows games require dependencies not normally available in Linux (but they can be worked around). Fortunately, the Wine community is a strong and tight-knit one, cataloging user experience and collecting data for individual games, discussing ways to make it work on Wine.

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