Linux Gaming Feasability

Hackenslash had posted Is Linux Gaming Plausible?. It makes for a good read, although I felt it was light on details and didn’t provide much of a definitive answer.

However, a major disadvantage for Linux gamers is the availability of DirectX in Windows, a multimedia tool that allows developers to create applications easier for the Windows platform.

“Unless DirectX runs on a different platform, it (Linux game development) might not really take off,” Gotangco said, adding that Linux gaming and game development would most probably remain an “indie” or independent industry.

DirectX is a Windows technology, and as such it is platform-specific. I don’t see Microsoft opening up access to their API to other operating systems. Since some major games, notably Doom 3 and Unreal Tournament 2004, have been ported to Gnu/Linux without the “advantage” of DirectX, it shows that Gnu/Linux game development is entirely possible and doable. Like DRM, DirectX isn’t a requirement for game development.

Multiplayer game servers are almost always provided for Gnu/Linux, and so the porting effort shouldn’t be too difficult for the client software. Unfortunately, when a developer uses a platform-specific tool such as DirectX, the porting effort becomes difficult. To create a version of the game that runs on a different system, you essentially have to gut your game code to remove the DirectX-specific parts and replace them with something available on a the target platform. Most developers will decide that the rewards would be too little to justify the expense of making such drastic changes to the code.

Still, I don’t believe that game development will be so dreary on Gnu/Linux.

A few Linux gamers actually have ways of circumventing the cross-platform issue of playing an enticing Windows game to Linux, without having to port it. One answer is just emulating the game for Linux. But according to Zak Slater, this isn’t an accepted industry and he said it is better for users to buy Linux versions or directly create Linux-native games.

I am 100% in agreement with Slater. I am not a fan of technologies like Wine or Cedega. It’s great when it works, but I would rather have native support for my platform of choice.

While the Linux gaming industry would not certainly be able become as big as traditional PC gaming, both Slater and Gotangco agree that Linux gaming is there to stay. They suggest that Linux game developer-hopefuls can get their Linux game fix from Icculus, Pompom Games (, Tux Games (, among others.

I’ll also note that the Torque Engine from GarageGames is both inexpensive and cross-platform, so games like Orbz and Dark Horizons: Lore can have native Linux-based clients right out of the box. With more indie games like those, I don’t think that we’ll have a problem if game development on Gnu/Linux remained an indie industry.

Also, using open source engines will probably become more common in commercial games. The infrastructure of a game isn’t the game, yet developers always spend a lot of time on recreating it. Using existing tools just makes sense, and using open source tools gives you a number of advantages, including the ability of your more technical customers to give you more than a simple bug report.

I believe that gaming on Gnu/Linux is definitely plausible. It’s very difficult to tell how many Gnu/Linux gamers there are since there are hardly any games available for them and they’ll likely pay for their games on the Windows system for lack of a better choice. They WANT native games for their preferred OS, and so far there aren’t many options.

6 comments to Linux Gaming Feasability

  • From what I have heard (take with a small Siberian salt mine), those games that are offered multiplatform across Mac, PC, and Linux only sell a tiny percentage of games for Linux.

    I’ve heard game developers (even indies, who are willing to go after niche markets) claim that they are only doing Linux because “it’s the right thing to do,” or because they prefer to DEVELOP under Linux, so it was easy to maintain a Linux version. But as a primary / exclusive platform?

    I don’t know. I remember one indie developer complain that the Linux users seemd to have more fun arguing about his EULA than playing the game. Could have been that the game sucked as far as I know, but the gossip from the front hasn’t been enough to really encourage me to go Linux.

    There’s only one vote that really counts when deciding what platform to release a game for, and that’s the vote with the wallet. So far it seems that the Linux community tends to use their machines more for servers and workstations than for entertainment, and even THEN tends to be pretty thrifty when it comes to forking over cash for software. If there was solid evidence that a halfway decent game would make tens of millions in profit by being a Linux exclusive, you’d better BELIEVE that there’d be a crush of game developers rushing to serve that market.

    The DirectX / OpenGL thing is just smokescreen. Yeah, Microsoft is trying to shoot OpenGL in the head with Vista, but it’s not the FIRST time they’ve tried to do that. Nor are they the only ones with significant leverage who have tried it (remember 3DFX and their proprietary API, back when they were kings of the PC graphics world?)

  • I say make indie games for your platform of choice. If they sell great if they dont then your still true to your nature. Every Indie should have a day job 🙂

    3DFX was not in the same league as Microsoft. Vista will be a hit even with security flaws. Microsoft is THE total package, like it or not. Until that changes game makers should ride there success. Last I heard, even the xbox was crushing the competion.

  • ***If there was solid evidence that a halfway decent game would make tens of millions in profit by being a Linux exclusive, you’d better BELIEVE that there’d be a crush of game developers rushing to serve that market.***

    Isn’t that what happened with the casual games market? A flood of games because it was supposedly an easy goldmine.

    No, Gnu/Linux gamers are much fewer than Windows gamers, and in fact a number of Gnu/Linux gamers are forced to be Windows gamers for lack of better choices. If I’m going to a LAN party, I can play UT2004 and Q3A and RTCW:ET, but to play most other games, I’m out of luck if I don’t bring a Windows machine. Not everyone has Orbz or Dark Horizons: Lore.

    More people are starting to use Gnu/Linux as their desktop machines, and so more people are going to need games. No one needs to make games exclusively for Gnu/Linux, but small percentages do add up.

  • There is a valid point, though, that Linux users have gotten into the habit of not needing to pay for software. On my Linux desktop, the only non-free (beer) code is UT2k4, Quake 3 Arena, Descent 3, and Starcraft and Warcraft III running through WINE. What do they all have in common? Yep, games.

    Really, there’s no commercial market for desktop Linux software. Games is it, until you get into really high-end graphics packages that go for 4-digits a seat. Everything else has already been done by open source apps, cloned or otherwise.

    I can certainly see game developers being worried that if Linux gaming takes off, someone will just write a “good enough” open source FPS engine (or wait for Doom3’s engine to go GPL in 5 years), everyone will just use that, and all that will be left is modders.

    As a user I’d kinda love to see that happen :-), but I can certainly see where game companies are scared by it, just as application software vendors are scared by Firefox and Thunderbird and Open Office.

  • Actually, some really good open source engines do exist, and for Windows as well. Quake 3? It seems no one is really making new games in abundance, so today’s game developers don’t seem to have much to worry about as far as free-as-in-beer competition. It still takes talent and money to make good games. Engines are just infrastructure. No one is paying id for the engine when they buy Quake 3 Arena or RTCW. Yes, the engine allows some game features to exist, but the point is that people are paying for the game.

    When you have a choice between making your own engine or licensing someone else’s, you’ll do what makes sense. For most hobbyists, making the engine is the fun part. That’s why there aren’t very many games getting finished by hobbyists. For game developers, making the game is more important than the engine. The engine just happens to be the frame in which the painting of the game is held.

    And since most people are more interested in playing with games than playing with engines, I think that using open source engines to make proprietary games isn’t the contradiction that a lot of people think it is.

    Game companies aren’t scared of Gnu/Linux gaming taking off anytime soon. There are “good enough” engines available. It’s just that no one is using them because they are Free, and the Free licenses are what scare them. I believe it is an unfounded fear, but this is an industry that generally believes they need to do what they can to prevent the criminals from playing their games. And by criminals, I meant their customers. But they would say I am being redundant.

  • I would like to see something like direct-x for linux before I decide to “cross-over” — what I mean is an all-encompassing api for which hardware venders create drivers for that includes 3d graphics, 2d graphics, networking, input, sound and music.

    Plus I want to know that someone can’t just copy my source and make their own game out of it thereby not doing the hardwork that I may have put into it. I may release my source for free and that doesn’t matter because then I have control about how and where I release my source code, with gpl or even lgpl i’m bound to the terms of the agreement.

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