Commercial Gaming, Coming Soon to Linux?

The inability to play the latest off the shelf commercial games has been a thorn in the side of Linux for a long time. With companies such as Valve starting to embrace other platforms, will that be the catalyst Linux needs to become a first class citizen?

Whichever way you look at it, consumers want to be able to play the latest commercial computer games.

Sure, Linux has a myriad of fantastic free games available (and even a number of commercial ones) for the platform, but that’s not good enough for gamers. Does the latest and greatest hot off the press game run on Linux? No. Does an awesome proprietary game from 10 years ago run on Linux? Possibly.

The lack of commercial gaming on Linux continues to be a stumbling block for many and the current gaming market keeps them on Windows. (Indeed, many otherwise full time Linux users dual boot Windows for games.) There is a huge untapped potential for Linux gamers, designers and programmers here that never may never eventuate because they never try anything other than Windows (why would they?).

Quite frankly, what Linux has to offer pales in comparison to other platforms.


The biggest reason why commercial games don’t run on Linux is simply that the market isn’t big enough. If the market existed, then so would the products. OK, so we’re working on that one.

The second biggest reason is that the majority of new games are built using Microsoft’s DirectX, rather than the open, cross-platform API OpenGL. Microsoft has done a great job in stitching up the gaming industry so that their platform remains the dominant one.

There is no native DirectX support for Linux and there never will be.

So with no native DirectX, Linux gamers must resort to using some other kind of Windows API implementation, such as Wine. The Wine project is truly amazing. It is an open source implementation of the Windows API which allows users to install and run a great number of Windows only applications, right on their Linux desktop.

Firstly, let’s set one thing straight – Wine is not an emulator (you might have realized that from the project’s name). It does not emulate Windows applications in the way that VirtualBox emulates an entire machine. Although technically it is an additional layer on top of the underlying system, it is no more so than any other library. As such, Wine is not necessarily slower than running native applications on Windows (in fact, in some instances it can be faster). Having said that, it is much slower when it comes to games.

There are a few drawbacks of using Wine, primarily its inability to simply run any software – many require (or have required at some point) specific programming to get working. While Wine is great for those simple must have applications, it doesn’t (yet) cut the mustard for the gaming crowd, and here’s why.

Performance matters to gamers.

If you’ve ever been involved in any gaming group (particularly first person shooters and the like) every frame per second counts. Smooth graphics count. The ability to separate your head from your shoulders (headshottttt) before you do so to me, is, well, really important.

Unfortunately, Wine simply cannot compete with the performance of Windows games running on their native platform (again, “yet”). Wine Reviews recently linked to a some benchmarks between CrossOver Games (a commercial version of Wine), Wine itself and Windows 7. The results? Linux was always slower, sometimes by a factor of more than two.

The commercially available CrossOver Games from CodeWeavers does an excellent job at making numerous Windows only games available for Linux (yes, there is also Cedega). It supports around 150 games rated at the gold or silver level.

CrossOver Games installing DirectX
CrossOver Games installing DirectX

For Valve’s Steam client, CrossOver Games installs Microsoft’s DirectX rather than use Wine’s built in DirectX libraries.

Playing Day of Defeat via Steam using CrossOver Games
Playing Day of Defeat via Steam using CrossOver Games

If you want to play a specific (supported) game and get reasonable performance, then Wine is really magnificent. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always reflect the desires of serious gamers.

Next: Removing the Block

Comments on "Commercial Gaming, Coming Soon to Linux?"


Great article and you make the strongest point yet for multi-platform gaming. I am excited for what is happening on the iPhone and Android devices but only if I see some of the same benefits coming to my desktop.

Secondly while Steam and others are going more cross platform with the Mac, you will not see Mac games end up being ported to GNU+Linux. The technical hurdles are smaller after Mac porting but the legal ones are larger.


@brotherred, that\’s true and something which I probably should have touched on in the article.



I think another hurdle is that much of the hardware is specifically targeted at DirectX. Can an OpenGL game compete with a DirectX game when the hardware is targeted at DirectX? It doesn\’t seem likely.


Well if many games are being ported for Macs don\’t they also use the OpenGL standard? Steam just announced its move to the Mac and we are believing they are bringing a number of there games with them from there library. Does this mean soon we could get real games thru steam too?


Where\’s my UT3 for Linux? Weren\’t we promised that more than two years ago?


Personally, I still think if the game developers targeted WINE as a platform and tested their installers/games with WINE (and even distributed customized versions of WINE with a LINUX installer that set up it\’s own prefix) as the code made it\’s way back into the project this would drive way more game titles onto LINUX than relying on making the jump to OpenGL…


It seems like there is a significant problem with Linux as a game OS other then the issue of DirectX. This is the issue of system non-uniformity. If you step up to a Linux machine, you never know what you are going to get. Is it Slackware, Debian, Gentoo or what? Does it use Alsa or is it still running OSS?

Interface standards are a moving target on Linux. Particularly since many users \”play\” with their systems to suit themselves.

If I develop a game for Windows XP I have a level playing field. 90% of the machines with WXP will simply run the game despite user use/abuse.

If I need a particular version of some library, I can ship it with the game and install it with little concern that I will damage the system. This is not true with Linux.

I recently tried to install Privateer Gemini Gold on a Linux box I have. It is a sarge Debian system and the game will not run because my version of glibc is too old. The Linux installer does not dare upgrade my glibc for fear of breaking my system. (Google this to see what I mean.)

Since Linux is a non-uniform OS it is a harder target for game makers. One of the greatest attractions of game consoles is that the target is well defined fixed piece of HW and SW.


@typhoidmary, true, this is also somewhat of an issue. I\’m sure there are legitimate strategies for dealing with this, perhaps static libraries bundled with the game.

Also, at the least a Game could have support for a specific distribution, such as Ubuntu. I think that the gaming company could make use of community support to ensure that it works on others, with a central \”HowTo\” make it work on anything.

The game could be installable through the distro\’s package manager also, so you just insert the disk and install the game. Patches can do that way too. I\’m sure that there are a number of ways to deal with this.

You are right though, it\’s not necessarily simple :-)



I found this thread some time ago on a blog for what I consider a true masterpiece on the gaming arena:

The developer was trying to make a port of his game to Linux, but the inability of the Linux evangelists to give a satisfactory solution to the issues expressed (mostly related to some Xlib API shortages) looked to me a very bad symptom, the developer ended up really exasperated. Maybe we should demand more advances from the X Consortium to better match current game development requisites?


There is another problem with Linux as well. The freedom agenda has meant that, instead of having one tool that does one job well, we have ended up with a lot of tools that show potential, but very few that are fully functional.

I\’m all for enabling choice but not if it means that silly basic things don\’t work out of the box and confuse the user/developer. For instance, Gnome apps still don\’t skin properly under KDE and vice versa and KMix functionality is still variable. We still have several packaging formats and buggy/incomplete configuration tools that work fine one minute and then randomly bork core files.

Worst of all though, worst of all, the command line still hasn\’t died. Unless the function being performed involves an engineer, a priest, a chicken and a stone altar, the end user should NEVER ever see or require the command line. Instead of being able to install basic things by a single point-and-click action and then having the damned thing work, end-users have to trawl forums to find the correct phrase to type in. You daren\’t ask a question and if you do some self-righteous tit jumps down your throat. Oh and you can\’t copy and paste it into Konsole because there might be non-printing characters that\’ll stuff it.

GTK/Gnome fanboys argue with Qt/KDE fanboys over whose is better, raining down fire and brimstone on anyone that disagrees. Little do they realise that most users (and potential users) simply don\’t care. I\’ll repeat that: most of us simply don\’t care. What I want is for the bl**dy thing to just work! I really don\’t give a toss what toolkit or which GPL version was used. If it works I\’ll use it, if it doesn\’t I won\’t.

And the old \”if you think you can do better do it yourself\” cr*p doesn\’t wash either. The vast majority of users simply cannot, repeat CANNOT, make their own applications.

Frankly, there are a myriad of reasons why serious software companies are avoiding and will continue to avoid Linux. Chief amongst these is that Linux is the IT equivalent of the Church of England. Too many voices, too many little empires, too much factionalism, too many precious Marys ready to get offended, no clear overall direction, no clear overall leadership, no unity and total confusion for those on the outside looking in.

Linux needs to start making hard decisions:

1. Which ONE body is in charge?
2. Which ONE body is answering technical questions?
3. Which ONE packaging format is to be standard?
4. Which ONE Sound API is to be standard?
5. Which ONE Graphics API is to be standard?
6. Which ONE set of configuration tools is be standard?
7. By what date must all the major GUIs be fully interoperable?
8. When is X going to get a kick in the bum?
9. When is the GNU toolchain going to get a kick in the bum?
10. Which location(s) for system, app and config files is to be standard?
11. When will we stop moving the goalposts?

Choice and Standards are not mutually exclusive; it is strong standards frameworks that promote real choice by making things easier. At the moment we pretend to offer choice, but in making things so technical, involved and difficult, we force non-technical users to stay with Windows and hence, in the real world, we offer no choice at all.

Yes we can solve some of the technical issues (such as bugs and API shortages) in the same way we do now. If, however, we want to make a serious OS that really is right for the innocent non-technical end-user, we need to make root-and-branch reform to our hierarchies, our methods and, most importantly, our attitudes.

We need to stop living in cloud-cuckoo land.


Too all those ppl saying that there are too many options to depend on, to many command line shell scripts etc. etc.

You can still choose an major linux-distro like ubuntu, and make your game work on it out of the box. After all, the OS is free and takes no time to install, unlike windows and Mac OS(oh you need a $2000 mac too)

So the only point to not have linux commercial gaming is that there is too little of a market share.


@tinbath: The reason most forums provide command line answers is that it is easier to tell you to type exactly \”this and that\” into the command line than to tell you to click on the left box, then scroll down, then when the menu appears click on the 2nd item, etc…. Most likely you\’ll end up clicking the wrong item. I know this from trying to help my dad with his computer through the phone. Nowadays, most of the stuff in Linux can be done with a mouse if you prefer, but you also have the choice of going commando.


Another roadblock for gaming in Linux is the mentality of too many users who plainly refuse to install anything that even remotely smells of proprietary code. They won\’t install anything unless it is free as in speech and beer. Yet, they\’ll dual-boot Windows to play the same proprietary games or play them in a proprietary game console.


Tinbath is my favorite spokesperson of the whole #^##^&* blankity blank blank Linux life history. No one has said it better that I can remember. It is a real shame Linus and all the other \”GODS of techno\” just will NEVER NEVER NEVER listen. Larry Elison just threw sum bucks and \”Blotted out the SUN\” and told us that Linux will save the day. What ever. O\’well, we deseave what we are getting. No one understands the Business Model. Just give us and Affordable Windows and we will all shut up. I Linux ever is to become what we cry for SOMEBODY has to commercialize it so Some stinkin body will get paid to make it work. This charity raising \”Somebody will build it for free cause they love us\” thing will always be the \”SHAREWARE\” O.S. and it will always be like a cheap imatation of the real thing. Run \”Ubuntu\” (The best I have found Linux) next to Windows 7 or OS-X and pretend they all cost the same. If you are poor and can only afford a 3-rd world O.S. don\’t expect it to change. I heard it once said that Linux is like a group of people all bringing what they think makes a good airplane and putting together this hodge podge thing and then they can\’t figure out why ti wont fly. I really thought SUN would figure it out finally give us a Commercial Solaris that is what we all are looking for but Oracle as shut that down. SGI is now owned by a Hosting company \”Rack space\”, AIX fell asleep. Steve Jobs is holding the best Stinking OS hostage on Half the equipment for twice the cost. I will continue to use Linux when ever I can to save money but when it comes time to get serious cause I have a customer to satisfy, Bill stills gets my money. I love and respect all the hard work that goes into Linux and that is why I am here on this forum, but please please please hear our cry\’s. Why can\’t the guys at Linux Mag help us? Are you just a bunch of Techno-snobs looking down your noses on noobies like me. I have only been in computers 23 plus years watching all this unfold and am so discusted where Software is compared to the Horse Power at our disposal now. We are still getting milked though. Intel shoed off an 80 core Proc a couple of years back (See youtube) and we still can\’t break thier heads. Nvidea and ATI have lost their stinging minds. They give us 500 or 1600 someting cores. Don\’t they know how to hold back like Intel. O\’well, cry cry cry. No one listens.


Wow, I really cant spell when I get upset. Maybe I need a Nap and 50 freekin years from now no one will even remember what a nightmare the 50 bizilion Linux distros were.


@tinbath: You wrote

Worst of all though, worst of all, the command line still hasn\’t died.

[T]he end user should NEVER ever see or require the command line.

I am so tired of this straw man argument. The one and only problem with Linux on the desktop is that Linux isn\’t a desktop OS. It can be run as a desktop, I\’ve been doing so since early 1995, but it is not built nor designed to function as a desktop OS in the way the desktop world has been conceived by Microsoft and Apple. If you look at the history of Unix you\’ll see that the desktop was implemented as what we now call thin clients; X Terminals.

This does not mean that Linux can\’t be a desktop OS. Just that it will take a different perspective to achieve it. In the 19 years I have been using Linux the closest distro that came to being a great desktop solution was the old Corel Linux, now floundering as XandrOS. It\’s another case of what could have been.



[Linux] will always be the \”SHAREWARE\” O.S. and it will always be like a cheap imitation of the real thing.

You think that Windows is the real thing? You think they got it right and we\’re trailing behind, but have you ever considered that maybe it\’s Linux that got it right, not the others? If so why would we want to copy them?

Sounds like what you want is a free (or really, really cheap) copy of Windows, not Linux. So go use Windows.



@csmart You got just little bit defensive there, but the man is right on the money. If Linux can\’t create a standard then it has no hope on the desktop. You can\’t expect EA to waste money bringing over Mass Effect 3 to Linux when it doesn\’t have a target piece of software to work with or solid drivers. Perhaps the other article about Microsoft buying Novell would work in Linux\’s favor by having Microsoft create a diretX client for Linux… their free Linux and create their own standards and force the community onto Microsoft\’s direction for Open Source. As unlikely as that is I can\’t help but feel that someone… some day… is going to do this and there will be much whaling and gnashing of teeth at lost opportunity.


@tinbath: As much as I like to use the command line, I find it mostly unnecessary except for when I am creating something new or debugging a problem. If you do not like the command line, then I suggest that you not use it, you should rarely need to. I would like to add that I have seen windows applications that require some use of the command line especially for odd problems with communications.

What I do not like about a point-click system is that you can only do what the buttons are defined to do. Surely you have used point-click system that lack some global apply function and require a tedious sequence of points and clicks to perform some operation.

A sane person that has CLI, editing, scripting and/or programming skill might well choose to exercise that skill simply because it is an easier to do what is needed at the moment than it is to create an interface that will also allow someone else to also perform the operation in the future. In the particular case I have in mind, I can\’t fix the d@mn thing myself because the effing program (a windows application) is not open source.

I frankly think that you need consider learning how to use the tools that are at your disposal. If some tool is missing, you could always create the missing tool and contribute it to the code base (I at least try to do that). Of course that is more difficult than simply whining that some favourite tool is missing. This much I must say. after having seen 10 year old children navigate Ubuntu with great aplomb I feel justified in saying that Ubuntu is incredibly easy to use — IMO, more so that OSX or W7.

I am not interested in Linux because it is inexpensive but rather because it is malleable. If I take my time into consideration, for me Linux is not inexpensive as it requires never ending learning but the cost is worth while for me. You may see it differently.

I can play most of the games that I want to play on Linux with wine. If a given game is slower on Linux that I prefer it to be, then I upgrade my hardware. If I find tricks that cause some game to work better, I tell Crossover about it (I try to give back to community that I benefit from).


@TheMSzors (I know this is old, and I don\’t care)

Firstly… Linux will _not_ fail. You might have forgotten something, it\’s free. And the GUI being the reason for lack of games, or companies lack of porting. Is irrelevant. There are many multi-platform GUI\’s. They won\’t write it for GTK, ok, they won\’t write it for QT, ok. If they wanted to have a consistent GUI across all platforms, they can use one. (And why should we tell them what GUI to use? I thought the actual ***GAME*** mattered) Thinking that M$ supporting Linux will entice game companies to support it are, terrible ideas, really, why? That would mean less Windows, and that would mean less, less, less. Last time I checked, they aren\’t aiming for that. – And why is being different wrong? I want a desktop I can change. That I can mess w/.

Why should a company that I would pay money to, tell _me_, the consumer, what my system should be. What it should look like. -I can change a background and toggle transparency. THANKS MS! That is so worth my money!- I\’d rather spray-paint my monitor screen, it\’s cheaper, and gets a close result)Kidding, don\’t get a knot(

And beside that, the static binary included would work. Or I don\’t know… Remember back when you *NEEDED* to upgrade for a new game to work in Windows?
\”You have DX 8? Ohhh, sorry, you need DX 9. Upgrade it and it will work for you\” – \”Ok\”. If the upgrade breaks something, then most likely, the included static will work. What are we afraid of? A few extra MiB\’s? If the system has it installed already, the static could just not be installed.



I\’m still a relative Linux \”noob\” but as someone with lots of experience in retail sales I do know the game market. I can tell you that it isn\’t just the community that drives standards. To quote a classic movie, \”If you build it, they will come.\” Unlike the movie though, I\’m not suggesting anything magical – just typical consumer behavior.

I think I understand the challenges of developing games for the Linux platform from reading the responses here. I also recall the challenge of trying to get games to work on DOS and early Windows distros. Back then, game developers absolutely had to include their own drivers and game interface. There was very little OS support to help them out. With spotty support from the myriad Linux distros and a much greater variety of hardware out there, game developers face an even bigger challenge today.

That said…I can tell you from a consumer mindset, if an \”cool\” new game were to come out that was ONLY available on a particular version of Ubuntu with a particular list of hardware, a large segment of consumers would buy the software and install the distro just to play that game. In other words, if developers would simply choose to support something – ANYTHING – it would do a lot to advance Linux gaming.

The question is, who is going to be that brave developer that plows their crops under and gambles on building a Linux-only game?


I use OSX, Windows and Linux on the desktop, and to me, Linux is the most appealing and satisfies my needs.

Also I anger when ever I\’m driven to use a windowed app, when a command line equivalent can be infinitly easier to use.

I personally would want my gaming os, totally partitioned from my work os.

Why not build a gaming os that is a fork of linux? Everything could be streamlined and integrated into a core platform.

Also I thought OpenGL was the bees knees compared to directX. They do roughly the same thing don\’t they.

I\’ve had issues gaming on windows, I picked up some old cds that refused to work with after a service pack was applied. I got so tired that I decided to buy a dedicated game device, the hardware is sold at a loss; they aren\’t exactly expensive.

Microsoft could release a bare bones gaming edition, or windows lite that would only run one app at a time.

Either way I think that\’s the way a gaming OS would have to go, fine tune for one app at a time.


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