Linux and Gaming: Full Steam Ahead

There’s been virtually continuous cause for celebration here in the Linux blogosphere over the last month or so, but it seems safe to say that few news items have caused quite as much jubilation as what greeted one tidbit last week, in particular.

“It has taken longer than most anyone would have anticipated, but the fact remains that Valve is in fact creating a native Linux port of their Steam game distribution client and of the Source Engine to run natively on Linux,” read the announcement on Phoronix on Wednesday.

Think gaming is trivial? Think again: In a matter of seconds, the topic was on fire on Slashdot and throughout the Linux blogosphere.

Linux Girl was there — cape-wearing, boots-clad avatar and Quick Quotes Quill at the ready.

‘Fan-Freaking-Tastic News’

“I think Steam finally coming to Linux would be fan-freaking-tastic news,” enthused Thoughts on Technology blogger and Bodhi Linux lead developer Jeff Hoogland.

“Getting commercial game support from a large company such as Valve could be one of those things that could very well put Linux over the top as a competitor as a desktop operating system,” Hoogland explained.

“Beyond this, with Valve taking note hopefully this will draw the attention of other large software development companies as well,” he added. “I believe this news is significant to say the least :)”

‘An Important Chicken-and-Egg Problem’

Indeed, “this is very significant,” agreed Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

In fact, “I think it just solved an important chicken-and-egg problem for Linux, which is the lack of commercial games,” Travers opined. “This is important because the possibilities of commercial game development are different than the possibilities of open source game development.”

Many Linux users are interested in gaming and playing commercial games, Travers explained, “and may be more interested in buying such games on average.

“So Valve may be making a generally smart business decision here,” he concluded.

Beyond that, however, “the mere presence of Steam on Linux means it will be easier to get consumers to use Linux,” Travers pointed out. “This opens up significant desktop markets for us.”

‘I’d Stand in Line Days for That’

Similarly, “I can’t say how excited I am to see this happening,” agreed Google+ blogger Linux Rants. “It’s great to see a company like Valve take such an interest in Linux, and I know it will save me a lot of time messing around with WINE personally.”

Linux Rants is even more interested in what Valve’s plans are for Linux in the future, however, “because it sounds like Steam for Linux is just the launching point of some greater initiative,” he told Linux Girl. “A ‘Steam Box’ based on Linux competing with Xbox and Playstation could be awesome, and especially if it maintained compatibility with the desktop version of Steam for Linux.

“A game system whose games could be console or desktop based? I’d stand in line days for that,” Linux Rants said.

“We have to keep in mind, though, that for this to be a success, the Linux community has to step up and make it a success for Valve,” he cautioned. “Valve seeing huge success in Linux games could potentially encourage others to join the market. It’s a great opportunity for the Linux community that we will be responsible for capitalizing on.”

‘Delivered Immediately’

The move “certainly gives credence to the idea of Steam producing a games console, even though they have more or less flatly denied this,” opined Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza.

“There have been more and more indie games delivered by Steam lately, and many of them have Linux versions, so these games can be delivered immediately,” Espinoza explained.

“Presumably, Source Engine games would follow, beginning with Valve’s own titles,” he added. “A lot of users would purchase the Half-Life and Portal games all over again if they could buy them for a Valve console via Steam.”

‘One of the Largest Missing Items’

Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack was equally excited.

“Finally, now I can play LAN parties without having to resort to a Windows install,” Mack began.

“Seriously, though, Games have been one of the largest missing items from the home software setup for a long time; assuming they do a good job, this will be a good start to fixing that,” he concluded.

‘Over Two Years Old Now’

Roberto Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor, wasn’t so sure.

“Having another developer make games for Linux is always a good thing, but one developer will not make Linux a gaming platform,” Lim opined. “Left 4 Dead 2, the first game Valve plans for the Linux platform, is over two years old now,” Lim pointed out.

“Back in 2003, Bioware release a Linux client for Neverwinter nights — a year after its original release for Windows — and that did not convert Linux into a viable gaming platform,” he noted. “The casual gamer on Linux will be happy to have a new game on Linux; those truly inclined for gaming will not be looking at a platform that gets games more than two years after its release.”

‘Two Major Problems’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet had additional concerns.

“While Steam coming to Linux is nice, there are TWO major problems as I see it,” hairyfeet began.

First, “how are you gonna have graphics-intensive games when the graphics subsystem is a mess?” he mused.

Second, meanwhile, is “whether or not the Linux community will tolerate Linux DRM, and whether it will be worth it with so many titles on Steam having Steam PLUS or some other form of DRM, be it SecurROM, Starforce, GFWL, or TAGES,” hairyfeet explained.

‘Most Already Dual-Boot’

“This isn’t about getting existing Linux gamers onto Steam — most already dual-boot or run Steam under Wine,” noted Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.

There will soon be millions of perfectly good computers out there with an orphaned Windows XP OS, Hudson pointed out.

“While many of those PCs would in theory be upgradable to Windows 8, that’s not going to happen,” she explained. “After a couple of hours testing it, I have to agree with Valve’s Gabe Newell — Windows 8 is not just the worst product Microsoft has ever made.”

‘Enter SteamOS’

Speculation about a “Steam Console” OS doesn’t go far enough, Hudson opined.

“PC manufacturers will be having coronaries trying to figure out what to do when Windows 7 is no longer available,” she explained. “Enter SteamOS, SteamOffice, and SteamApps pre-installed.

“After all, porting a word processor is a lot easier than porting a high-end game, and people used to running full-featured applications locally will prefer it over any ‘webbified office suite’ or ‘web paint brush’ crippleware,” she added. “And unlike the moribund WebOS, Steam already has all the ingredients: credibility with software publishers, a working distribution network, games, millions of users … even ‘the cloud’ — Steam Cloud.”

Profits in the hardware world are “razor-thin,” Hudson pointed out, but “Valve could offer all manufacturers — pc, laptop, tablet, and mobile — both a free OS license and a revenue-sharing deal.

“That’s a move that could quickly pick up steam, while leaving Steve Ballmer steaming,” she concluded. “Even ‘social media smart TVs’ and game consoles could be steam-rollered by ‘Killer App’ SteamTV.”

‘GNU/Linux Outperforms’

Last but not least, blogger Robert Pogson is “not really into gaming,” but he does know that “GNU/Linux outperforms that other OS in many areas.

“I expect if Nvidia and AMD wrote good drivers for Linux, there would not be any issue left preventing GNU/Linux from being a gaming platform,” Pogson told Linux Girl. “Especially for multi-player gaming, the networking power of GNU/Linux should fit better than that other OS.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


  • I’d say Ms Hudson is right AND wrong at the same time…While they will most likely have a "Steambox" since consoles make more money per sale and the prices go down slower and thus will make valve more money, she is wrong in that the OEMs will be having trouble with Win 8, they’ll just stick with win 7 just as they did with WinVista.

    Oh sure you’ll be able to buy win 8 OEM boxes, but more likely they’ll have Win 7 installed with a DVD for Win 8 for those foolhardy…err… "brave" enough to want to run Win 8. You can see this in the fact that MSFT quietly extended support for ALL versions of Win 7 until 2020. If they had as much confidence in win 8 as their press releases blather on about then win 7 Starter and Home would be EOLed in 2014, which is 5 years after the release date as has been given as EOL for Home releases. Instead they quietly Stretched it out to 2020 so that if (I’d say when) Win 8 flops they will have a product they can still sell.

    But in the end nobody asks the bigger question which is thus: Will the Linux community accept DRM if that is what they will have to accept to become mainstream? Like it or not the consumers WANT proprietary software, the games, Photoshop, autoCAD, MS Office, Acrobat, all these programs they know and use daily and most of these companies won’t give up their various flavors of DRM and they will NEVER be FOSS. So will the community accept it? Personally i think not, too many use Linux for the philosophy and this will alienate a good portion of both those users as well as many devs that also hold these beliefs.

    Time will tell but I think with RMS saying "not sharing is wrong" even if its breaking DRM I seriously doubt that Linux evangelists will accept DRM for a handful of Valve games.

    • I don’t see how DRM equivalent to say SecuROM could even work. There is not reliable way it isn’t is some sort of LD_preload enviroment that is intercepting system calls and lying to it.

      In fact it doesn’t even really work all that well on windows, Much less and OS where you can patch and compile a custom kernel.

      The only thing you could count on is server-side DRM, which would require a network connection to play.

      • Well you yourself named one way, another would be a propreitary kernel hook since the kernel is GPL V2 they wouldn’t have to worry about the TiVo clause and could do it that way. most likely they would pick a long term support distro like say Debian stable and using proprietary hooks make it into "Consumer Linux" which would shut down the programs if certain conditions were not met, say if you tried to compile your own VS using their repo, if the hash sent to their server didn’t match the hash at install, etc.

        Personally i think the whole exercise is moot anyway. Valve is doing this because they are scared of the Win 8 appstore, this is pretty obvious when you read Gabe’s thoughts on Win 8. If Win 8 flops then Valve has no worries because no Win 8 no appstore therefor things go back to normal and there is no point in Steam on Linux except for possibly a "Steambox" as I alluded to. My prediction is Win 8 will flop on anything non touchscreen, someone at MSFT will finally catch a clue, then they will do as Apple does now and have Metro be a separate division like iOS to OSX and all the desktop and laptop users can have Win 7 until Win 9 comes out which will be evolution not revolution like Win 7 compared to Vista.

        But I honestly doubt the FOSS community would put up with the DRM required to be a mainstream contender, there are too many that care about FOSS only because of the philosophy so it just won’t fly.

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