Here's to reaching the "Games for Linux" tipping point

Why the Linux game market is underestimated and what we should do to change it. The recent World of Goo port to Linux is a perfect opportunity.

World of Goo: Fisty's Bog
Image by kartooner via Flickr

It’s been a classic argument in the GNU/Linux VS Windows debates that people don’t switch to the former because there are no games for it. And there are no games for GNU/Linux because developers don’t think there’s a market for it to justify the cost. And there’s no market to justify the cost because gamers don’t switch to it.

It’s a vicious cycle from which it’s extremely difficult to get out of. To do that, it would need one side to do the first step. Either gamers need to switch and start being vocal on wanting their games native for their OS (ie platform agnostic) or game developers need to show good faith and port or code their games for it from the get go and then see that the effort was worth it.

Well, To my delight, It seems that some developers did decide to attempt the later. The lately popular World of Goo has finally been ported to GNU/Linux. This is exciting news and the kind of thing that gamers on linux need to show support for if we want to provide incentive for this kind of thing to continue. The developers at the moment are curious about the results of this move and I’d like to think we won’t disappoint.

To tell the truth I haven’t played the game but I certainly have heard a lot about it. It seems to involve very innovative gameplay and I was tempted to purchase it through steam. One thing stopped me of course, which was the fact that I would have to boot my whole computer if I wanted to enjoy it.

This is, incidentally, something that happens quite often and affects my game purchase decisions. I’ve ended up only purchasing:

  • Games that are very cheap and I don’t feel like wasting a lot of money If I don’t play them until the next time I happen to boot into windows
  • Games that I really, really, really want to play. The ones that I’ve known for months that I would be playing when they came out. Needless to say those are few and far between.
  • Games that run natively on my OS of choice. It goes without saying that I do not get much of those but when I do, I don’t lose the chance to purchase them and thus have something to do play when bored without the annoying reboot. Case in point: I’ve already bough both the On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness episodes and I will continue buying them in the future, because they are fun, cheap and most importantly, play natively.

The one thing that annoys me even more on this issue is how much resistance windows users display on this. It’s as if when game companies have a platform agnostic code then they are afraid that the performance on windows will drop. I honestly don’t know where this hostility comes from but it generally translates into mouthfuls of FUD and negativity on any kind of suggestion.

Incidentally very recently I had just such a discussion in a Demigod forum thread (one of the games that I really really want to play). The discussion started simply on the fact that Steam is and the Source engine are probably going to be ported to GNU/Linux and an appeal to Stardock ((One of the most progressive publishers and one that I believe can be more positive to this idea)) and Impulse to do the same. There were a lot of good suggestions and arguments on both sides and the very positive thing that Stardock devs actually took part and put forth their thoughts. For example:

As a part-time linux user myself, I’ve come to accept the fact that linux is not destined to be a gaming OS.  Until either developers abandon DirectX, or someone figures out a 100% painless DX port for linux, you won’t see a big move on linux games.  Why?  Because transitioning from a DX based engine to an OGL one is not in the least bit trivial.  iD can do it because I believe their games are done in OpenGL to begin with, so getting it to run on Linux is a much simpler task for them (by comparison).  UnrealEngine is built for both DX and OGL.

To get developers porting games to linux, there has to be a guarantee on the return on investment.  If it takes 1 full time developer a year to port some game, then that game has to at least sell enough copies to cover the cost.  To make it actually worth the time though it would have to make a lot more money than the cost to develop, otherwise it’s a better value to have that developer work on the Windows version which is a better financial bet.

The platform needs a few big-name champions to make it viable, but in a market where a big-name game can cost in the millions of dollars to develop, that’s a risk not many companies are generally willing to take.

In the end of course, Stardock wasn’t convinced. I was nevertheless surprised at the amount of negativity displayed by simple users, occasionaly without any obvious reasoning other than that they didn’t like GNU/Linux.

One of my main arguments in this thread was that the GNU/Linux gaming market is severely under-estimated at every turn. I truly believe that there are enough of us who not only are gamers but are willing to support those who extend a hand. And now is the time to put our money where our mouths are. Purchasing the World of Goo in non-trivial number will not only show its developers that it’s worth coding their future games for our OS as well, but it will certainly turn the heads of other publishers if they smell that there is a potential market once the WoG guys speak about the (hopefully positive) results.

To get Games for Linux (no TM yet) we need to reach a tipping point, either on the side of Gamers which will convince the Publishers that there is a market, or on the side of Publishers which will allow enough gamers to try the OS out without much gaming withdrawal. Lets hope that the results for the WoG experiment will be another small push towards that point.

Now go and read what Helios has to say about this. You also get a nice interview with the developers about the challenges they faced on the port (technical or not), as well as a little bonus offer 😉

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9 thoughts on “Here's to reaching the "Games for Linux" tipping point”

  1. I too am glad to see this released for Linux. I want to see more of everything available for Linux, so I support software like this where and when I can. We need more games for Linux users, but then we need more Linux users to justify developers to release their product under Linux. Like you said, it is a vicious cycle!

  2. Developers just try to maximise money, and right now Windows is where the money is for pcs. Some developers have done linux stuff in the past, but it can't be making them lots of dough or they'd all be on board. And maybe linux developers aren't all that interested in games. Certainly there are some ok games out there, but there isn't many of them – so perhaps they're just interested in other things. If there were more of the hobby developers involved in games, it would provide more mind share in the professional developer community which would have an impact (there's a reason ms gives out free stuff to students). Still, if they avoid proprietary platforms, there should be minimal porting costs (it's not like porting to a ps3 for instance – and there's always wine), and a few extra bucks can't hurt, particularly with all the competition around. It wouldn't surprise me in the least though if MS weren't punitive in some way if developers supported another platform – less 'early' info, fewer invites to `special' events, fewer `nice words' and stuff like that – they've done it everywhere else, so there may be more than just economics involved (although i personally think just economics would be enough to explain the situation up to this point).

    I don't understand why anyone uses direct x for graphics – from the start it was always far inferior to ogl – apart from not knowing any better, which is pretty common in the windows ecosystem. All it really is is a marketing ploy by the card manufacturers which forces users to upgrade more than they need to. And makes developers live's harder than it needs to be by having so many versions to either support or lock out customers from. Well, that and an anti-competitive move (illegal leveraging their monopoly position) by MS to ensure everyone needs to buy windows to play games. And it was good to see the market baulked at their attempt to push yet another version in conjunction with a toxic platform – vista.

    I wonder what the statistics is on the players of flash games – as much as i abhor the whole concept of flash and flash games – that would be one easy way to determine the sort of user-base any type of game might have. I would blindly guess that windows/ie far outweighs everything else, followed well down by mac and a pretty small fraction of gnu/firefox (<<5%?).

    As a computer systems engineer I think a general purpose computer platform in general is just crappy for games – it just rubs me up the wrong way. Like putting a tractor in a car race – with a big enough motor it might compete in a straight line, but it isn't really designed for the purpose. I'd much rather play games on a console with a proper input device (a keyboard? fuck that), targeted software which can utilise all of the performance of the hardware, proper video syncing, and so on. Shit even running a commodore 64 or amiga emulator you can get better games than any flash game and plenty of pc ones (pinball illusions!).

    Personally I would never buy a GNU/Linux game (or windows or macos for that matter – if i had those platforms) … but i hate to think how many thousands of dollars i've spent and will continue to spend on playstation hardware and software. I get far more entertainment time out of my computers, it just isn't by playing games – reading, learning, solving problems, and developing software.

  3. Michael,

    I agree that Direct-X really only has one reason for being: to make supporting non-Windows platforms difficult. If Id Software can make triple-A titles like Quake Wars with OpenGL, then there really is no excuse for developers not to support the industry standard for 3D.

    However, I can't imagine why you think a computer running a normal OS is bad for gaming. My general purpose computer has more horsepower than a console and can run games just fine. Why would I want to waste money on a proprietary a console?

  4. Nice article, hope you don't mind that I submitted it: digg(dot)com/linux_unix/Here_s_to_reaching_the_Games_for_Linux_tipping_point . I believe the release of "World of Goo" directly coincides with the impending GNU/Linux revolution in Operating Systems. From "InstantOn" to Ubuntu on Dell to EeePC to GNU/Linux everywhere… Linux is HOT!! It's all about the usage/technology advancement capabilities, this is where Linux trumps all – it's the reason there truly is something to get excited about when thinking of computers these days.

    Go Freedom!!
    Go GNU/Linux!!

    Shannon VanWagner

  5. Thanks Shannon, I don't mind at all (not even if it brings my server to its knees) but I doubt it will get dugg enough. Thanks for the attempt nonetheless 🙂

  6. As far as I know, DirectX 11 will be OS-Independant and OGL compatible, have read some articles about that in German recently. Would be great if the Game Developers see this as a chance. 🙂

  7. I'll need to see that to believe it 🙂 MS willingly allowing others to enroach in their market space? Impossible.

    In any case, have you played this one? It's really cool and for 20$ it's a bargain for Europeans 🙂

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