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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