The State of Gaming on Linux

Posted by jun auza On 5/25/2011
We recently covered the best paid games that are out there for Linux. We know that the list was too small and disappointing for any Linux fan. The size of the list can only be attributed to the lack of any major progress in this area for years. To be honest, most of the games that are available for Linux are graphically poor with loose plots and terrible AI levels. However, before you start bashing Linux developers for that, let's take a look at why gaming sucks so badly on Linux.

Bad Graphics support

We've touched upon the problems the Linux desktop is facing right now and one of them is vendor lock-ins. Due to lack of Linux-ready laptops and Desktops in the market, big hardware companies like NVIDIA and ATI are lax when it comes to releasing drivers for their graphic cards. This, in turn, leads to poorer and buggy performance as compared to the experience you get while using the same card on Windows. ATI, for example, was infamous for its terrible buggy drivers for Linux. However, with time, ATI started putting a lot of effort in the Linux department but the work is far from complete. Issues like memory leaks and crashes still haunt regular users and newcomers alike. NVIDIA on the other hand, has been quite agile as far as releasing drivers is concerned; however, they aren't that perfect either. A little tinkering here and there by the new user and the desktop becomes completely unusable. Developing games for such systems is very difficult for developers as they can't really be sure whether their game will work or not. Thus, making a hi-res 3D game still seems like a distant dream.


Linux still has less than 1% market share when it comes to desktop computing. The number is rising thanks to the efforts of Canonical, Red Hat and Novell but still, it's a far cry from the desktop utopia, which every geek in 1992 dreamed of. For an operating system that has been fighting hard just to keep up with Windows and Mac, gaming doesn't seem to be a priority at the moment. Instead, developers are busy doing up the user interface for the new users that migrate from Windows and Mac. This seems justified; however, the effort is still not there as there is no big demand for games. To be brutally honest, the Linux userbase still consists of developers and early-adopters that are not that desperate to see gaming on their computers. Instead, they are rightfully focusing on making Linux a solid, consumer-ready desktop.


Asserting the point made in the last section, the user base on Linux is so small that making games for Linux doesn't seem like a good idea. One can say the same thing about gaming on Mac, as their user base is still too low to turn a game into a profitable product. However, the gaming on Mac is much more developed as compared to gaming on Linux; thanks to Uncle Steve and his marketing skills. Steve Jobs has worked hard to bring gaming to the Mac platform and succeeded in doing so to an extent. Linux on the other hand lacks any marketing whatsoever.

Gaming is a business, Linux isn't ready

Gaming is a multi billion dollar industry. Each game takes millions of dollars, thousands of developers and hordes of testers to make it as big as Call of Duty. Thus, making an expensive game for just 1% of users worldwide is a terrible business strategy. Apart from the business perspective, Linux world has always been marred with many misconceptions. Many people are hesitant when it comes to developing paid software for Linux. They think that all Linux users are obsessed with free stuff and nothing else. The developer might further think that, if a person is using all free software, then why would he bother paying $50 for my game?

Times are changing

Despite all the aforementioned problems, things are quickly catching up. Gaming on Linux is gradually gaining popularity, especially with the recent success of humble gaming bundles. Though almost all the games that are available for Linux are made by indie developers, there's a chance the big companies might consider Linux as a potential market somewhere in the near future.

What can we do?

If you're a developer then by all means please make the game you always wanted to make. If it consumes too much of your time and resources, then sell the game at a reasonable price (keeping it open source of course). If you're an ardent gamer, do try out some games that are available for Linux. Ubuntu users can try installing the latest games using the playdeb ppa. And of course, if you spot a few non-free Linux games and they look nice to you then please, please buy them. Finally, if you like the work of a particular developer then don't hesitate to buy him a beer.

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