The State of Gaming on Linux

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.


  1. Flash issues aside, Nvidia drivers have always worked faster and far more stable on Linux than they ever did with Windows on my machines. Games with both Windows and Linux versions have always run better on Linux. Doom3 and the Darkmod run stellar on my system. The problem is simply market share. People keep Windows for gaming because few games are built for Linux, while developers build for those same people. The unfortunate fact that the market is cornered with Microsoft coerced OEMs means that most people are not even aware of having a choice of OSes.
    I see things changing everyday, and don't believe the 1% figure. Every day I hear of people with Linux boxes, and many more with dual boot systems. That's something I never heard just a few years ago.

  2. AnonymousMay 25, 2011

    Many valid points, some a little harsh though.

    "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?"

    This made me smile. Yes I'm in that demographic, but then I'm not a rabid teenager/'20 something' either. :-)
    The existing range of games, whilst not mind blowing, are decent enough. Especially for free and in the distro repositories.

  3. AnonymousMay 25, 2011

    Actually, I am not quite sure where you got the idea that Nvidia is 'lax' with their driver support. I run nvidia cards with my Linux, because the support rocks balls.

    I play Heroes of Newerth (Linux Client) maxed to the tits, on my Fermi, without ever going under 60 fps. Hell... I play Fallout 3 in wine with high settings just fine. Stability? Never an issue.

    What gives?

  4. Hi, I agree with your opinion. Game is one of the magnet to attract non linux user to use linux. And, I agree that current linux games are poorly designed and very not professional.
    I hope there are some developers who seriously developed linux games.

  5. Linux isn't adequately marketed because its creators are interested in technical perfection and not marketing. I would expect many distros to proudly resist attempts at coordinated branding.

    Unfortunately, until the creators' attitudes change, it will always lack that momentum that comes with crossing the tipping point associated with "the next hot thing".

  6. Windows does one thing well. Everything.
    it may be cumbersome, expensive and problematic for some but for the vast majority who want to do a bit of everything Windows is the choice

    Support is there, Hardware supports it, developers support it, drivers etc. all point to Windows as default

    Linux is fine for everything but med-high end gaming

    Linux's advantages is free software and easy to install for the most part and hardware works out of the box albeit basic functionality, but it still works and works with other OS partitions, but unless people pay to help developers it will never be able to compete with gaming. The best it can hope to achieve is cheap knockoffs or low budget games that use archaic graphics.

    and there lies the issues, if someone wants to do everything, it's too much of a hassle to load up windows to play there favorite games that will work in Linux severly hindered at best then load Linux up to do everything else.

  7. anyone remember OS2?
    That was another great OS that was to compete with Windows back in the day and it had better gaming capabilities then Windows and in many respects it was better overall at the time too but they only released a handful of games. :(

    Windows for everything (at a cost)
    Linux for free productivity and a fun hobby
    Mac for - Well haven't worked that out other then throwing money away lol

  8. Windows is ultimately the best OS for everything. Try making a PC from the ground up with high-end specs and you will find that you spent less money than if you were to buy an Apple computer. I wouldn't use linux unless you really know how to program well or have a desired task to be done that takes a lot of resources. Windows works best for me right now.

  9. I would advise anon @ 11/01/2012 to try a modern Linux distro and see how much programming is involved in everyday tasks.. none at all!