Until now, I have remained quite reserved about any serious Linux gaming, which seems to have gained quite some momentum thanks to Valve’s recent announcement to release game titles on the Linux platform. I should probably point out that I do wish Valve all the best and hope that their Linux games perform well for them and any future Linux games that are released on the platform by games publishers.
But I foresee several different problems for gaming on Linux. One of the most obvious problems that rears its ugly head is video card drivers. While it is true that drivers are being improved by AMD and NVIDIA developers with each new release, they still have a long way to go to compare with the equivalent drivers of Windows, for the same graphics cards. Both AMD and NVIDIA are guilty of the same. More attention needs to be given to driver support for Linux. And when I say more attention, I mean equal to that of what is given to Windows drivers. Because at the moment, the resulting drivers that Linux users get delivered seems to indicate that Linux is simply not a priority for either AMD or NVIDIA.
Another potential issue is the Linux kernel. I question whether the Linux kernel development can keep up with the influx of games that is about to arrive on the Linux shores. And I see a potential issue of different kernel versions behaving in different manners on different systems. The results could vary quite a bit. And games publishers are going to have a hard time when it comes to releasing details of technical requirements for these games on Linux. Will they outline Game ABC requires Linux kernel minimum 2.8? Or Game XYZ requires Linux kernel minimum 3.2? Or will there be no special kernel requirements and solely outline the minimum CPU and RAM requirements? At this stage it is simply to early to speculate.
Admittedly, I do appear to be the only person with this concern. I raised the issue with fellow kernel developers on the Linux kernel developers mailing list. And I was assured by several people that the kernel will be of no issue for gamers and there will be no problem with it being up to the task of handling gaming. But the few developers that I did speak to did have the same concerns about video card manufacturers not being able to release quality drivers for Linux.
And then I have another concern. Before I bring forth the following concern, I should point out that among many other things, I’m also a gaming enthusiast. I would not describe myself as a hardcore gamer, but I am very enthusiastic and have a range of peripherals that I could probably say would have issues with games on Linux. I have 3 controllers, 2 joysticks and a gaming mouse. My keyboard is just a bog standard Microsoft keyboard. Boring yes I know, but it works wonders as a keyboard under both Windows and Ubuntu Linux. But I wish I could say the same for all my other peripherals. My controllers require both drivers and software to function correctly. It’s the same for my joysticks which also have software and is essential to their functions. And then I have my gaming mouse which has custom buttons which require the software to configure its functions. And honestly, I can’t see Logitech, Verbatim and other companies releasing drivers for these peripherals to operate on Linux.
My final concerns involve games collections. I’ve been a gamer for my whole life and over the years have acquired many games which I can’t bear to part with. I am a rare kind of gamer which can find appreciation in almost any game on any platform of any era. Its great news that we’re finally seeing games for Linux, but it is not going to solve the problem of older games that enthusiasts like to play which has only even been developed and released with one operating system in mind, Microsoft Windows. At current I dual-boot – Linux for the desktop and Windows for gaming. On previous occasions I had tried to be a Linux only gamer. I had tried playing Linux native only games such as Nexuiz, Urban Terror and Battle for Wesnoth. Although they’re great games, there is just not enough content to cater for the thirst of a gaming enthusiast. So I tried running what games I know run in WINE, but performance is terrible. And the required fiddling to get them even successfully booting to menu, was often too much trouble to warrant making the effort worthwhile.
It seems to me that at first and at most, Linux gaming is not going to be the smash hit savior that Linux using gamers have been hoping for for many years. There’s a long road ahead with many twists and turns and kinks to be sorted out along the way. Most of them, even beyond the scope or control of Linux users and developers. At first, the market of Linux gaming will probably only capture the casual gamer type after a quick fix of gaming. But for the real hungry gaming enthusiast and hardcore, they will probably stick with Windows as their base for the foreseeable future. But the journey has to start somewhere and I am hopeful that Valve and other game publishers and peripheral manufacturers do prove me wrong.