Options for Linux Gamers

Options for Linux Gamers

During the holiday season, we all tend to drop our usual work tasks and take some time out and spend more time gaming. I am guilty of this and have well and truly caught up on lost gaming time over the past couple of weeks.

And I hope you have too. Now is an exciting time for Linux and gaming as we are currently in the middle of a transition of traditional native gaming to a format of several different types. Where will the future of gaming go? And more importantly, what will it mean for Linux gamers? Currently, there are several different paths that have forked from the traditional method of installing games on to the operating system. Let’s examine what options we currently have and what could possibly be around the corner.


Native gaming is also known as traditional gaming, due to it being the original method of gaming delivery. Traditionally, a game would be purchased from a gaming store or an online store. Then the installation media would be shipped out to the gamer who made the original purchase. Typically, this would be DVD-ROM or CD-ROM optical media. Or going back to the earlier days of gaming, installation media would have probably arrived on floppy disks or multiples of floppy disks. Once the media was received, the gamer would then install the game on the operating system it was developed for. And that would most likely be Microsoft Windows. The traditional form of game media delivery probably still remains the most popular delivery method to the consumer today, but it’s under threat from more modern and efficient forms of delivery which we’ll take a look at in a minute. Opinions from gamers on the traditional form of game media delivery is split. Traditionalists prefer having a boxed media because it adds to their growing collection of games already obtained over the course of many years of serious gaming. Yet many of the younger generation of gamers see no reason to have packaged installation media sitting around when a game installer can be downloaded from the internet and installed.


Many traditional and hardcore gamers believe that Steam could be the potential savior of making true native Linux gaming viable. Steam has been around for a long time, but has previously been developed for Windows only. A Steam client for Linux has been rumored for quite some time, but only recently has it been officially released under the “Beta” tag, for Linux. Although the client is still under heavy development, initial reviews of gaming performance under Linux have been promising. For client-side delivery on Linux to truly succeed as a platform for game media delivery, it needs more support from many different game developers and publishers across the industry and can not solely rely on one technology for its delivery, Steam. I am not declaring that Steam is bad and not doing great things, I am simply pointing out Linux gamers can not solely rely on one technology to deliver a whole future of Linux gaming.


The ever increasing popularity of social gaming is a definite threat to traditional forms of gaming. Social gaming comes in many forms, but an obvious example would be games that can be played on Facebook and other social networking websites where games and statistics can be viewed and shared online with a player’s friends. This form of gaming is very limited as the games that can be played via social networks are usually targeted towards casual gamers and not the hardcore PC type. I don’t see social gaming becoming an immediate threat to native gaming in the near future and will probably remain a casual space.


Cloud gaming is a similar form of gaming to social gaming, yet differs in a sense that the game content is hosted on the internet, or the “cloud”. Generally speaking, cloud based games are usually more graphical intensive than most games you will find on social networks. I have played around with several cloud based titles and have been quite impressed with what I have experienced. But the worlds internet network is faced with an ever increasing problems of bandwidth availability. Intensive graphical game titles theoretically require lots of bandwidth to push the graphical features of these games down the internet to a gamers computer. And that is where cloud based gaming will hit a wall. There will be a fine line between how far game developers can push the graphics for cloud based game titles, unless the world’s problem of bandwidth is solved in the short term.


I guess you could refer to gaming with WINE as a fork method of native gaming. But it can not be referred to as native. WINE is a software application which allows users of the Linux operating system to install and run software applications and games developed for Microsoft Windows, on a Linux based operating system. WINE has been around for a long time and has matured in to a very stable package. And it has even spawned several other similar projects which integrate WINE in to their functions. More recently, PlayOnLinux has become a popular choice for running games on Linux. But neither is a perfect solution to the gaming needs of Linux users. Some games run perfectly fine using WINE. They are usually games that run on the OpenGL graphical architecture. Although the number of DirectX based games that are being run through WINE is ever increasing. Some games do not run very well and performance is too bad to even warrant trying. And then there are some titles that will not install. Or if they can be installed, game content will not boot or run as intended. If you limit the amount of titles you play and research a games compatibility with WINE prior to purchase, then WINE gaming can become a viable option for Linux gamers. And with further development and support of WINE, it could easily become a viable alternative to Windows native gaming for Linux users.


Our last option is Virtualized gaming. This is done through running a Windows operating system of choice virtually on Linux using virtual software. ie. Oracle VM VirtualBox. Early implementations of Sun Microsystems VirtualBox did not include the ability to run a virtual Windows OS with support for DirectX. Yet, more recent versions of Oracle VM VirtualBox have support to enable DirectX using the Add-Ons package. It is important to point out that DirectX support is still regarded as experimental and gaming performance is very limited, if usable at all. But it looks promising that in the future, we may see Windows based games running on a virtual Windows Guest, on a Linux based Host.

If any of the above gaming options are going to make Linux gaming viable long-term, I believe that Steam could be a good short term solution. But long term gaming success on Linux needs a more permanent solution which gives the gamer full control, as does Windows native gaming. Virtualized gaming could be it. It’s seemingly technically possible and as long as the hardware is capable of running such games in a virtual environment, I see no reason to believe that it can not be done.

If you’re anything like me, you probably rely on a range of different methods for your Linux gaming. I run some native games. Others run through PlayOnLinux. And some of them run solely using WINE. If you’re a Linux gamer, please let us know how you game and what technologies you use to suit your needs.

  • vyrgozunqk

    Nah the only option is to switch to windows!
    The performance is alwfull, compared to this in Windoze…
    I have ati gpu with the latest experimental fglrx and still it’s not even close!

    For example i can barely play Killing Floor on Low in ubuntu 12.10 but on windows i can play it on ultra high, wtf is this ?! Do you think this is normal – i dont !
    I don’t give crap. I payed more than 600$ for steam games, so ill use steam on windows!

    I’m an old linux user ( more than 8 + years ) but i’m gonna buy win 8 just because i have to!

  • freeiam
  • ShaffafAhmed

    i think its ur ati card .. nvidia support seems good

  • http://twitter.com/ckblackm Christopher Blackmon

    I use Codeweavers Crossover to play Winblows games and have been quite happy with it. I’ve played World of Warcraft and currently play Diablo III… on my laptop :-)

  • http://post-pc.fr/logiciel-ubuntu post-pc

    other games choices : http://post-pc.fr/jeux-ubuntu

  • Legion

    What about open-source games option? ;)

  • P.Woods

    When you say “I am declaring that Steam is bad and not doing great things, I am simply
    pointing out Linux gamers can not solely rely on one technology to
    deliver a whole future of Linux gaming.” , did you mean “I am NOT declaring”???

  • Christopher Martin

    Steam for Linux is still in Beta, there are a lot of bugs. Before you go and pay $100 for Windows, you might want to consider waiting until they at least get an RC out. Why don’t you try running a game installed through the Ubuntu repositories (OpenArena, or something) and see how your performance is? If it’s still bad, it could be your ATI GPU. Though, I’ve had no issues with my laptop and the ATI Catalyst driver. (at least, it’s no worse than using it in Windows)

  • vyrgozunqk

    Ugly graphics, bad engine… Poison!
    No triple A games…

  • vyrgozunqk

    It’s not the Beta, it’s tha games…
    For example i can barely play Oil rush under linux…
    My gpu is radeon 6370… not a high end one but does the job…

    I have a friend with nvidia… still lacks performance…

  • Christopher Martin

    I have Nvidia graphics and gaming works just fine. I play lots of Linux games at full settings and they work great. Assault Cube is one example of a game that punishes graphics cards and it runs like a champ at very high settings on Linux on my rig. I think the problem here is your specific GPUs or the end users. You may not have them configured properly.

    Another problem could be Ubuntu. That OS has become at least as bloated as Windows. There are plenty of other Linux distributions out there.

    The other option is that you’re just one of *those* people. The ones who lurk in the shadows until someone posts something good about Linux and then jumps out to make negative remarks. Honestly, that’s exactly what I thought when I saw the first line of your original comment, but I was giving you the benefit of the doubt.

  • Chrisjones

    Thanks for pointing that out. The article has been amended.

  • Booman

    I am finding that 90% of my PC Games are able to run in PlayOnLinux (which uses Wine)… this is HUGE! I am testing my games every week and find that yet another game DOES work in Linux and has pretty good frame rates. Not every game works 100% pefectly, but most of DirectX 9 games run GREAT!
    Here is my current list of success: https://sites.google.com/site/gamecaveoffline/linux-games

  • KingKalan

    I read a lot about Linux Gaming. What I have gathered, is that everyone is all agreeing that potential exists. What i see is a bunch of people saying how it should go, where it is going, and where it has been. What I dont see is any real developments in game engines that run opengl, with all the perks of todays engines. There is no solid spot for documentation on developing a game for Linux. From what I have collected is Blender is at the forefront for game development for Linux. It is stable, well documented, and can deliver powerful graphics. It is simple, compared to other engines I’ve seen, and all inclusive. what I dont see is a community with the ability to consolidate ambition into a collective project to deliver something truely fasinating, and with such an impact that it is recognized across all platforms of game medium. As for the comment about not relying on one technology to deliver the future of Linux gaming is small minded to say the least. Steam has opened the door for other engine developers to peer through, see how well it does. Unity, Havok, UDK. A few names I’d like to see with a Linux port, less WINE (not trying to say anything bad about it), less crossover, less virtualization. If steam does well and other names develop for Linux, Steam opened that door, they took that plunge, and delivered the future. I’m however tired of waiting, tired of seeing clones and knockoffs. What about decent remakes, one-offs, and trademark characters?

  • TazX

    It depends on what you mean by ‘Gaming.’ I’m not a FPS fan, and PlayOnLinux does beautiful work with the RPG games. I’m also a massive fan of the Humble Bundles, which have some great native Linux games.

    I found swapping out the Linux drivers for the official NVIDIA ones made a massive difference.

  • dm6

    How about browser based gaming. I play quakelive using qlprism, but it also works on FF, chrome, IE. That’s just an example, but i really see a future here.

  • dm6

    It’s http://www.quakelive.com if you’d like to try.

  • Chrisjones

    Browser based gaming was mentioned in my article. It’s under the sub-title “Cloud”.

  • http://learnwithsimeon.tk/ Simeon Prince

    You know, When I used Gaikai before Sony bought them, it was the first time I could actually play AAA PC titles on linux. All you needed was a modern browser and java installed. and it’s done. I think Steam for linux is a good thing, and it only takes one company with enough balls to support linux and the rest will follow. Studies have shown that us linux users are willing to pay for video games just as everyone else.