Interview with Clive Crous from Linux Game Publishing

Linux Game Publishing is a software company specialized in porting games to the Linux platform. Since 2001, LGP has accomplished many great things on a field that very few people had the guts to explore and invest in. On this interview, we talk with the new CEO of the company in an attempt to learn more about the difficulties of the past, as well as the plans for a brighter linux gaming future. Enjoy!

Tell us a few things about yourself. How did you start working at LGP and what is your current role at the company?

I’ve always had a passion for making and playing games and have been programming since my early childhood. I’m quite active in the open source community and contribute towards various projects, as well as having a few of my own. Over the years, I’ve released a few simple open source games or graphical interfaces to existing games, like NetHack. While I was working on some these projects, I met up with Michael Simms. He found me on IRC and asked if I’d be interested in joining LGP. In July 2006, I became a developer for LGP and if my memory serves me correctly, my first work for LGP was on Ballistics.

With Michael’s decision to step down, I have taken over the reigns as CEO of Linux Game Publishing, which in turn has resulted in me having to take a step

back from the development side. Although, I doubt I’ll be able to contain myself and will probably end up coding quite a bit since it’s a passion of mine – when time allows.

When the founder of LGP, Michael Simms announced that he was stepping down as CEO of the company, he cited the 10 years of continuously exhaustive effort as the main reason for that. It’s been 4 months since you are the CEO, so can you comment on the level of effort that this particular position requires?

This is a difficult question to answer objectively. At the moment there’s a LOT happening behind the scenes. A good deal of it however, is related to the handover from Michael to me. One doesn’t simply
assimilate 12 years of experience and knowledge overnight. There is a lot of work involved and one of the things I’m trying to do is find places where we could either cut back on unnecessary work or even outsource it, to help make our lives a little easier. Once this is achieved, I feel that more of my time can be dedicated to the games themselves, but I’ll elaborate more on that a bit later. All that said though, LGP is a company that is and always has been incredibly dear to me and the effort involved is hardly a consideration when you love what you’re doing.

Loki games, which was a company with similar activities, had just gone bankrupt when you started. What was the mistake that Loki Games did, and you tried to avoid? What was the initial aiming/planning of LGP and how was that different from Loki games?

I’ve spoken to Michael quite a bit about this recently (remember, I wasn’t involved at that time). The biggest mistake Loki probably made was in their game selection. They spent a lot of money licensing triple-A titles and simply couldn’t generate enough sales to cover what they’d spent. LGP tries to find the “in-between ground” – popular titles that won’t break us when we license them. Had we followed Loki, we would have followed them all the way. Having said that though, I believe there’s a much larger Linux gaming market now, than there ever was and it’s still growing. Who knows what the future might bring.

How succesful can you say that LGP was in the 10 years of its existence according to the initial planning?

I had to deliberate with Michael over the answer to this question for you, having not been there at the time myself 😉 The truth of the matter is that LGP has been less successful than he’d hoped, but has made significant successes in terms of moving the technology forwards and keeping Linux gaming alive when nobody else would. From my own perspective, to flush out Michael’s thoughts on the matter, I have to say that we’re in a good position as far as technology goes and I’m really excited about titles we’ll be bringing to Linux going forward.

When LGP was founded, it was in a way “a monopoly in a small market”. How hard was it to “exploit” the linux gaming market back then?

At the time there were a few players (such as Tribsoft and Hyperion) in the market along with LGP, both of whom have since fallen away. The three companies generally worked together though – Tribsoft helped out LGP, LGP helped out Hyperion and so forth. In the end the other companies took different directions, leaving LGP alone in the market, bar Transgaming of course. The Linux gaming market has never been huge, especially back then and those that were using Linux tended to fear having “binaries” installed on their Linux systems that they didn’t compile themselves, or that were directly supplied to them by their distribution. Today, more desktop users are starting to use Linux and it’s evident that the market has grown significantly (take a look at the Linux purchase statistics of indie bundles, like the Humble Bundle packs for example). However, I’m sure that being somewhat alone in the market at the time made it “easier” for LGP. Keep in mind though that LGP was never truly a monopoly in the sense of “big money”. When Michael started TuxGames, the total stock was 5 copies of each of Loki’s 4 games – a grand total of 20 games in stock. LGP has grown and maintained sustainability because it’s more focused on Linux gaming than on big money and big profits.

We now see a much bigger flow of games for the linux platform, coming from many different developers, and finaly distributed easier than ever with tools like Desura. What is the possition of LGP in this market right now? Are you going to become part of this changing world, or are you going to continue doing what you know best?

I think this is incredibly exciting. More and more Linux users that used to switch to other platforms for their games are now staying in Linux. This is one of the greatest gifts of Desura, HumbleBundle and even popular stand-alone indie games like MineCraft. Gaming on Linux is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. For people to buy Linux games, you need Linux gamers. For Linux gamers to increase, you need Linux games. Having all these great new companies out there exposing Linux users to games will only benefit all of us. LGP is definitely moving with the times. We’ll always distribute physical media as well. There are loads of people (Micheal and myself included) that love having that box on a shelf – but we’re also embracing digital distribution. We have been doing digital distribution for quite some time and not only full digital games, but also game rentals which we offer to resellers as can be seen on the TuxGames website for several of our titles.

What is the most difficult part of porting games to linux?

The most difficult part is definitely the conversion from DirectX to OpenGL and along with that, the networking. DirectPlay cannot be ported to Linux and this is why we’ve ended up with our own library, Grapple, which adds multiplayer features to our games, as well as the features that all modern multiplayer games require (for example lobbies and the ability to find gaming partners online). The porting process itself can be vastly different from game to game, depending on the underlying engine used. We do of course have several tools we’ve developed over the years to make the process easier in many cases, but there’s very little in the end that’s generic.

Besides porting, are we going to see any original LGP creations in the future?

Prior to my arrival at LGP, Michael had already started on one original creation – a puzzle game. I’m sure now that I’ve taken over the running of LGP, Michael will have more time on his hands to complete this, which will of course be published by LGP. We have a few other ideas between us and I’m very sure that in the future we’ll see several original LGP games.

Now that you are the CEO of Linux Games Publishing, what kind of new things should we expect from this company?

I think one of the largest differences between Michael and myself is that I’m more inclined towards using third parties for the tasks we don’t specialize in. I will be outsourcing some of the work we do outside of our infrastructure. One of the first things I did when we were looking into this was to move our customer support off LGP servers, to a third party provider. This means I can spend a little less time on maintaining portions of our own services that aren’t related directly to getting games out there and focus on the games themselves. I will also be focusing more on the digital arena and you should hopefully see our products soon on platforms like Desura, Gameolith and others.

Since your company is related to GNU/Linux, I have to ask you why we see little to none open source projects from your part?

Michael initiated adding to the open source community by opening and releasing our networking layer Grapple. I come from an open source background and I’m a huge supporter of many open source projects, so this trend is likely to continue although I cannot
speculate as to which of our technologies might be opened up.

Can you share any enclosed information regarding the upcoming LGP game releases?

As everyone knows we have two games we’ve previously announced, being “Bandits: Phoenix Rising” and “Disciples 2: Dark Prophecy”. These two are both very close to being ready and I’ll be making an announcement about one of them in the very near future. Bandits has already had its beta testing run, so it’s going through some final adjustments before it goes gold. Disciples has been with us for far too long and getting it ready for beta is a huge priority of ours. As far as games beyond that go, we have a few exciting, unannounced titles that we’re working on, but I’m not going to let anything out of the bag just yet 😉

Thanks Clive! I can only hope we will be hearing more and more news coming from your side. See you everyone next Monday with another interesting interview.