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.