One of the most frequently asked questions from users considering changing their operating system to Linux is about the lack of gaming titles available on the open-source software. So, why are games not on Linux, and would it be an intelligent decision for gamers to move from a mainstream OS like Windows?
Gaming has not taken off on Linux for several reasons, mainly because there’s no financial incentive for releasing games supported on Mac or Linux. However, Linux users also tend not to buy games, the Linux OS lacks a graphics engine, and there are some driver issues.
Linux is an open-source operating system favored by most programmers because the architecture allows them to work faster and far more effectively. In fact, Linux is the operating system used in 90% of the 500 fastest supercomputers globally, while Windows only runs about 1% of them.
So, surely that would mean that Linux would be the ideal OS for gamers. But why is gaming less prominent on Linux?
Windows and macOS are operating systems that will come pre-installed with most PCs, laptops, and notebooks. Windows, therefore, serves as the operating system on 95% of all computers. In comparison, Linux is used by only roughly 2.3% of desktop computers.
1. Profit Margins
The straightforward explanation for the significantly smaller selection of titles available for Linux is that it’s simply not profitable. And the same applies to macOS to an extent. Microsoft also buys many gaming companies and prefers not to cater for their competition.
Nonetheless, with just a tiny fraction of desktop users using Linux, developers have a meager chance of turning a profit at the expense of creating a cross-platform game.
The costs of marketing, advertising, and manufacturing, along with distribution costs and the extra barrier of convincing retailers to stock Linux compatible games, will far outweigh the revenues developers will make from sales. And this isn’t only because there are so few Linux users; it’s because Linux users have tended not to show much interest in playing games either.
2. Linux Users Aren’t Interested In Games
Another big reason that gaming hasn’t taken off amongst Linux users is that many of these programmers (while they may still enjoying games on other platforms). They tap into creative challenges through tinkering with codes and optimizing their OS for their needs.
Beyond this, because Linux is open-source, it attracts a particular ethos, a moral position that all software should be free. So, Linux users will often take issue with paying for their games, meaning that the market is small and far from a captive audience.
3. Server Development Focus & Lack of A Game Engine
Most computer games are developed using the DirectX API, which is Microsoft’s property and is only available on Windows. So, even if Linux users can port a game to run on Linux, it will not run optimally, making for a far worse experience.
Since Linux was first released in the early 90s, the Linux community was far more focused on server development, making them lose ground in the gaming sphere.
APIs for Linux gaming, such as OpenGL, exist, and some may argue that they are superior to DirectX. Still, because of Microsoft’s close ties with so many game developers, they will always focus on catering to Windows users.
4. Out-of-Date Drivers
Finally, we have driver issues. When manufacturers release high-end video cards for PCs, they won’t release the specifications. This means that it can take as long as a year before the latest video cards and drivers are released on mainstream operating systems. And, once they are that old, they’re already out of date, and the latest titles will require the latest hardware to run. So, no matter how hard they try, Linux users will always be playing catchup with their Windows-using counterparts.
Even though the list of titles available on Linux is relatively small, it is growing. So you can play games on Linux, but native Linux titles are limited compared to the vast array of games available for Windows users to play. You can find native Linux games on Steam, GOG.com, Portable Linux Games, and Itch.io.
However, despite these limited titles, it is also possible to play Windows games in Linux using tools like Wine, Steam Play, CrossOver, GameHub, and Phoenicis that use compatibility layers to run a Windows game on a Linux operating system.
Beyond this, it is possible to play games within your browser. For example, countless mobile games are converted for browsers that are available in the Chrome Web Store. Creators developed most of these games for Android software, which runs on most mobile devices and is based on Linux.
Finally, it is possible to play retro games such as Snake in the terminal if that’s something you enjoy.
Linux gaming has been around for a long time and will continue to have a share in the market, no matter how small. But there’s no question that it’s on the rise, with the number of gaming titles for Linux increasing from a few thousand just 1,000 in 2015 to more than 6,500 on Steam, as of September 2021 – that’s a 550% increase!
Linux has a lot of catching up to do. Because the mass market has never adopted the operating system, it is unlikely that you’ll see a significant uptick in Linux users barring a monumental market paradigm shift such as Microsoft going out of business.
However, developers and publishers appear to be making a far greater effort with Linux users in recent years. But, anything from Microsoft releasing a new version of DirectX to NVidea deciding to no longer release Linux compatible graphics cards can create a significant barrier and curtail that progress and significantly reduce the number of Linux players.
It certainly is possible for developers to take risks and cater to the Linux crowd, but it’s unlikely that it will grow any faster than the rate that it already is.
Gaming isn’t as popular on Linux for several reasons, but the bottom line is that there is a tiny market for Linux games, and developing native Linux games is not profitable and will likely remain so for a very long time.
Unless more casual gamers start to use Linux exclusively and there’s a significant increase in demand for commercial software, Native Linux games will never be more than an afterthought.
- Gaming On Linux: All You Need To Know | It’s FOSS
- Why is there a lack of games for Linux? [closed] | Stack Exchange
- Why has gaming not taken off on Linux? | Quora
- Why are games not made for Linux? | OS Today
- Linux | Wikipedia
- Would you say the future for Linux gaming is bright? | Reddit
- How many games work on Linux? | OS Today
- Steam Hardware & Software Survey: September 2021 | Steam