Roundtable discussion on mainstream games and Linux.

There’s a small, but interesting article titled Mainstream Games on the Linux Desktop from the folks at LinuxWorld where they talk with some game designers on why more games aren’t ported to Linux and what it would take to bring this to pass.

The answers are largely what you might expect: too small a market, Linux isn’t ready as a general desktop product, etcetera and changing things will largely take a more people using Linux and then letting the folks who make the games know about it both in writing and in dollars.

I’ve said before that the only reason I’m running Windows is because that’s where the games are. I’ve been dabbling with Linux on a spare machine here and there to try and get a feel for it, but as it’s not something I use every day it has been slow going and it’s clear to me that it’s still not ready as a general use OS by the average consumer.

Installing Linux has never been easier as I’ve managed to install various flavors of Red Hat and Mandrake Linux without any real clue of what I was doing, but adding new software in after it’s up and running is still a challenge. Using the various package managers makes downloading and installing easy enough, but applications that you’d expect to put an icon on the desktop menu don’t do so automatically in most cases. You have to add that in by hand and it took me a couple of hours one night to figure out how to do that. I still haven’t managed to figure out how to install new device drivers. Again, I’ve not devoted a lot of time to this either as I’m just dinking around with it, but I’m pretty techno-savvy and if I’m having trouble then the average Windows user is going to be completely lost and that will keep Linux as a niche player and thusly limit its appeal as a platform to develop games for.

Which is a shame as I’d love to be able to dump Windows and move to something else and if I weren’t a gamer I’d probably have already done so by now. The Mac’s OS X is a nice version of Linux FreeBSD 5 that seems to address many of the issues found in Linux*, though I’m speculating mainly on what I’ve read about it as I’ve not actually used it, and I’d be interested in running that if it were available for the hardware I currently have as opposed to having to buy a whole new (and expensive) platform to run it on.

Given time there may come a day that Linux presents a viable enough alternative for general PC use that game developers will support it more readily and I look forward to that day, but until then I’ll be stuck using Windows and keeping Bill Gates rolling in dough.

* Thanks to Sonny for correcting my ignorance on what OS X is based on. FreeBSD is a variant of Unix, much like Linux is, but it’s incorrect to say they are the same thing.

21 thoughts on “Roundtable discussion on mainstream games and Linux.

  1. I tried to make it clear that I was speaking about Linux as a general use OS as opposed to a business application OS. Indeed, Linux has a number of advantages in a business environment and a number of companies and government agencies are proving that it works just fine as a business OS.

    I also agree with the idea that as long as you’re happy with whatever’s pre-installed there’s not a lot to complain about. My mother, for example, would probably be more than happy using Linux as she doesn’t tend to add or remove software from her PC on a regular basis as I do and she’s already a fan of Mozilla for her web browsing and email use.

    As I said, if I weren’t a gamer then I’d probably already be using Linux full-time. There’s not a lot in the way of software outside of games that I absolutely have to have that are Windows only and I have no doubts I’d eventually figure out how to do everything I want to do with it.

  2. However, the reasons are largely non-technical at this point.

    True, the reasons are pretty much financial.


    I am still with Windows for the same reason. I have Linux on a second computer, but until I can run my games on it, I won’t be a full convert.

  3. For me, there is really only two reasons I don’t use Linux right now… One is games as Les said. The other is stability. Now, before you all get a snit over that. What I mean by stability is how long the OS stays happy while I do things like install software, adjust configurations, etc…

    I think the longest I have had a Linux box up and running was about 2 weeks. I tried to get x-windows up so that I could connect to the Linux box via an x-windows client. After my attempts failed to work, I found the graphics system was totally hosed. When I booted the Linux box, I would start to see the graphics come up, then it would go nuts and look like it was out of sync.

    I tried using Linux as a file sharing computer with Windows. Only to have the software that allowed it to act like a Windows Share die and I couldn’t figure out how to get it back.

    I consider myself a pretty savvy tech person, but Linux baffles me completely. I can’t imagine what my parents would do to the OS. My dad loves to tinker with settings.

    When Linux is as easy to use as the Mac and Windows is, then I’ll consider a switch…

  4. It sounds like you messed up your X config file, which would definitely cause the errors you describe. And an X crash doesn’t require a reboot.

    Linux is one of the most stable operating systems in the world, period. That’s why Linux, configured with Apache is the most widely used web server in the world right now.

    I have enjoyed uptimes of over 500 days with Linux, but that’s chicken a low number for Linux… think I’m joking? Check out

    I think there are one, maybe two windows boxes in the top 50, the rest are Linux, and *nix.

    I have been a Linux and UNIX network programmer since 98 and have had UNIX administration duties at almost every job I’ve held, and I have only seen Linux crash once. Many people who use windows that move to linux are of the mindset that a reboot is the answer to 99% of your ocmputer problems. With Linux, especially when you have a mission critical server, rebooting is a last resort and usually NEVER needed.


    On the other hand, if I had a dollar for every time a windows box has crashed on me, I probably wouldn’t need to work anymore.

  5. Sonny, you just made my point! You are a Unix Network Programmer. You know Linux like I know Windows.

    The longest my WinXP box has gone without a reboot is just over 25 days. This is after running things like GTA: Vice City on a daily basis, IntelliJ IDEA’s Java IDE, Office… I have over 150 programs installed and about 30 System Tray icons up and running.

    Yet I can’t keep a Linux box stable and alive for more than I can keep my Windows box up without a reboot.

    I understand that you probably spent years learning and understanding the OS. That’s great. However, I don’t want my parents having to take 2 years worth of college courses just to be able to use their computer.

  6. Yes, I’ve been using Linux for years now both personally and professionally, but I wasn’t always an expert. I learned it the same way most people do, I installed it at night in my spare time. At that time, I was working as a technical services manager for CompUSA and had no programming knowledge or experience at all.

    I just tinkered, like most people.


  7. Even in the good old SunOS days, the only way to make a workstation go really bad was to mess with the X11 or OpenWindows server. I’ve never seen a production Linux box crash except for critical hardware failures. I’ve seen some very stable Windows servers; the trick is to make them work and then take your hands off. Windows desktops, on the other hand, are beneath contempt.

    Then again, my first contact with Unix was writing a disk driver for 4.3 BSD after learning cp, mv, cd, and vi

    To get back on topic, for many types of users the switch from Windows to Linux amounts to retraining on the user interface. The tinkerer and sysadmin has a steeper learning curve ahead, but we like to learn something new every day, why else would we tinker to begin with?

  8. If you want to switch to Linux and still play games; you don’t necessarily need to wait for it to be ported to Linux.  Some games come with Linux installers in the box (e.g. UT2003) and a whole host of others can be run using WineX from TransGaming.

    For the record, I’ve used Win3.x through XP and switched to SuSE Linux Pro 9 about 2 months ago (XP gave me one too many BSOD).  Overall, I’ve been much happier though I’ve run into some “quirks” getting all of my hardware recognized and installed correctly.  I’ve also dabbled with various versions of RedHat & Mandrake and Les is right.  Linux is not quite ready for the average consumer, but it is significantly better than it was a year or two ago.

  9. To get back on topic, for many types of users the switch from Windows to Linux amounts to retraining on the user interface. The tinkerer and sysadmin has a steeper learning curve ahead, but we like to learn something new every day, why else would we tinker to begin with?
    This is exactly why Linux won’t make it to the average Joe user or the gamer. I don’t want to have to learn “sysadmin” stuff just to get my computer up and running and to keep it running.

    Sonny, do your parents have a computer? If so, do you have them running Linux or heaven forbid Windows or possibly Mac?

    For mine, all my mother wants to do is read mail and surf the web. Pretty safe for any OS so long as she knows how to use the programs, she is fine. My dad plays with weblogs, small games, writing documents, as well as mail and the web. He likes to modify the system to add screen savers, templates for e-mail. Normally this would be OK, but he really doesn’t understand what he is doing and tends to mess things up. I have mostly been able to keep up with his mistakes and correct them.

    Is this on topic? Pretty much. In order for games to happen in Linux, you need a user base that will be buying those games. Right now the bulk is Windows. Will this change? Hard to say, it could be a chicken vrs. egg problem. Game developers are not going to spend development time and money on a platform that only 5% of the market uses. In order for the Linux/Mac marget to grow, games need to be there, along with other apps that people use on a daily basis.

    This is the way I see it so I may be completely wrong, but having been in the game industry for 6 years, I did pick up a few things here and there…

  10. To answer your question Les, my parents are much older than me, I am 31 but my Dad is 70… He wouldn’t know a computer from a fancy looking TV at Circut City.

    My mom does have a computer but uses it to play solitare only.

  11. Manzabar thanks for the suggestion. I’ll look into it, though most of my experiences in using an emulated solution have been less than optimal for gaming.

    And it’s true that more games are starting to come with Linux clients (I believe Savage is one of them) and that’s pretty damned cool. With any luck that trend will continue to grow.

    Dave, you were in the games industry? Whatcha do in it? Just curious.

  12. Hmm… I am not quite sure why everyone is having so many problems with Linux. Maybe my experiences have been different, but I decided to make the full time switch to Linux in August 2002 after using it a little here and there sporadicly for a couple of years.

    I had an old Micron laptop that I installed Redhat 8 on. It installed like a dream and all hardware was recognized. I loved it so much, I took an old desktop system and made it into a Linux file server to serve out files and MP3’s to my desktop and laptop systems. No problems there either.

    I upgraded my laptop to to Redhat 9 somewhere around June 2003. The upgrade went smooth and the machine was still rock solid. Well.. late last summer I spilled some water in that keyboard so I bought an IBM Thinkpad T30. It came preloaded with XP. I yanked the hard drive out and stuck in the drive that was in the Micron thinking ‘What the heck… I will see what happens’. I was a Windows administrator for years and I knew that older versions of Windows could NOT handle being put in a machine that it was not loaded on if there was a difference in the chipset or any other oddity. Well.. Kudzu (the Linux plug and play helper) came up at boot time, recognized all my new hardware, and presto, I was up and running. I have since upgraded the same hard drive to Fedora Core 1. Still solid as a tank. Remember, there has been no formating or multiple reboot hell, etc, in these upgrades. Just straight upgrades.

    For giggles.. I put the IBM hard drive (with the clean install of XP on it) into the Micron and plugged in an external keyboard (so I could use the machine) to see what would happen with the latest and greatest version of Windows. I figured there was NOTHING on there so it SHOULD be able to reconfigure itself. Right? Wrong.. needless to say—A Blue Screen of Death. I looked up the error on the MS KB and found that it was caused by the fact that the machines had different chipsets. The Resolution: Format and reinstall. Quite the resolution they offer aye?

    I am not trying to bash Windows.. but Linux has been a DREAM compared to Windows. No rebooting unless I want to … and YES… the machine is up to date with patches without reboots. No viral problems… etc etc… I do everything I need on it. Ok.. I am not much of a gamer though…

    Here is the uptime of my desktop class file server (Pentium III 500Mhz / 128MB RAM):

    [root@server root]# uptime
      3:42pm up 214 days, 19:54,  4 users,  load average: 0.77, 0.93, 0.85

    Yea… 214 days ago was the big Blackout we had last summer.

    The new slogan for Linux: “Linux—The best way to figure out when the last power outage was”

  13. Les: I used to work for Simutronics Corp ([url=][/url]). I helped out on CyberStrike, worked on the server for GemStone III & DragonRealms, did some client work… To be perfectly honest, I’m not really sure why I left. I had a great job and was making great money. Ah well…

    elwedriddsche: I have witnessed Knoppix. I witnessed it fail to boot on my “off the shelf” 2 and 1/2 year old Dell Dimension 8100 1.4GHz P4. I saw “The Screen Savers” go on and on about how great the distro was, so I downloaded it a couple of weeks later after the rush was over (it had just been released) and burned the ISO. Rebooted the computer and watched as Linux started up all the services just fine, until it got to the video drivers. Failed. I think it even failed on a few other things, but at that point, I wasn’t really all that interested.

    Maybe when we get new computers, I’ll try again. But for now, I’m not going anywhere near it.

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