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The Steam Play Proton compatibility layer turns two years old

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Two years ago to the date, Valve Software made an announcement that would change Linux gaming on Steam: that announcement was the new version of Steam Play with the Proton compatibility layer.

Proton is the Valve-funded fork of Wine, a compatibility layer designed to run Windows software on other systems. With Proton, Valve are focusing of course on games and Steam integration with the help of CodeWeavers. Two years on, there's a huge amount more AAA games (thousands) playable on Linux with a few clicks of a button (guide). Thanks to Proton, users moving over from Windows likely don't need to give up a lot of their games, since many should work well and the importance of that cannot be understated as a back catalogue is vital.

Steam Play itself as a feature is definitely very interesting and exciting when you look outside of just Proton too. It's enabled the creation of other compatibility layers like Boxtron for running DOSBox titles on Steam in a native Linux build of DOSBox and Roberta which does the same for ScummVM. Even further than that, it's also the way you can run dedicated Linux builds in a container with the Steam Linux Runtime (info: #1, #2) to enable them to hopefully continuing running forever.

Since the original announcement, it's hard to say if Steam Play and Proton made much of a difference to the user share of Linux on Steam (see our Steam Tracker). It seems mostly stable and hasn't budged much. Not that I expected it to mind you, we still have plenty of mountains to climb with the biggest being that the vast majority of PC hardware people buy comes pre-loaded with Windows 10. We've seen some movement there though with more Linux-focused vendors popping up over the years including: Entroware, Purism, Slimbook, StarLabs, TUXEDO and System76 also continuing to expand. Even Lenovo started moving to add more Fedora offerings and Ubuntu/RedHat too but a huge amount of work has to be done on that to improve things across many more top-tier vendors.

For those curious: there's currently no news to share on the status of anti-cheat support (mostly meaning Easy Anti-Cheat and BattlEye) for Proton. The unofficial work that seemed initially exciting had a major setback when EAC was updated and it all broke. That is just one of the many mountains this compatibility layer needs to overcome, somehow.

I'm still thoroughly curious on what the end game is here and why Valve continue to fund various Linux projects like Proton, Mesa driver improvements, the ACO AMD shader compiler, whatever Gamescope turns into and plenty of others. Will it end up being part of their quest to bring out their own full cloud gaming solution? They have a lot of the tech there ready for streaming and they might end up being one of the last major gaming companies to do it at this rate. Will it be for SteamOS 3.0? Just as a continued backup in case Microsoft lock down Windows? Or is it really just a few passionate Linux fans inside Valve? As always, they remain quite tight lipped about it and one day I hope they agree to my interview requests on it. The future of Linux gaming certainly is looking colourful.

Happy two years, Steam Play and Proton. What will the next two bring?

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30 comments
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Salvatos 21 Aug, 2020
Quoting: Valckhttps://boilingsteam.com/ethan-lee-troubling-times-for-porters-in-a-proton-world/

Food for thought. Not that it hadn't been seen from the beginning...
Good read, thanks for sharing. For me, native games and actual ports still take precedence in a major way. I have a few very tempting games that I might buy heavily discounted at some point, but for my "everyday shopping", I still don’t even look at anything that’s not actually supported on Linux.

Proton is a wonderful tool, but at the end of the day it’s still a crutch, and we need to learn to walk again sooner or later...


Last edited by Salvatos on 21 August 2020 at 6:47 pm UTC
Linuxwarper 21 Aug, 2020
Quoting: Purple Library GuyYou may well be right but I'll be kind of disappointed if so. I keep hoping they've got some kind of Big Plan that will eventually, when the stars align properly, usher in the forever-awaited
Year of the Linux Desktop (TM)
I am confident they have a plan. Stadia, Xbox (XGP, XCLOUD, console), EGS and other stores are threatening Steam as a business. Even UPlay is doing good.

Valve's next venture will be hardware. They have begun with Index and it will go from there.
slaapliedje 21 Aug, 2020
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To be fair, I had posted a few times that it'd be awesome if Valve integrated Wine within Steam before Proton became a thing. Whether or not I had any influence on that decision is doubtful, but hey, I was there before it was a thing asking it to be a thing!

How the hell has it already been 2 years? Time flies sort of even when you've been working from home for 5+ months.
hardpenguin 21 Aug, 2020
I am VERY grateful for this feature. If it wasn't for Steam Play with Proton, I would have never played so many great titles, including:

  • The Messenger
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
  • Final Fantasy VIII
  • Minion Masters
  • Pro Evolution Soccer 2019
  • Spelunky
  • Need For Speed: Undercover
  • Downwell
  • Gothic 3
  • Regency Solitaire
  • Anodyne
  • Even The Ocean
  • The Sims 3
  • Just Cause
  • Vainglory
  • Age of Empires II (2013)
  • The Elder Scrolls: Legends

and more!


Last edited by hardpenguin on 21 August 2020 at 8:44 pm UTC
Linuxwarper 21 Aug, 2020
Quoting: slaapliedjeTo be fair, I had posted a few times that it'd be awesome if Valve integrated Wine within Steam before Proton became a thing. Whether or not I had any influence on that decision is doubtful, but hey, I was there before it was a thing asking it to be a thing
Do tell us what will happen next oh holy prophet


Last edited by Linuxwarper on 21 August 2020 at 8:50 pm UTC
slaapliedje 22 Aug, 2020
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Quoting: Linuxwarper
Quoting: slaapliedjeTo be fair, I had posted a few times that it'd be awesome if Valve integrated Wine within Steam before Proton became a thing. Whether or not I had any influence on that decision is doubtful, but hey, I was there before it was a thing asking it to be a thing
Do tell us what will happen next oh holy prophet
Ha, well at least I wasn't labeled an 'influencer'.

Now we just need a better way to get emulation within Big Picture mode. Like work with libretro. *hint hint at Valve*
Vulphere 22 Aug, 2020
Proton is one of the reason I can drop Windows for good, since I do not play multiplayer games with pesky anti-cheats.

The fact that I can play the majority of my Steam Windows games library on Linux with a little effort is amazing, and of course I would be even more happier if developers starting to make more native games.

Here for more years of Proton.
GeoGalvanic 22 Aug, 2020
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Can't believe it's already been two years! I remember my initial excitement when it first came out. It's definitely become a pretty reliable system, with those aforementioned multiplayer anti-cheat systems being the last great barrier.
Linuxwarper 22 Aug, 2020
Quoting: slaapliedjeHa, well at least I wasn't labeled an 'influencer'.

Now we just need a better way to get emulation within Big Picture mode. Like work with libretro. *hint hint at Valve*
I haven't used emulation with Steam but why don't you use RetroArch?
slaapliedje 23 Aug, 2020
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Quoting: Linuxwarper
Quoting: slaapliedjeHa, well at least I wasn't labeled an 'influencer'.

Now we just need a better way to get emulation within Big Picture mode. Like work with libretro. *hint hint at Valve*
I haven't used emulation with Steam but why don't you use RetroArch?
I am speaking specifically from the "all in one launcher with the benefits of Steam Overlay's controller config/support"
One interface to rule them all. Then I could just load up a Raspberry Pi4, have it go directly to Steam Link app, and play all the games from there.
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