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What we expect to come from Valve to help Linux gaming in 2021

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By now you've probably heard either through us in our previous article or elsewhere that Valve are cooking something up to help Linux gaming even further. We have an idea on what one part of it is.

Valve already do quite a lot. There's the Steam Play Proton compatibility layer, the new container runtime feature to have Linux games both natively supported and Windows games in Proton run through a contained system to ensure compatibility, their work on Mesa drivers and much more.

In Valve's review of Steam in 2020 that we covered in the link above, one thing caught our eye and has been gaining attention. Valve mentioned for 2021 they will be "putting together new ways for prospective users to get into Linux gaming and experience these improvements" so what exactly does that mean? Well, a part of that might have already been suggested directly.

Back in November 2019, the open source consulting firm Collabora presented an overview of the work they have been doing funded by Valve. Towards the end of the talk they mentioned ongoing work towards foolproof and fast instant upgrades of Linux systems. Collabora mentioned it could work for specialised systems like consoles or other systems where you don't expect users to be highly technical. Leading into that, a Valve developer posted on Reddit to clarify more details around what Collabora were talking about:

The image-based updater work is part of a set of efforts to attempt to improve the experience of trying out Linux on a normal PC with live USB media, and instantly updating said media from the other OS without losing user data. There's no "locking down" involved, as it can easily be disabled by the user to fall back to the normal package manager.

Pierre-Loup Griffais, Valve

Linux has long been able to run directly from USB drives but what about the next stage of this evolution? That appears to be what Valve are hinting at in their 2020 review blog post.

Imagine if you will for a moment: a SteamOS-style USB stick, that's highly optimized for Linux gaming, with drivers ready to go and Steam pre-configured with everything it needs all direct from Valve and also this special update system to ensure it keeps on working. Now add in some pre-configured persistence so your games, files and so on stay on it and that sure sounds like a new way for users to get into and experience Linux gaming doesn't it? Steam Machines didn't work, so a way to properly experience Linux gaming in full on hardware people already own? That could certainly work.

That could be a much more interesting way to actually market and advertise Linux gaming too. It's not enough to have Linux distributions be fast and stable, and to have plenty of games available to play otherwise we would already be in a better position as a platform. An absolute game changer? No, but another very useful tool in the shed. The conversation changes with such an easy to use way to get involved. Burn it to a USB stick, load it on your PC and login to Steam, download a game and away you go — you're now gaming on Linux.

Not just for gamers though, this could be a pretty valuable tool for developers to test their games on Linux too. If it enables developers to quickly boot up a drive with Linux on, that's up to date and works with games, that's going to make things a lot easier in the long run from all sides.

USB drives have been ridiculously cost effective in the last few years too, along with plenty of USB3 options now existing for the speed and you can get quite a lot of storage on them so it would be a pretty fascinating move.

Over to you in the comments, what are your thoughts?

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Hori 16 Jan
I still want a new and proper Steam Machine made by Valve that could be a true console replacement. No keyboard being necessary, no messy configurations needed, one that "just works".
And which also has a focus on VR (but not only!)

But before all that they need to redo the whole Big Picture and make it actually good. Right now it's.... serviceable, but definetely not a good experience for the average Joe that didn't use it before and is not used to having to deal with unintuitive, incomplete and sometimes broken interfeces.

And about the actual content of the article: I don't think that's going to make a difference. I can see a handful of people (enthusiasts), trying it out, but no more than just that. I just can't see the average hardcore gamer that uses Windows getting one of this, let alone suddenly switching to Linux after using it.
It would be a cool gimmick, fun for a while for nerds, and then quickly forgotten.

Last edited by Hori on 16 January 2021 at 2:46 pm UTC
woox2k 16 Jan
Interesting idea but i don't think it will work as well as it sounds.
First, supporting every possible combination of HW people might have will certainly be a nightmare, if not impossible altogether. With pre built consoles you at least have a certain set of hw to make the software work with.

Second, they are bit late to the party. Gone are the days where most pc users knew and could easily boot into other media because the option was right there on POST. These days, thanks to fastboot and UEFI, most people don't even know how to get into UEFI settings, let alone change boot device.
pageround 16 Jan
I think its a brilliant move. USBs are cheap enough that valve can give them away during promotions or large enough that users can buy high speed 1TB drives. It sounds like with the persistence, you'd also be able to install other things to the USB drive. Which would mean GOG and other games / tools. I welcome the next generation of Linux gamers. I hope it results in more people enjoying the games that they want, the way that they want, with more control over their hardware.
Liam Dawe 16 Jan
Quoting: woox2ksupporting every possible combination of HW people might have will certainly be a nightmare
No different to exactly how things are now for both Linux and Windows. Except, Valve have more control over the software which was the point of SteamOS. This is an evolved form of it. Mixed with the container runtime to ensure compatibility, the burden is far lower than when they tried with Steam Machines.
Quoting: woox2kSecond, they are bit late to the party. Gone are the days where most pc users knew and could easily boot into other media because the option was right there on POST. These days, thanks to fastboot and UEFI, most people don't even know how to get into UEFI settings, let alone change boot device.
That is a legitimate hurdle they would need to think on, with some clear instructions for what people can do. Perhaps even a simple tool to go along with it that does the burning, and gets Windows to allowing rebooting into it. There are ways around this problem that smarter people will no doubt have already thought of.
QuoteSteam Machines didn't work

They *could* have worked, and no reason why they could not now. But at the time, Proton was not a thing, you could not play your Windows games on SteamOS. There was no hardware subsidies in place, so most of the units were way too expensive for what they offered, and in general I thiuk it was marketed poorly.
KayEss 16 Jan
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Quoting: woox2kSecond, they are bit late to the party. Gone are the days where most pc users knew and could easily boot into other media because the option was right there on POST. These days, thanks to fastboot and UEFI, most people don't even know how to get into UEFI settings, let alone change boot device.

I feel like this is something that should be solvable with a Windows program that runs when you insert the USB stick that configures the reboot in the right way.
Kuduzkehpan 16 Jan
There is only one thing that we must have is Dedicated universal Game porting company for linux.
ofc glad we have valve steam + wine proton etc etc. But these are not the way linux could become competitive with gaming par windows.
we need native games we need big company for Linux coding. But still i believe linux wont be a prime os for desktop. it will stay where it is now. But as opensource i guess Google's Fuschia Os will be futures universal os.
its opensource and has a big company which has large ecosystem for its another own mobile os (chrome os) platform (stadia) this are baby steps for future.

Last edited by Kuduzkehpan on 16 January 2021 at 3:40 pm UTC
BielFPs 16 Jan
My wishlist for Valve linux gaming in 2021:

- Improve gamescope as a production ready wayland compositor optimized for gaming
- Porting some opengl games to Vulkan (my dream would be l4d2, but I know it's impossible)
- A new Arch-based official SteamOS
- Make Proton works with DRM and Media Foundation out of the box
- Support for ARM
- A new day one Linux official Game (why not)

Talking about steam running through a live media usb, I think this won't work very well mostly because of the limited storage size.

I don't know about your European / North American guys, But where I live, It's very rare to see someone with a 1 Tb pen drive, and the amount of boards still coming with usb 2.0 is outrageous!

So while I think it's awesome for valve to give this option, I don't think this will be a game changer as it sounds (I would like to be wrong here though)
rcrit 16 Jan
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Similar to what Hori said, if I already have a Windows system capable of playing games why would I reboot using a USB stick to play them in Linux? Would this interest existing Linux users at all?

I rarely reboot as it is. The idea of rebooting every time I want to play a game? It's not for me.

Does the old Windows trope "I see you moved your mouse, please reboot" still apply?
sbolokanov 16 Jan
How did Steam get to where it is now? By exclusive games.
How did console X get to where it is now? By exclusive games.

The idea that user X is going to simply ditch his OS for no apparent reason is ridiculous to me.
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