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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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aokami 16 Jan
Edit: sorry, this is off-topic and was already covered in articles previously.

Original commemt:
What about the syscall emulation Collabora contribution (based in the seccomp mechanism, but ended up being a stand alone mechanism) making it's way in kernel 5.11 ?

This looks promising and looks like a few back and forth discussions went on and a few patches made it to the kernel already.

Last edited by aokami on 17 January 2021 at 8:16 am UTC
Mohandevir 16 Jan
Quoting: alkazarIn any case, running an OS and games off of a USB stick is going to be a very poor experience and likely turn people off if anything.

This. Exactly my tought. In an era where gaming in general is praising the blazing speeds of nvme drives... Is there any external enclosures that may deliver similar performances, at a descent price? If not, imo, it won't have much of an impact.

Edit: thinking about it... Could it be a "nice to have/side effect" caused by a wider initiative?

Last edited by Mohandevir on 16 January 2021 at 7:36 pm UTC
HL3 or Portal 3 being timed Linux exclusive is the right method for to attract gamers to Linux....
Salvatos 16 Jan
QuoteBurn 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.
... Yay?

Unless Valve intend to distribute ready-made sticks as a marketing gimmick to get people to try SteamOS before they buy the next generation of Steam console, I don’t see how that changes anything from the already long-established practice of burning ISOs on live USB or CD/DVD peripherals. I’m also struggling to see the benefit of "instantly updating said media from the other OS" rather than from the device itself. Other than updating everything automatically without giving the user any information, the update process couldn’t be much simpler than it already is, and having to reboot into the host OS to do it just sounds tedious.

I would hope that Valve have more in mind than that if they’ve been working on something that already mostly exists for 2-3 years. Otherwise, from a Windows user perspective, this just sounds to me like "Here’s a few extra steps you can take to be able to do almost everything you already do *(with slower data read/write)!"

Even if the plan is to make the next "Steam Machine" a USB device you plug into a host computer, I can’t imagine why someone would want that when they already have non-Steam games installed on their gaming PC and access to Big Picture if they want a couch/controller experience.

... I guess it would make more sense if they’re making progress on a game streaming service, where the host hardware no longer matters. I still don’t really see why they would especially want to sell that service on a Linux peripheral though, rather than just make clients for all operating systems as is already the case.
Liam Dawe 16 Jan
Quoting: aokamiWhat about the syscall emulation Collabora contribution (based in the seccomp mechanism, but ended up being a stand alone mechanism) making it's way in kernel 5.11 ?

This looks promising and looks like a few back and forth discussions went on and a few patches made it to the kernel already.
This has been talked about across other articles, and noted in the first link in this article where Valve clarified what the work was for - to help DRM work in Proton.
Arehandoro 16 Jan
Things Valve could do:

1. Temporary % reduction Valve gets for games released natively on Linux.
2. Longer, or bigger, % reduction for games released natively on Linux exclusively.
3. Gamescope production ready.
4. Continue work on Proton.
5. Find a big ally from the Linux world to use as a base/partner for SteamOS (RedHat, Suse, Ubuntu...)*
6. Release some 1st party temporary exclusives.
7. Hire me, if only for the lulz.

* In order of preference.

As many others, I don't see the USB stick as a solution, nor appealing.

Last edited by Arehandoro on 16 January 2021 at 8:13 pm UTC
CatKiller 16 Jan
Valve's primary motivations for things are generally
  • Reduce friction for gamers

  • Reduce friction for game devs

  • Reduce reliance on a single point of failure

so I'd say these features are the good ones from their perspective:

Quoting: eldaking2) A way to play your own games in public computers, like cybercafes (yes, they are still popular in some places). They do have tools already for those, so this could be a very convenient tool.

A portable Steam library that you can update anywhere with a good Internet connection is useful if your gaming machine itself has a terrible Internet connection. Much of the US has terrible Internet connections, but they can otherwise afford good gaming hardware and to buy games. PC gaming in China (which is a market they'd like to expand) generally uses cyber cafés rather than someone's own PC hardware. Those users could take their games with them, rather than having to download them again each session. For both of those scenarios you're reducing the friction of buying and updating large games.

Quote4) Investigating the possibilities of having a full isolated OS, with standardized libraries and stuff, to run the games. Like the extreme version of containerization. This sounds like it is either quite distant, or would be a massive headache for us that already use Linux.

Making it easier for game devs to have a standardised testing target reduces the friction of them releasing their games for Linux. It's never been hard for them to do so, but "there are so many distros to choose from" and "I couldn't possibly afford a Linux machine to test on" are both excuses that game devs have used. Update the library with your build from anywhere, then boot the machine into your testing environment and you're good to test.

Quote5) Just a normal "it is now easier to try out Linux on your computer without commitment, which helps Linux adoption in the long term". Which I don't quite doubt anymore Valve would do, but wouldn't be a big thing in itself.

Valve's plan to prevent Microsoft from killing Steam works better the more credible Linux gaming is as an alternative to Windows gaming. Customers being able to just boot a Steam key rather than using whatever non-Steam mechanism Microsoft come up with reduces the threat of Microsoft using their power to kill Steam and Valve.
3zekiel 16 Jan
Quoting: Liam Dawe
Quoting: rcritSimilar 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?
And that is the real question no one as of yet has a true answer for other than the existing arguments for using Linux over Windows that many of us are already aware of, and probably already using Linux for. Part of the point though, is to make trying it as easy as possible. We shall have to wait and see how Valve handles it but the quote in the article is pretty clear IMO on this being something of a plan of theirs.

For me, there is a clear win, which is privacy. With Linux you have much better control of what is executed on your PC. If you have the knowledge, you can audit/modify the code, add new features you need etc. If you don't have the knowledge, you can rely on the many people who do. Of course, it is not 100% perfect, but it is dozens times better than what you get with proprietary OSes.

I think in the time many people have been shocked by Facebook move on whatsapp (basically killing any and all kind of privacy there), this is an argument that really matters. For me, this is one of the main features of Linux and FLOSS SW in general, it is privacy friendly, overall more secure and as a bonus is not easily taken over by company that don't give a damn about your privacy (mostly thx to being highly decentralized).

Overall, getting people to adopt Linux is both a matter of making it easier to access it and make people more privacy and FLOSS aware.
Brisse 16 Jan
Maybe they are integrating a feature to create and maintain a bootable USB-stick directly from the Steam-client? That would be great as it would expose this ability to a lot of new users who either doesn't know how to do it the traditional way, or simply aren't interested enough to seek out the software on their own. Could be an effective way to boost Linux gaming market share.
officernice 16 Jan
Linux is more than just gaming in terms of adaptation, just a little reminder.

Valve are doing all they can, and if we were to be a tad objective - more than they should. But we are very grateful for that. We are on a nice progression as it is with the work of the WINE team, lest not forget them, and the Proton implementation. It's gone really far in the short amount of time it has been around which is something people seem to forget.

The "king" of gaming are online games. I think having EAC especially will be crucial for gaming on Linux. A stone in the shoe is, however, all these damn extra launchers popping up which are extra hurdles for people to navigate around.

Rome was not built in a day. It's still going to take many years to reach the arbitrary level people want Linux adaptation to reach.
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