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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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100 comments
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stormtux 17 Jan
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Quoting: ageresIn order to understand what Valve could intend, people should realize it's a commercial company that exists to make money, not to drive people to go FOSS. I don't believe that Valve advances Linux gaming just because good Gaben loves Linux and us, Linux users. Before suggesting an idea, try to think what benefit can Valve get and how. It should lead to a situation where more people spend more money on Steam.
I agree with ageres and the other that expressed similar concepts before.
Supporting Linux is not the purpose of Valve, it is the mean that allows them not to be cut of from the market by the "walled garden" aspirations of Microsoft. Another goal for Valve may be to be able to keep selling classic old games that have problems running on the last Windows OS versions. I read some old games already run better under Proton than under Windows 10.

This USB bootable Steam drive looks like more a developer tool than a final user tool. I find it difficult to imagine a typical PC user go buy a (high performance) external drive and change the boot configuration of the PC to... what advantage? Run a game they already own with (usually) lower performance?

I think instead of an independent developer that is is evaluating the option to publish a game also on Linux but it knows nothing of this OS. If there was a cheap tool to be connected to their development PC that allowed them to test the game on Linux? Maybe with debug tools already loaded and configured to work with Proton and all the software and services that Valve offers. Maybe even with development environment already installed and configured with plugins, I think for example about Unity and all the games without a Linux version even if in theory it may be supported. No need to change their development environment after all the hours spend in configuring and adapting all the tools to their workflow. This will be an interesting new feature. It may even be useful to big companies for some initial evaluation to support Proton.
Liam Dawe 17 Jan
Some key things commenters seem to be missing

- It's not aimed at existing Linux users
- It's not the only thing they're doing, we're just explaining one possible thing based on what they said in the quote
- Valve and Wine can't solve EAC or BattlEye, it needs direct support from those vendors to make it happen to any degree of accuracy and to keep it working
- Some of you really lack imagination ;)
Beamboom 17 Jan
The way I see it, the problem isn't really how to test gaming on Linux, but why.

That's the massive challenge to overcome, and one that is no easy task.
Why should one try and see how well a game plays on Linux, when they know that best case scenario - BEST case scenario - is that it runs roughly equally to their Windows gaming rig. Most likely scenario is that it's playable, but with a performance penalty. And with likely challenges related to anti-cheat.

Why test Linux under those conditions? Like, at all?

Those who want to try gaming on Linux today are likely those who already know and use Linux at least partially. And those do extremely likely have at least a Linux PARTITION, if they're not 💯% Linux desktop users already.

let's face it: There are no non-ideologically motivated reasons to game on Linux today unless you're not already using Linux as your desktop OS. None.

Sure, a stray Windows gamer here and there, perhaps out of sheer curiosity, could possibly test this USB solution. But I sense that number to be neglectable in the bigger scheme of things.

And that leads me to wonder if in fact this technology isn't a part of something else, plans that's not as immediately easy to spot but could be of a more significant nature.


Last edited by Beamboom on 17 January 2021 at 4:20 pm UTC
Lachu 17 Jan
I have worked on similar solutions some time ago, but it's quite different. I designed special OS to play games and decided to install additional OS to work on the same machine. In next step, I decided to allow fast switching between two oses by hibernation. Imagine: Play, press one button, work, press one button, continue playing, press one button, work, ... . Problem was in hibernation ... Linux could mess in FS, which aren't mounted, if you mount it during system session. So, when user mount system with games on working OS and fast switch, there's could be data loss. I could prevent this cases, but I have a lot other projects.
Lachu 17 Jan
Someone's told, this USB stick should contains Steam Link OS. I think, Valve should create Steam Link for Android instead.
Mohandevir 17 Jan
Personally, I still think it's probably a tool Valve developped, for their needs, to maintain the futur "Steamos-3.0/Gamescope/Whatever that will be used for". They just decided to release it in the wild because it can't do no harm, requieres no additional effort to maintain and may be usefull for some other usecases (niche?).

Let's wait and see what's Valve's master plan (cloud gaming?) because I surely lack insight and imagination to figure it out. 😉

Personally I could imagine "Steam servers" with hot swappable drives(?), to stream to local thin clients, but I'm not sure what's the use case for that (cafés?)... I've never been to such places so there are others, here, who know better than me if it's a valid use case.


Last edited by Mohandevir on 17 January 2021 at 5:04 pm UTC
const 17 Jan
Quoting: sbolokanovHow 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.

Well, releasing exclusive games would be a much better option once they can point to an usb stick stick solution that doesn't alter the system, wouldn't it? This might be especially interesting if they plan to put pressure on apple.


Last edited by const on 17 January 2021 at 4:02 pm UTC
const 17 Jan
Quoting: LachuSomeone's told, this USB stick should contains Steam Link OS. I think, Valve should create Steam Link for Android instead.
I'm pretty sure this exists. Have it installed.
Mohandevir 17 Jan
Quoting: const
Quoting: LachuSomeone's told, this USB stick should contains Steam Link OS. I think, Valve should create Steam Link for Android instead.
I'm pretty sure this exists. Have it installed.

Yep! Using it on my Nvidia Shield and my other Android iptv box.
Lachu 17 Jan
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.
Many years ago, I think about opening one's company, which will translate OpenSource games to emscripten version and put it to one's web page with advertisement or paying services. I thought students will playing at lessons. Maybe that's the way?
Quoting: eldaking3) Use it in thin clients, that play games through some kind of streaming (either in their servers, Stadia-like, or from your own gaming PC). Like an evolution of the current Steam Link, but with an entire OS attached?. Not sure why it would be a live OS though.

I think Steam Link for Android could been better.


Last edited by Lachu on 17 January 2021 at 5:12 pm UTC
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