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Ryan Gordon and Ethan Lee on Proton and the Steam Deck

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For anyone who has been around Linux gaming for a while, the names Ryan "Icculus" Gordon and Ethan Lee will be well known as developers who port games to Linux and work on the tech behind tons of games.

Recently, our friends at Nuclear Monster spoke to both about Proton and the upcoming Steam Deck. Both giving a very different outlook on the future of Linux gaming, so it's interesting to see their perspectives on this considering how respected they both are for their work. For those who don't know Ryan Gordon maintains a lot of SDL, the MojoSetup installer (used by GOG), MojoShader, and ports to various platforms (not just Linux). Ethan Lee created FNA, the reimplementation of Microsoft's XNA, and Lee has probably ported more to Linux than anyone else (along with macOS too).

In the post with Ryan Gordon, it starts off with a little personal thought from the writer (who is sceptical of relying on Wine/Proton) but Gordon sees it differently. Gordon mentions it's no longer a case of talking about how many people directly use Linux of the desktop or how many install SteamOS but the focus will be on sales number for what's basically a type of games console. It is an interesting point, as eventually it could lead to millions of people with a Linux-powered handheld:

And maybe someday down the road, if this is wildly successful, we tell people that it’s a no-brainer to target 18 bazillion Linux users that aren’t Linux users so much as customers reliably running a Linux-based game console. The end result for you and me—clicking “install” in our desktop Steam client—is the same, even if it took millions of unaware and uninterested other people to get us there.

Ryan Gordon - Nuclear Monster Interview

The subject of porting to Linux did come up too. Since Valve have and continue to invest into Steam Play Proton, they're telling developers you don't need to port. Here's what Gordon had to say on that:

Even in the short term, one can always make the argument: okay, sure, your Windows game runs here, but you want more performance, more control, and no worries that Proton didn’t quite paper over some Windows thing weirdly? Then stop letting Valve treat your game like some RetroPie target and do a real Linux port. That choice is available to you now, almost six months before anyone will hold a Steam Deck.

Ryan Gordon - Nuclear Monster Interview

Gordon further mentions how we should hustle, not think of it as some kind of funeral for Linux gaming.

The complete opposite it true when Nuclear Monster spoke to Ethan Lee, who was far more negative about the whole situation. Lee sees Proton as an "essential preservation project" and did even contribute work to it when contracting for CodeWeavers. However, Lee seems to think that Proton and Valve's marketing with the Steam Deck will result in packing up shop and moving on from game porting:

I have my remaining contractual obligations, but short of a complete 180 from Valve that is very very loud I have to walk away and go do other things for a living. A course correction is unlikely, as they seem abnormally confident that developers will just magically come to me after the device’s inevitable success, which is basically asking me to just casually accept that I’m going to endure even bigger losses than I already have with an empty promise that my business will turn around based on a third party’s big risk that they think anyone can endure. It feels very like much I built my own casket having worked on Proton, and as they’re shoveling dirt onto me they’re going “don’t worry, you’ll be fine when someone else finds you!”

Ethan Lee - Nuclear Monster Interview

Sounds like Lee will also be moving away from FNA development too. Both interviews are worth a read.

What are your thoughts? You can see some of our early thoughts in a previous article.

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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91 comments
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BlackBloodRum 5 days ago
Come on Q2! Hurry!
dubigrasu 5 days ago
While I don't dismiss what Ethan says, I'm more inclined to side with Gordon.
I think valve plays the long game here, we have a saying: befriend the devil until you cross the bridge.
Corben 5 days ago
Quoting: dubigrasuWhile I don't dismiss what Ethan says, I'm more inclined to side with Gordon.
I think valve plays the long game here, we have a saying: befriend the devil until you cross the bridge.
I hope the same, but until then, what should Ethan do if devs aren't hiring him for a while? Let's hope there will be enough devs and/or publishers to contract him until the bridge is crossed.
Maki 5 days ago
I don't like the way Valve has been treating Linux recently.

Ethan has recently asked about game developers being approached by Valve for making their products run Proton instead of having a native Linux version, and that's honestly despicable from Valve, if you ask me. (Source: https://twitter.com/flibitijibibo/status/1416118465442852869 )

SteamOS has not been updated in... forever. The repositories are a sad sight to see. And now they have SteamOS 3.0 for the Steam Deck, based on Arch, but how does that relate to the desktop version of SteamOS and will there be an updated repository (for the Steam Deck)? Nobody knows.

I'm not an Arch user myself, so I don't know how that stuff works. If you want to drop a new user onto any flavour of Linux, I tend to prefer Debian and its related family of distros such as Mint and *buntu since their binary setup with a .deb-based package manager makes it fairly consistent to help people across the distro family, even if *buntu makes it a bit weird with PPAs and whatnot.

I once made the mistake of trying out Gentoo when just learning about Linux and that was a jump into the deep that I can't recommend unless you pick things up fast or have masochistic tendencies. (j/k :D)

I'm not sure the Steam Deck will do for Linux what we hope it does. There needs to be synchronous updates for SteamOS that actually go beyond Steam Deck so people can have their handheld experience be similar to what they can install on their desktop, laptop, or other computing device at home to help the adoption of Linux as a whole in a household. Just having a dock that allows using the Steam Deck as a mini-computer is not going to be the end-all fix.
jens 5 days ago
  • Supporter
Given their knowledge, would be cool if both get hired by Valve to help getting Proton even better into shape. That said, I also understand Ethan's side, from his own perspective, his very specialized skills might be less needed when his customers go for Proton. Though no idea actually how booming his own business had been in the past and how his future would have looked like without Proton.

As a user, I'm still thinking developer support and visibility of Linux as a gaming OS are the most important things in the long run. I don't mind all the translation layers in-between, as long as it works the same (or with a small performance penalty) as on other platforms.


Last edited by jens on 21 July 2021 at 10:06 am UTC
skinnyraf 5 days ago
Valve learned from the Steam Machines fiasco. The success of Steam Machines depended on native ports, few of which materialized. Additionally many Linux ports either did not have cross-play with Windows, or cross-play was broken when the Windows version was updated while the Linux port lagged behind. Finally, several ports were released much later than the Windows version.

So it seems that this time Valve does not want this dependency. They control Proton, they work with Wine developers, so if something breaks, they can fix it themselves. Thus this time the message to developers is not to develop for Linux, but to ensure that their games use Proton-friendly technology (especially Vulkan) and Valve would take care of the rest.


Last edited by skinnyraf on 21 July 2021 at 10:14 am UTC
Hori 5 days ago
I still think Proton is good overall and I agree with what Gordon said.... but Ethan makes a very good point and he's not wrong. He actually kinda is getting buried. I'd be pissed to if I was in his sues, and rightly so.

Long term I do think Proton is going to be very beneficial to Linux gaming and that it will actually bring more native ports. But as I said, long term. In the meantime there's some sacrifices to be made. But it really sucks when you're one of those sacrifices and someone else decided that for you.

I really wish Ethan will endure and survive this... it's really unfair that he was put in this position of (huge) risk without him actually doing anything wrong.


Last edited by Hori on 22 July 2021 at 10:46 am UTC
syylk 5 days ago
I'm always torn when the subject of WINE/Proton comes up.

On one hand, it's a good thing: many, many, many titles would not be played/playable in Linux without that framework (I'd dare say that "line of thinking"). I constantly play EVE Online, GTAV, Elite: Dangerous, Borderlands 3, and as we all know, it'd be nigh impossible to enjoy these games without a very refined compatibility layer.

On the other hand, of course having this "lazy way out" means fewer developers would care for a native port, or contract some third party (Feral, Aspyr, then-Icculus, etc.) to port their stuff over some form of linuxware. And that's not so good.

On the other (!) hand, companies investing into any form of Linux engagement can't be seen as a bad thing, from the POV of a Linux gamer like I am. Valve isn't into it for the glory, of course, or for eternal gratitude of us penguin fans - even if the fatman has my own eternal gratitude! But I'd rather see development in this field than leaving the entire ecosystem dead and gone.

I mean, Linux already completely dominates the markets for:
  • embedded

  • devices in general/IoT

  • smartphone

  • microservices

  • containers/virtualization/cloud (even Azure!)

  • backend server

  • research/academia

  • AI

  • supercomputing (top500 is the best Linux ad ever)


I think it was always just matter of time before the penetration of the kernel would reach console/games/mobile world.

Considering the Android market - especially in Asia, one can speculate that there already more games played on a Linux kernel on any single day than on any other platform (PC/Win + console) combined.

But then again, the incredible progress of WINE/Proton in the very few last years is a mixed blessing, and I can't make up my mind if it's a godsend or a hidden curse.
TimeFreeze 5 days ago
While Proton/Wine is good, i think its also a bad thing especially how valve advertises the Deck with "you dont have to port, just make it work with proton". Native Versions are always better and how thing are going i think we will see less and less native ports since why bother when we have Proton right?
skinnyraf 5 days ago
Quoting: TimeFreezeNative Versions are always better and how thing are going i think we will see less and less native ports since why bother when we have Proton right?

Native versions (i.e. software developed as multiplatform from the start and readied for Linux and Windows at the same time) yes. Ports - not necessarily. Late releases, poor performance, lack of cross-platform, dropped support forcing people to switch to Windows builds anyway - they all exist.
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