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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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96 comments
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toor 21 Jul
Personaly I don't really think it gets people to not port to Linux as a "lazy thing". Proton is risky for the game devs in the way that it can stop working at anytime as you update your game. Also some versions of proton would work, some others wouldn't. So it's not reliable that much, and few users will even deal with twicking the version and even less would actually apply patch and other joy to get the games working.
I guess the point for valve is to bring users onto the device, by having enough games working good enough, and then if the device ends up being used enough, the developers would follow and make the effort to either keep their games working for proton, or have more control on it and do a native port.
Anyway, they are doing much better on the marketing part, and on the more simple options to chose from, as well as the prices. The steamos, steam controller idea to allow to play mouse/keyboard games, and proton to increase the available library without requiring to move the whole gaming ecosystem all come together nicely and actually makes a lot of sense.
Bringing the openness of the PC to a console-like market.
CatKiller 21 Jul
I think Valve's messaging is somewhat problematic.

QuoteDo I need to port my game to Linux to have it work on Steam Deck?
No porting necessary. Your Windows build will likely work right out of the box, thanks to Proton.

Will people be able to install Windows, or other 3rd party content?
Yes. Steam Deck is a PC, and players will be able to install whatever they like, including other OSes.

Not even a hint about the benefits of multiplatform development, and nothing to suggest that staying with SteamOS would give a better experience than installing Windows on it.

However, game devs and Windows gamers are easily spooked, and to make any difference at all Valve need to get these devices into people's hands.

I'll still be applying the sliding scale. Getting more games into the 50% category is great for everyone, but it sure would be good to get more into the 100% category. There are dozens of new games released on Steam every single day, as well as every game's patches, and Valve has a couple of hundred employees. Testing and fixing has to be the responsibility of the game devs themselves.
Eike 21 Jul
Quoting: skinnyrafSo 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.

Hm. Seen from developer's side, the opposite would be true: You control your port, but not what happens with Proton.
const 21 Jul
It's not like there is some magical porting knowledge base valve could point a lazy developer to. They say games don't need to be ported, they don't say they shouldn't. But if a studio wants to create a native port, they should get past a marketing faq stating they don't need to, anyway. On the other hand, lazy devs would have found out about proton anyway and they need more reason then some marketing faq to do a native port.

In the end, it will all come down to dedication and demand. SteamDeck is a real platform with real limitations, so developers might very soon start making it a direct target to make their game appealing like they do on consoles. They won't do it until they checked their options and estimated demand, though.

Ethan Lee is a very special porter that can't be praised enough. I hope he'll find some projects to survive until hopefully demand will raise again. I can actually imagine him getting into consulting for a while, he could teach best practices to those who seriously want to get into native SteamDeck development.
Most bigger porting studios though used to use compatibility layers anyway, I really don't consider Aspyr a loss compared to what we gained with Proton. Feral pretty much gave up on Linux for ?years? now, there's hardly anyting to accelerate any more.


Last edited by const on 21 July 2021 at 1:04 pm UTC
Lachu 21 Jul
That's very deep unknown.

In one hand Valve send money to game vendors for each sold copy. Not manner, if it is Windows version or Linux, company get paid the same amount of money. I do not known, why, in this case, companies should do Linux port. They will have Proton.

But in other end. If Linux customers will ask for Linux port, they will got it. Of course, in cases, when they will be much Linux users.

Most important thing is to made developing for Linux easier than Windows. Valve should take focus on Steam Runtime (there is many Steam Runtime, such like soldier). Case Linux is Open, creating tools for developers should been simpler. I am developer, but not professional. I use only IDE, compiler, valgrind, build tools, gdb and KVM with Qemu + Libvirt.
calvin 21 Jul
I think this whole situation is getting some thoughts into gear about distributing for Linux in general, with the Proton saga as a part of it. In general, I think Valve has learned many lessons from Steam Machines in general.

Quoting: LachuMost important thing is to made developing for Linux easier than Windows. Valve should take focus on Steam Runtime (there is many Steam Runtime, such like soldier). Case Linux is Open, creating tools for developers should been simpler. I am developer, but not professional. I use only IDE, compiler, valgrind, build tools, gdb and KVM with Qemu + Libvirt.

I think this demonstrates a lot of ignorance of the Windows development environment. Speaking as someone who does POSIX-platform development professionally, the development experience on Windows is pretty nice (assuming you don't treat it like Linux). I'd much rather use Visual Studio than gdb. For gamedevs in particular, stuff like PIX was essential to debugging graphical programs. Of course, Valve realizes that tooling is essential - that's why they've invested in Renderdoc.
Mohandevir 21 Jul
Quoting: MakiI'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.

Being a ChimeraOS user, I can tell you that it's Arch, but it's not Arch at the same time. The basic user that just want to pickup de Steam Deck and play Steam games will probably never have to meddle with the system so he/she won't even notice that it's Arch that runs. All updates will be pushed through tools like frzr that will send a complete and "Valve approved" image of the system partitions.

The only part where I'm curious to know how it will be done, it's on the "Steam Deck desktop" side and all that productivity stuff... Will Valve create a SteamOS app store that integrates Proton too? Looking forward to discover how it works. They must have tought about something for those that are not tech savy.


Last edited by Mohandevir on 21 July 2021 at 1:47 pm UTC
kuhpunkt 21 Jul
I get that Ethan is frustrated, but that seems extreme. Of course he wants to keep porting, but at what cost? Without Proton there would hardly be any progress on the gaming front.
mirv 21 Jul
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Valve control the gaming, Valve control "Proton" (yes, it's open source, but Valve still realistically control how it's used), and Valve are essentially saying to make games for Windows.

Remember that Valve does not care for GNU/Linux. At all. It cares about not being under Microsoft's thumb, and GNU/Linux has been a means to that end. Can't even call it GNU/Linux soon, as Steam is proprietary and very locked down.

From a business and corporate perspective, Valve are doing their job well. I don't blame Valve for anything at all, just to be clear.

I don't see it good for GNU/Linux however. It's consolidating more gaming under the control of someone who is not the user. If a user doesn't mind that, well, fine. Their choice, nothing wrong with that. I'm personally not a fan of this direction, don't, haven't been for some time, don't view it as progress, and nothing wrong with that as my opinion either.

So why even write this? In the hope people think about what's happening with their gaming, with their systems, and ask themselves if they're truly ok with it (regardless of what the answer to that may be).
Mohandevir 21 Jul
Quoting: mirvValve control the gaming, Valve control "Proton" (yes, it's open source, but Valve still realistically control how it's used), and Valve are essentially saying to make games for Windows.

Remember that Valve does not care for GNU/Linux. At all. It cares about not being under Microsoft's thumb, and GNU/Linux has been a means to that end. Can't even call it GNU/Linux soon, as Steam is proprietary and very locked down.

From a business and corporate perspective, Valve are doing their job well. I don't blame Valve for anything at all, just to be clear.

I don't see it good for GNU/Linux however. It's consolidating more gaming under the control of someone who is not the user. If a user doesn't mind that, well, fine. Their choice, nothing wrong with that. I'm personally not a fan of this direction, don't, haven't been for some time, don't view it as progress, and nothing wrong with that as my opinion either.

So why even write this? In the hope people think about what's happening with their gaming, with their systems, and ask themselves if they're truly ok with it (regardless of what the answer to that may be).

You got really valid points that crosses my mind from time to time, but objectively... Remove Steam from the equation and return to pre 2012 gaming... Is gaming on Linux a thing? We are kind of stuck, imo. I chose the "lesser evil" even if some "would rather not chose at all".

Edit: This said, you can still choose not to use any Valve solutions and just run every games through Lutris or Wine and still benefit from Valve's investments (Codweaver/Drivers).So it did much for GNU/Linux anyway.


Last edited by Mohandevir on 21 July 2021 at 7:11 pm UTC
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