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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.

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Lofty 21 Jul
Quoting: dubigrasuwe have a saying: befriend the devil until you cross the bridge.

we also have a saying: the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
tonyrh 10 years 21 Jul
It's pretty much game over for any hope of developers adopting multi-platform tools and practices now. How ironic that the instrument developed to reach parity with windows gaming and make linux a true alternative to windows in that regard will instead solidify windows' position as the only true gaming platform on personal computers in the coming years.

Last edited by tonyrh on 21 July 2021 at 5:52 pm UTC
slaapliedje 21 Jul
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Quoting: mirv
Quoting: Lachu
Quoting: mirvI don't see it good for GNU/Linux however. It's consolidating more gaming under the control of someone who is not the user.

But what else than Valve/Steam? Valve controlling large spectrum on gaming comercial-linux-market. I think open source are not so great than closed source/commercial. I do not tell open source software is bad. It is great. I use only open source software (excluding firmware, DRM for video watching, BIO, etc.), but no games. I am happy with that. If open source games give any alternative, I will use open source games.

I can paid for open source software. I was give donation to KDE team recently. Of course, I give a lot more for closed source software/games, but as regular user, I think open source software should give this benefit (cheaper), because it is a democracy/free market and in this case money are better used (I paid for what I want - for example - I do not like option A, I do not paid for it and it never will be added to some open source software, etc. ). Maybe that means, open source software developers get smaller amount of money, but I am not 100% sure. Firstly, there is no piracy and people will paid as much as they can. Secondly OS developers can collaborate with other projects and charity people (sorry, English is not my native) easier, so there is not the same cost of creating software.

In summarize, I can paid for Open Source software, but if Open Source games are worth it? Of course - freedom is very important and If we paid corporation, it will lobby to take of more of our laws, etc. But gaming is like watching movies - it is like communing with culture. If I do not commune with culture, I will be really freedom?

That's a really valid point. My own take on it is that I'd like to be as extreme as RMS, but in all practical scenarios it's not feasible from a cultural participation perspective (in this case, games). So I instead try for open source on the OS, open source to choose something to run; running a game is my choice, but what is needed to run the game should be open source.
The thing with trying to be as extreme as RMS, is there really isn't any hardware open enough to meet that standard. Would be an awesome, yet different world if there were!
slaapliedje 21 Jul
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Quoting: Lofty
Quoting: dubigrasuwe have a saying: befriend the devil until you cross the bridge.

we also have a saying: the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
And the road to diabetes is paved with good chocolates... hmmm, chocolate...
CatKiller 21 Jul
Quoting: kuhpunkt
Quoting: STiATBrowser support, .NET support, sound, cutscenes, etc. are still lacking in areas, as is anti cheat, and while we heared about anti cheat, we didn't hear about any of the others.

They addressed it in one of their FAQs and said that devs should use Vulkan in general, avoid .NET stuff and Media Foundation.

It was this one.
const 21 Jul
Quoting: CatKiller
Quoting: kuhpunkt
Quoting: STiATBrowser support, .NET support, sound, cutscenes, etc. are still lacking in areas, as is anti cheat, and while we heared about anti cheat, we didn't hear about any of the others.

They addressed it in one of their FAQs and said that devs should use Vulkan in general, avoid .NET stuff and Media Foundation.

It was this one.

Which are quite good advises that will in most cases make the games run at very very good quality and speed. Chances are a developer exchanging .net and media-foundation stuff or implementing a vulkan renderer or doing whatever needed to get their game work well in proton will do that directly in their normal sources, so further support should be more or less a given. That indeed makes a big difference to the poor porting nightmare we regularly saw in the past. (Again, taking out Ethan and Ryan. They somehow managed to support the games they ported over time, while other porters didn't).

The final goal isn't every game getting ported to Linux, it's every new game project taking linux into consideration and using the tools that let them support us. Wine/Proton aren't without alternatives and weaknesses, yet they are a part of our (open source) ecosystem, without any doubt.

Last edited by const on 21 July 2021 at 6:44 pm UTC
CatKiller 21 Jul
Quoting: constThe final goal isn't every game getting ported to Linux, it's every new game project taking linux into consideration and using the tools that let them support us.
What I'd like to see is developers not thinking in terms of "ports" at all, but to have Linux builds as part of their standard development and testing routine for their PC release. They'll squash more bugs before release that way, just from having more lenses to examine their code with. They'll have saved time and money even without a single sale. Then they only need to make a depot of their existing, working, tested, Linux build the same as their Windows build.
BielFPs 21 Jul
I knew this topic would appear here when I saw on Reddit

First I understand Ethan's point, he's probably feeling "betrayed" because Valve's decision affects directly his revenue, but I think stop programming for good it's a little over reacting in this case (unless of course he was already thinking about that before and wants to do something else)

But I think Valve has a point in this case, they can't afford another failing like Steam Machines, which was a scenario where they depended entirely on third part developers porting to linux, and in the end we all saw what happened. Failing again and Valve may considerably reduce its investment on Linux gaming, and we don't have any other company to back it up in this case.

The best plausible scenario I can think is: People start to play using proton and developers can give some "support" to make sure it's working, then average users start to take more interest on "this linux thing" since they can play their games as they do on other platforms. After some time, some developers (now backed by some real mainstream base of linux players) start to think "hey, my game could perform better if I don't use this wine thing" and take interest in making native ports, after all, they'll have a public to justify it and the competitors may be already thinking on this too.

May this hypothetical scenario partially come true, and Top developers like Ethan may start to receive some requests from big companies too.
BielFPs 21 Jul
And for those saying Valve doesn't care about Linux: You're right.

I never saw Gabe Newell or any official announcement from Valve saying they are aiming on increase Linux adoption like some people seems to pretend that the case, after all most of their revenue come from windows players, Linux for them is only so they can have more independence and to make sure Microsoft won't interfere in Valve's business. And this is perfectly ok!

Valve has no obligation to us Linux users, we just have a seller/consumer relation like anyone else (they're not the "saviors" of Linux desktop) but fortunately their business models generates some benefits for us despite not being their main goal.

At lets be honest, a lot of us don't care about something like steam deck either. In my case for example I can't buy one even if I want, so my interest in this project it's the possible benefits of this project helping games to run better on my pc/notebook with [INSERT PREFERRED DISTRO], and I suspect this is the case with more people than they'll admit .

And this is perfectly ok too!
It strikes me that Lee's reaction is kind of forgetting that all the existing Linux desktops, that up to now have been the only reason for releasing native Linux games, will still be there after the Steam Deck releases. Even if people targeting the Steam Deck ignore native releases, that doesn't actually shrink the incentive to release native. So I think he might be overreacting.
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