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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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88 comments
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mirv 3 days ago
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Quoting: toor
Quoting: KuJoCheck out the releases from Feral Interactive. The number of ports has been drastically reduced. This is certainly also due to Proton ... because if it runs well with Proton, then you don't need a port to play a game on Linux anymore.

You assume a correlation between Feral's release reduction and the raise of Proton.
But you don't consider the fact that Feral may have been asked/pushed by Valve to make some ports. If valve is the reason they ported to Linux, and taking into account the fact that we see Valve putting efforts to make games work with wine, it could also be that it's Valve strategy that is at play, not the existence of Proton being a reason "not to port anymore because it works with Proton"

Valve isn't responsible for everything.
toor 8 years 3 days ago
Quoting: mirv
Quoting: toor
Quoting: KuJoCheck out the releases from Feral Interactive. The number of ports has been drastically reduced. This is certainly also due to Proton ... because if it runs well with Proton, then you don't need a port to play a game on Linux anymore.

You assume a correlation between Feral's release reduction and the raise of Proton.
But you don't consider the fact that Feral may have been asked/pushed by Valve to make some ports. If valve is the reason they ported to Linux, and taking into account the fact that we see Valve putting efforts to make games work with wine, it could also be that it's Valve strategy that is at play, not the existence of Proton being a reason "not to port anymore because it works with Proton"

Valve isn't responsible for everything.

Sure not. But I remember the time when they weren't supporting Linux at all and we had only quake-based video games and tux kart.
The arrival of steam seems to be very correlated with the huge increase of Linux targeted games. Although it started already a bit with humble indie bundles.


Last edited by toor on 22 July 2021 at 1:27 pm UTC
mirv 3 days ago
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Quoting: toor
Quoting: mirv
Quoting: toor
Quoting: KuJoCheck out the releases from Feral Interactive. The number of ports has been drastically reduced. This is certainly also due to Proton ... because if it runs well with Proton, then you don't need a port to play a game on Linux anymore.

You assume a correlation between Feral's release reduction and the raise of Proton.
But you don't consider the fact that Feral may have been asked/pushed by Valve to make some ports. If valve is the reason they ported to Linux, and taking into account the fact that we see Valve putting efforts to make games work with wine, it could also be that it's Valve strategy that is at play, not the existence of Proton being a reason "not to port anymore because it works with Proton"

Valve isn't responsible for everything.

Sure not. But I remember the time when they weren't supporting Linux at all and we had only quake-based video games and tux kart.
The arrival of steam seems to be very correlated with the huge increase of Linux targeted games. Although it started already a bit with humble indie bundles.

Feral make deals with publishers for their games. Valve has no say in that at all.

Also, don't forget that Unity3D was supporting GNU/Linux desktop well before Steam appeared.
CatKiller 3 days ago
Quoting: toorYou assume a correlation between Feral's release reduction and the raise of Proton.
But you don't consider the fact that Feral may have been asked/pushed by Valve to make some ports. If valve is the reason they ported to Linux, and taking into account the fact that we see Valve putting efforts to make games work with wine, it could also be that it's Valve strategy that is at play, not the existence of Proton being a reason "not to port anymore because it works with Proton"
No collusion needed. The perceived potential of Steam Machines created a desire from game developers with no Linux experience to get their games onto Linux, which Feral were happy to fulfil. When that potential failed to materialise, the demand for ports to Linux dried up.

Certainly the success of Proton limits the market for paying someone else to make your Windows game run on Linux when you can't be bothered to do so yourself, but the ports were tailing off before Proton was released.
jens 3 days ago
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Quoting: toor
Quoting: KuJoCheck out the releases from Feral Interactive. The number of ports has been drastically reduced. This is certainly also due to Proton ... because if it runs well with Proton, then you don't need a port to play a game on Linux anymore.

You assume a correlation between Feral's release reduction and the raise of Proton.
But you don't consider the fact that Feral may have been asked/pushed by Valve to make some ports. If valve is the reason they ported to Linux, and taking into account the fact that we see Valve putting efforts to make games work with wine, it could also be that it's Valve strategy that is at play, not the existence of Proton being a reason "not to port anymore because it works with Proton"

See https://www.gamingonlinux.com/2021/07/ryan-gordon-and-ethan-lee-on-proton-and-the-steam-deck/comment_id=206976
Marc worked for Feral, this post gives some insights about the difficulties they had.
Mohandevir 3 days ago
Quoting: CatKiller
Quoting: toorYou assume a correlation between Feral's release reduction and the raise of Proton.
But you don't consider the fact that Feral may have been asked/pushed by Valve to make some ports. If valve is the reason they ported to Linux, and taking into account the fact that we see Valve putting efforts to make games work with wine, it could also be that it's Valve strategy that is at play, not the existence of Proton being a reason "not to port anymore because it works with Proton"
No collusion needed. The perceived potential of Steam Machines created a desire from game developers with no Linux experience to get their games onto Linux, which Feral were happy to fulfil. When that potential failed to materialise, the demand for ports to Linux dried up.

Certainly the success of Proton limits the market for paying someone else to make your Windows game run on Linux when you can't be bothered to do so yourself, but the ports were tailing off before Proton was released.

End of 2016. It was already visible that ports of AAA titles were getting fewer and far between. No new IPs, just the continuation of the already started series and many of them are done or porting just stopped (F1 Series). Maybe we will see futur ports of Dirt, Life is Strange or Total War games... Maybe (if the tech is not too alien for Feral's used solutions for previous titles). But it didn't happen because of Proton.


Last edited by Mohandevir on 22 July 2021 at 2:45 pm UTC
furaxhornyx 3 days ago
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Quoting: Purple Library GuyAfter musing a bit longer, I think Ethan Lee has a point, but it's a limited one. That is, I think he may be right that it's going to be hard to get work porting games to Linux, which is hard on him and I'm sorry for it, and yet I think going forward a successful Steam Deck will still lead to more native Linux games.
Let me lay out a couple of distinctions. So, up to now, most games have run on Proton as it were by co-incidence. The makers of those games have no interest in Linux, may have barely heard of Linux, and the fact that the games run is all down to the hard work and talents of the Wine and Proton and DXVK developers. There seem to be a few exceptions to this, we've lately seen game developers say things about trying to ensure their game runs well on Proton, but it seems fairly rare. So, we have a big population of games and developers that don't give a hoot about Linux, and many of the games run on Proton despite this.

So then there are the somewhat smaller group of developers who do care about Linux somewhat. What impact has Proton had, up to now, on that smaller group? Well, it doesn't seem to have really stopped people from developing games in cross-platform ways that include Linux, as far as I can tell. There's still a strong stream of new games supporting Linux from the beginning. Maybe it's tailed off a bit since the heady days when people thought the Steam Machines might be a thing, but that's been a long gradual thing and I haven't noticed it getting worse since Proton. One might have expected that to happen, but I don't think it did.

But it does seem like the existence of Proton has already reduced the viability of the porting business as such; note the way Feral has basically moved on from doing that and nobody has really replaced them. Why spend all that money and effort porting an existing game when it probably works fine on Proton already, or can be made to do so pretty easily?

If the Steam Deck succeeds, it seems like it will greatly increase the number of developers giving Linux a thought at all. Steam's increased emphasis on Proton, both in terms of telling developers about it and improving the technology itself, does make it even less likely that developers thinking about Linux will bother porting existing games. And even though there will be a lot more of them, Ethan Lee might be quite right that the chance they'll bother doing a port will drop so low that there will still be a lot fewer ports happening. Anyone who just started thinking about Linux because of the Steam Deck will, when looking at their back catalogue, surely conclude that as long as the games run on Proton that should be fine--any improvement wouldn't be worth the cost and effort of making a port. Ryan Gordon may indeed be disappointed if he tries to persuade more people to port their existing games.

But new games, and the decision to target Linux or not from the beginning, is a different question. Going forward, there will be two factors--on one hand, Linux has far more visibility and users than before; on the other, that target can at least somewhat be satisfied by paying attention to having it work in Proton. Which factor will dominate? Based on what we've seen to date, with that side being less impacted by Proton, I think it's likely the first factor will dominate and overall, while some developers may not build for Linux because Proton is good enough, the gain from it being a bigger platform will be greater.

So if I had to make a guess I'd expect, if the Steam Deck is a big success, in the end we'll see fewer ports but more games built Linux native from the start. Which suggests that Mr. Lee and Mr. Gordon's best bet might be to shift to consulting on how to properly do cross-platform Linux friendly development on new games, rather than porting old ones. Although I'd certainly be happy enough to see Valve hire Ethan Lee, as he suggests, to work on infrastructure.

I wanted also to point out that, while Valve is pushing for Proton, all sales that we be made from (unmodified) Steam Deck will count as Linux sales, which could help when deciding wether or not doing a native port/version.
const 3 days ago
Quoting: KuJoCheck out the releases from Feral Interactive. The number of ports has been drastically reduced. This is certainly also due to Proton ... because if it runs well with Proton, then you don't need a port to play a game on Linux anymore.

The number of ports and releases per year had already dramatically declined well before proton got released. Our community was very very worried where the trend led.


Last edited by const on 22 July 2021 at 4:30 pm UTC
denyasis 3 days ago
Question...

I've been trying to follow the discussion and would like your opinions.
Are people here upset that proton is possibly reducing the number of native ports or are you more update that proton/wine is possibly creating a platform independent target for devs to aim at where the standard is Windows?

I'm no Dev or anything, so I know I'm over simplifying a bit. I was thinking of it being similar to Python or other languages where you target the language and an interpretor does the magic work for each specific OS. If you're developing in Godot or unity or any other multiplatform engine, isn't that kinda similar? There's some frame work that you rely on to do some of that heavy lifting at some point, right?

Only with wine/proton, that Target/standard is Windows.

I can kinda see Mr. Lee's point. Porting as an obstacle to be removed in the eyes valve and others.
mirv 3 days ago
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Quoting: denyasisQuestion...

I've been trying to follow the discussion and would like your opinions.
Are people here upset that proton is possibly reducing the number of native ports or are you more update that proton/wine is possibly creating a platform independent target for devs to aim at where the standard is Windows?

I'm no Dev or anything, so I know I'm over simplifying a bit. I was thinking of it being similar to Python or other languages where you target the language and an interpretor does the magic work for each specific OS. If you're developing in Godot or unity or any other multiplatform engine, isn't that kinda similar? There's some frame work that you rely on to do some of that heavy lifting at some point, right?

Only with wine/proton, that Target/standard is Windows.

I can kinda see Mr. Lee's point. Porting as an obstacle to be removed in the eyes valve and others.

Windows isn't standard itself, and isn't platform independent by definition. Aiming for that is, also by definition, always catching up to what Microsoft dictate. Taken to the extreme: if Microsoft dicatate the use of DX12, then that's effectively forcing Vulkan to implement DX12, and Microsoft control what graphics developments take place.

None of that is a healthy thing.
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