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Looking to test the waters with Linux gaming and don't want to lose access to your favourite Windows games? Here's a simple no-nonsense guide to actually using Steam Play.

First of all, what is Steam Play?

In simple terms, it's software that allows you to run Windows games on Linux, directly through the Steam client just like any other game. Announced by Valve (here) back in August last year, it bundles together Wine, DXVK and more under the name of Proton so there's no fussing around. Some games are flawless, some have major issues. Thousands of games are currently reported to work!

Also, when you buy a game on Steam and run it with Steam Play, the developer of that game will know it was purchased on Linux.

How can I check compatibility with my Windows games?

Take a look on ProtonDB. Enter the game you wish to see and it will give it a rating from Platinum down to Gold, Silver, Bronze and Borked.

If a game is rated Platinum from the user reports, you're good to go. If it's rated Gold, a lot of the time it will still work without issues but it may need some tweaks. Anything below Gold, is likely to require some manual effort.

To make viewing ratings a little easier, you can try the Firefox plugin "ProtonDB for Steam" which adds the rating to store pages like this one for DOOM:

There's also the Augmented Steam plugin, which supports Firefox and Chrome (a continuation of Enhanced Steam, no longer maintained) which adds a ProtonDB link to store pages and tons of other things. Doesn't show the rating though yet.

How do I enable Steam Play?

Go into your Settings by clicking Steam in the top left of the Steam client, hitting Settings and then find Steam Play at the bottom of the list as seen below:

What does each checkbox actually do?
  • The first tickbox enables Steam Play only for those titles that Valve have added to their whitelist (see the whitelist on SteamDB here). This is a list of titles picked by Valve, that should "just work" with a version of Steam Play Valve picks for you.
  • The second tickbox, enables Steam Play to be used on all of your games in your Steam library.

However, you can actually force a specific version of Proton (the name of the Steam Play tool) on any item in your Steam library. By doing this:

This is handy for two reasons:

  • If you don't tick the second box in the Steam Play settings, your Linux supported games and Windows games remain in separated lists. This allows you to pick individual games to try.
  • If a game on the whitelist runs better in a newer version of Proton, you can pick it yourself.
What else do I need?

Up to date graphics drivers are essential! If you're on Ubuntu or an Ubuntu-based distribution like Linux Mint, elementary OS and others Valve's own guide is your best bet.

Sounds good, what are the drawbacks?

For a number of online-only competitive games, anti-cheat systems often prevent the Windows game working with Steam Play. Easy Anti-Cheat and BattlEye enabled games are ones to especially avoid right now. However, both are working on Steam Play support (See Articles: Easy Anti-Cheat + BattlEye) but it may be a long time before that's sorted.

Those are just two very well-known examples, there's a lot of different systems out there. As always, check first on ProtonDB like mentioned above. However, games that use Denuvo should be fine.

Try not to use the NTFS (Windows default) file system for your Windows games, using a Linux filesystem like Ext4 will prevent some odd issues.

Additionally, you're likely to get less performance than you would on Windows. Although, there are cases where the game will perform just as well.

What do I do if I have issues?

You can ask for help in our Forum, we have a dedicated channel for it in our Discord and there's also Valve's bug tracker on GitHub.

Can Steam Play be forced onto native Linux games?

Yes! Simply follow the same method above to force it.

Why would you want to do that? The Linux version might be outdated, perform badly, broken on a brand new distribution or any number of reasons. Steam Play at least gives you a possible backup option when things like that happen.

Can Steam Play be used for games not on Steam?

Yes! On Steam, you can add non-Steam games and also force Steam Play on them using the same method as shown above.

Simply add a game installed outside as Steam (let's say a Windows game from itch.io or GOG), add it to your Steam library. In this example, I am using MiniDOOM 2:

However, this might need an extra step due to a bug in the Steam client. When you pick a non-Steam game on Linux, it might cut off the full path if there's a space in a folder or executable name so it won't launch. It's easy enough to fix, as the rest of it is usually hidden in the "Set launch options..." button so you can copy and paste it:

This method is a little twitchy, as sometimes it can remove what you set in the "Target" and "Start in" fields, if you wipe the "Set launch options..." field afterwards. So for less headaches, cut from the "Set launch options..." to wipe it before setting the other fields correctly.

Note: Of the few Windows-only games I have on GOG, none worked using this method. Lutris noted below usually works better for games outside of Steam.

What about outside of Steam?

Yes! Steam Play/Proton is open source and available on GitHub. However, to ease the process the game launcher Lutris can make it a lot friendlier. I personally use Lutris to get Wine + DXVK together to run Overwatch on Linux and it does work nicely. You can do the same with Proton, as Lutris has it available to run games with quite easily.

Just as a final note: Steam Play as a whole is still in Beta and not actually advertised anywhere on Steam. Don't expect perfection.

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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34 comments
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Brisse 12 July 2019 at 1:41 pm UTC
Eike
scaineGreat guide though. Thanks for this - the gifs tell the story better than words ever can. It's nice to have a guide on a Linux technology that doesn't need you to open a bash shell!

I always use shell commands when I want to help somebody, as it's the most reproducible way and the easiest to tell. It's great to have it visible though for cases where you know how it will look like - as in the Steam client.

While I agree that the shell is a phenomenal way to get things done, we still have to keep in mind that even the more savvy Windows user initially find it very off-putting. It's also not good practice to copy/paste random commands into a terminal before knowing what the commands actually do.
Zlopez 12 July 2019 at 1:44 pm UTC
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Nice guide, I wrote similar one for Fedora Silverblue - https://fedoramagazine.org/set-up-fedora-silverblue-gaming-station/
randomgamerguy1997 12 July 2019 at 1:47 pm UTC
If only more games I play were compatible with proton... and Mod Organizer 2... and UGX map manager... and Origin... and probably other stuff I can't list off the top of my head
Termy 12 July 2019 at 2:23 pm UTC
BeamboomAre there ever any reason to run anything but the latest version of Steam Play on any game, ever?

there have been regressions in wine, too.
So yes, it could occur that a game that used to run perfectly with an older version of wine/proton starts acting up in a newer version.
Last time i had this issue was with Star Citizen, that wouldn't install/update with wine > 3.19 (iirc) but ran fine (even better) with newer versions once it was installed ^^
dpanter 12 July 2019 at 4:08 pm UTC
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Here's another tip.
If you don't check "Enable Steam Play for all other titles" then you can't play F2P Windows-only games.
They will be noted as added to your library but will never actually show up in the library. They only show up if you check this option. You can then install it, uncheck the option and the game will stay visible in the library.

Also, changing this option also means you have to restart the client, every time. Ugh.
Purple Library Guy 12 July 2019 at 4:28 pm UTC
Brisse
Eike
scaineGreat guide though. Thanks for this - the gifs tell the story better than words ever can. It's nice to have a guide on a Linux technology that doesn't need you to open a bash shell!

I always use shell commands when I want to help somebody, as it's the most reproducible way and the easiest to tell. It's great to have it visible though for cases where you know how it will look like - as in the Steam client.

While I agree that the shell is a phenomenal way to get things done, we still have to keep in mind that even the more savvy Windows user initially find it very off-putting. It's also not good practice to copy/paste random commands into a terminal before knowing what the commands actually do.
Define "good practice". There is a risk in doing so, yes, but it's usually OK. And if you're looking at relative costs, those costs mainly come down to costs of time. It would take me far less time to restore my system from scratch after something I copy/pasted borked it up, than to learn what all the stuff means. And I'd only have to restore my system from scratch if the thing I copy/pasted actually borked up my system, which it generally doesn't, whereas I'd have to learn what all the stuff means every time I copy/pasted something (as long as it was about a different sort of problem each time, which is likely).
So blind copy/pasting of stuff from reasonably reputable forums is almost certainly less costly on average than learning what the stuff means first every time.
Spirimint 12 July 2019 at 4:56 pm UTC
QuoteCan Steam Play be used for games not on Steam?

Yes! On Steam, you can add non-Steam games and also force Steam Play on them using the same method as shown above.

Simply add a game installed outside as Steam (let's say a Windows game from GOG), add it to your Steam library:

However, this might need an extra step due to a bug in the Steam client. When you pick a non-Steam game on Linux, it often cuts off the full path to it so it won't launch. It's easy enough to fix, but you do need to know where it was installed, this follows directly after the step above was done:


This Step never worked for me.
Hori 12 July 2019 at 9:25 pm UTC
Damn! It's so unfortunate the Chrome version of that extension got taken down.

Thank you Google! Good job, well done... ugh.
fagnerln 12 July 2019 at 11:00 pm UTC
This is a REALLY nice article, congratulations!

The only point that I don't agree is about the rating in Protondb, a lot of Platinum ratings have a lot of workarounds, so I don't think that if X game has platinum rating is good to go. I suggest to study about every game that you want to play, if someone can run, so try it by yourself
Phlebiac 13 July 2019 at 12:16 am UTC
There's also a nice GreaseMonkey script, which adds the ProtonDB ratings on the Steam game pages:
https://openuserjs.org/scripts/DanMan/Steam_Play_Community_Rating_Notice
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