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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 a feature that allows you to run compatibility layers in the Linux version of the Steam client announced by Valve (here) back in August 2018. Proton is one such compatibility layer, allowing Windows games to be played on Linux. Proton bundles together other projects like Wine, DXVK and more under one roof so there's no fussing around. So we're clear: Steam Play is the feature, Proton is the software you run.

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. You can also follow our Steam Play tag for major developments and be sure to check out our dedicated Steam Play section.

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There's also the Augmented Steam plugin, which supports Firefox and Chrome (a continuation of Enhanced Steam, no longer maintained) which adds a ProtonDB link to store pages and tons of other things.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! Proton (the software) 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.
Tags: Steam Play, HOWTO
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Liam Dawe 13 July 2019 at 1:38 pm UTC
I've adjusted the Proton non-Steam adding section, to use a fully working example to make it clearer
drmoth 14 July 2019 at 9:05 am UTC
We need a very simple guide to fix games that don't work for people who don't know Wine very well...e.g. using Prontontricks and steamplayprefix
scaine 14 July 2019 at 10:40 am UTC
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QuoteWhen you pick a non-Steam game on Linux, it often cuts off the full path to it so it won't launch.

Often isn't technically correct. It only cuts off if there is a space in the path or the .exe name.
Steam will place the cut off section into the "Set Launch Options" You can copy and paste that bit back into your "Target"

Isn't that essentially covered by the word "often"?? Often, as in most times, but not always??

If you don't have a space in your folder or .exe names then it would be never.
I would say "often" only fits if the reason it happens is uncertain and it happens 25% or more

It's nothing to do with certainty (when I cut a deck of cards, I often get a heart, for example). I have no idea why your claim that "often isn't technically correct" wound me up so much to be honest...
Eike 14 July 2019 at 11:58 am UTC
Often is extremely unprecise when you could be extremely precise. It's like drawing a heart... from an open deck.
AussieEevee 5 October 2019 at 11:12 am UTC
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 have honestly never understood why the bash shell is such a huge problem for people. I mean, a lot of stuff is easier, faster and more precise to do via a shell command than in the GUI. Especially when people have different desktop environments.

For example, installing programs. I only use synaptic when I don't actually know the package name... or I want to install a large list of programs.

sudo apt-get install firefox

is much faster and easier than going through the GUI. (Using Firefox as an example)

That said, I think that articles and posts that give people commands to run could do a better job of explaining those commands.
Comandante Ñoñardo 6 October 2019 at 3:35 pm UTC
AussieEevee
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 have honestly never understood why the bash shell is such a huge problem for people. I mean, a lot of stuff is easier, faster and more precise to do via a shell command than in the GUI. Especially when people have different desktop environments.

For example, installing programs. I only use synaptic when I don't actually know the package name... or I want to install a large list of programs.

sudo apt-get install firefox

is much faster and easier than going through the GUI. (Using Firefox as an example)

That said, I think that articles and posts that give people commands to run could do a better job of explaining those commands.

The shell IS a problem for regular Windows users testing the Linux waters...
Steamplay is supposed to be a click'n play experience.

And if You are 40+ years old like me, the bash shell will remind you so much MS-DOS...
I used console commands 24 years ago...No, Thanks!

Is the developer's duty to make a proper click'n play Linux experience for the users... (especially, the Windows users, if the migration is the target)

Remember that all these Linux experiments by Valve are part of a plan B in case of Microsoft closing the garden with a pay wall.
Liam Dawe 6 October 2019 at 4:04 pm UTC
AussieEevee
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 have honestly never understood why the bash shell is such a huge problem for people. I mean, a lot of stuff is easier, faster and more precise to do via a shell command than in the GUI. Especially when people have different desktop environments.

For example, installing programs. I only use synaptic when I don't actually know the package name... or I want to install a large list of programs.

sudo apt-get install firefox

is much faster and easier than going through the GUI. (Using Firefox as an example)

That said, I think that articles and posts that give people commands to run could do a better job of explaining those commands.
Well, everyone works differently. Some people are heavily visual learners, command line tutorials do not help them in any way.

It's also the perceived difficulty. A quick few buttons to press, compared with typing out or copy/pasting commands (which if done incorrectly, can at times break an entire install) is going to be much more inviting to Windows dual booters and converts.

There's many guides out there for the command line for people to go and find if they want them, I aim to make things simpler for the average and below average users.
Purple Library Guy 6 October 2019 at 9:41 pm UTC
Liam Dawe
AussieEevee
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 have honestly never understood why the bash shell is such a huge problem for people. I mean, a lot of stuff is easier, faster and more precise to do via a shell command than in the GUI. Especially when people have different desktop environments.

For example, installing programs. I only use synaptic when I don't actually know the package name... or I want to install a large list of programs.

sudo apt-get install firefox

is much faster and easier than going through the GUI. (Using Firefox as an example)

That said, I think that articles and posts that give people commands to run could do a better job of explaining those commands.
Well, everyone works differently. Some people are heavily visual learners, command line tutorials do not help them in any way.

It's also the perceived difficulty. A quick few buttons to press, compared with typing out or copy/pasting commands (which if done incorrectly, can at times break an entire install) is going to be much more inviting to Windows dual booters and converts.

There's many guides out there for the command line for people to go and find if they want them, I aim to make things simpler for the average and below average users.
I'm somewhere in between. I understand why people are intimidated by the command line thing. It looks intimidating and it's, how to put it, obvious that you don't understand what it's doing. I mean let's face it, when you click a button on a GUI you don't understand what that does either, but it has a simple word or image on it that gives you the impression that you understand. So you don't feel intimidated.
But when it comes to troubleshooting, copy-pasting some instruction into the command line is in actual fact often easier to do, significantly less dependent on specifics of version and distro and such, and will work for a much broader range of problems. After all, often something goes wrong and there isn't actually a thing to click on a GUI, however deeply nested into the depths of settings you go. In Windows there will be a tendency to give up at that point; on Linux there will be somebody somewhere who can figure out what you need to copy and paste into a command line.
So while I understand why people are intimidated by the command line, and I'm pleased that there are more GUI things to use for many things on Linux than there used to be, I still think it's good for people to get over the idea that the command line is to be avoided at all costs.
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