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How big is Linux gaming? Some estimates

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I keep reading comments that Linux gaming is pretty much stagnating and not worth investing in because it is still at around 1% in the Steam Hardware Survey. So I decided to try and find some numbers. Unfortunately, there isn't all that much data publicly available, if you have additional or better data, I'll be happy to add them. Also, if you find any mistakes please let me know.

In order to quantify the state of Linux gaming, I tried to find answers to the following:
How many Linux gamers are there, how much do they buy, what kind of growth do we see in Linux gamers and games?

Steam
Steam has the most data available and also the largest number of games and gamers, so I'll look at this in most detail. The Steam survey gives a good starting point for how many Linux gamers there are.

How reliable is the Steam survey?
Valve hasn't published their methodology, so it's hard to tell. I often read Linux users claim the survey is less likely to appear on Linux, because it only ever shows up when they boot into their Windows partition. I've read similar complaints unrelated to Linux. I suspect that you are more likely to get the survey if you log in on a system that hasn't been connected to Steam in a while (or never). I haven't had a survey on my Ubuntu PC in some time, but a while ago I logged in from my Fedora laptop which I don't usually use for gaming and the survey popped up. Other users here have reported the same behaviour. This might also explain the initially larger Linux shares around March 2013 when many Linux users used Steam for the first time on their Linux boxes and were thus more likely to receive the survey.
What we do know though is that the hardware survey doesn't show up in Big Picture Mode so SteamOS is currently excluded. It is hard to estimate how much of a dent that makes since there is no data on how many people run Steam Machines in BPM.

Assuming that the 1% Linux share is roughly correct, the total number of Linux gamers has grown quite significantly since 2012 simply because the total number of Steam users has grown significantly as shown in the figure below (Note: Some of the sites talk about registered accounts, but as far as I know Valve reports active accounts.).

You can find the links I used at the end of the article. Additional older data can be found here.
The first time Linux appeared in a survey was in January 2013. At the time, Steam had about 54 million users, meaning there were about 540,000 Linux gamers. The most recent number of Steam accounts I could find was for February 2015, at which point there were 125 million active accounts, thus 1.25 million Linux users. I did some fitting and extrapolation of the data, and come up with 160 - 190 million accounts as of March 2016. Take this with a huge grain of salt though, this kind of growth can't continue indefinitely. Whatever the real number, the number of Linux users on Steam has kept up with the overall growth, and should at this point be larger than 1.5 million unless Steam stopped growing at all.

Also shown in the above graph is the number of Linux compatible games on Steam. This number is growing at a comparable rate to the number of users, even slightly faster. Overall it seems Linux on Steam is in a fairly decent state; no mas migration from Windows, but a steady growth in games and gamers.

GOG
Unfortunately, GOG.com has, to my knowledge, never released any data on user or OS numbers. Looking at the GoL survey retailer statistics, about 90% of participants buy games on Steam. That means there are about 10% who only buy on GOG, Humble or other stores.

Total
Combining the above information, I would estimate the total number of Linux gamers at 1.6 - 2 million not counting SteamOS in BPM.

Probably more important for developers is how many games Linux users buy.

Humble Bundle sales
Cheese has a very nice collection of Humble Bundle sales data from May 2010 to February 2016. Looking at the combined results, Linux accounts for 4.7% of purchases and 6.9% of payments. Note that this data goes back to before Steam or GOG supported Linux, and Humble helped bring many games to Linux.

Sales data from developers
A number of developers have shared their sales data. I used the data I could find here on GOL, and combined it in one plot:

( Some notes: For Democracy 3 the revenue is plotted rather than sales; for Trine 2 the revenue was given as 4.2% while the sales are at 1.9%; the value for Awesomenauts is over 4 months; Defenders Quests gives 7% for lifetime sales from their website.)

Based on these data, the average share of Linux sales is (3.2 +/- 0.4)%. The median is 2.7%.
Plotting the same data as a histogram

shows that the maximum is between 1 and 2%. One thing to keep in mind is that for many games the Windows version has a head-start, for example Dust: An Elysian Tail was 9 months late on Linux.

Both the Humble data and the data from developers shows that on average, Linux users buy more games than the 1% that the Steam survey would suggest. This does not necessarily mean that the Steam survey is wrong though, it could simply be that since fewer games are available on Linux, Linux gamers are more likely to buy the games that are available. In addition, I suspect that Linux users are relatively more likely to buy from DRM-free stores than Windows gamers, meaning that the Linux share on GOG, Humble, and developers' websites would be higher - as shown by the Humble Bundle statistics and seems to be the case for Defenders Quest.

All in all, looking at these numbers, Linux gaming has undergone an impressive growth over the last years, it's anything but stagnating.

References

Spoiler, click me
Steam accounts
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steam_(software)
http://store.steampowered.com/news/3390/
http://store.steampowered.com/news/4502/
http://www.pcgamer.com/steam-is-doing-quite-well-100-sales-increase-40-million-registered-accounts/
http://www.pcgamesn.com/steam-has-50-million-users-5-million-playing-concurrently
http://www.engadget.com/2013/10/30/steam-surpasses-65-million-users/
http://www.engadget.com/2014/01/15/steam-has-75-million-active-users-valve-announces-at-dev-days/
http://www.gamespot.com/articles/steam-reaches-100-million-users-and-3-700-games/1100-6422489/
http://kotaku.com/there-are-over-125-million-steam-accounts-1687820875

Linux games on Steam
http://www.geek.com/games/steam-has-15-linux-compatible-games-so-far-1520713/
http://www.pcgamer.com/steam-begins-listing-linux-system-requirements-on-some-game-pages/
http://www.pcworld.com/article/2098972/steams-linux-game-count-explodes-in-one-year-big-publishers-still-absent.html
http://www.cupoflinux.com/SBB/index.php?topic=714.0
http://fullcirclemagazine.org/2014/06/09/steam-hits-the-big-500-for-linux-games/
http://www.pcworld.com/article/2824526/steam-for-linux-tops-700-games-as-big-name-games-increasingly-call-it-home.html
http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=SteamOS-Linux-Games-1K
http://news.softpedia.com/news/steam-for-linux-now-has-more-than-1300-games-487629.shtml
http://gameranx.com/updates/id/29889/article/steam-has-1-400-linux-ready-games-two-months-before-steam-machines-launch/
http://news.softpedia.com/news/1-in-4-games-on-steam-now-have-linux-support-490087.shtml
https://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=article&item=steam-1500-linux&num=1
http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=Steam-Linux-Beta-Three
https://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=Steam-Linux-1700
http://www.linuxtoday.com/high_performance/steam-on-linux-hits-1800-games-available.html
https://www.gamingonlinux.com/articles/no-linux-is-not-at-1900-games-on-steam-we-didnt-get-100-games-in-nine-days.6573
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51 comments
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Pecisk 14 March 2016 at 9:52 pm UTC
Excellent analysis with limited information we have. Vulkan *will* help a great deal, it will decrease cost of porting for devs thus unlocking SteamOS/Linux market. I don't expect world shattering increase of market share, however I expect increase in sales numbers as ports gets better. I believe XCOM2 sales numbers alone could tell us a great deal how big active Linux gamer base is.

As for recent incredible increase of Steam users - games just gets more and more accessible and that's most likely thanks to small indie games...not AAA publishers. GTA5 and Witcher 3 alone could be reason for additional users. XBO turned out to be turd and most likely lot of people switched either to Windows or PS4.
sarmad 14 March 2016 at 11:34 pm UTC
Valve need to take similar approaches in marketting to those used by console manufacturers. They should make deals with big studios to bring the famous AAA games on it and they need to market it to console gamers rather than PC gamers. If the likes of Call of Duty and Assassins Creed are released for SteamOS and they utilize Steam Controllers well then that will be good incentive to console gamers to start switching.
Mblackwell 15 March 2016 at 1:45 am UTC
Like magic the hardware survey popped up when I started up Steam in Wine to update a file.
Cheeseness 15 March 2016 at 2:33 am UTC
ricki42
EikeIf they use the data taken from (e. g.) you over all the months (not only in the month it has been asked for), there's no need to ask again. You'd just be in the data pool. They would only need to query again if, say, your hardware would have changed.

That said, it would make my test from post 2 meaningless. Maybe I can trigger the survey, but it would just change my recorded data, not add 1 to the Linux users counted.
I've been thinking that maybe that's the case. But then there'd potentially be a lot of double-counting when people switch between systems. Or they'd have to know how many systems each user has and divide by that number. But given what Cheese said above, I doubt they do that.
Your test would still be interesting, whether it changes the number or not, I'm just curious if you manage to trigger the survey.
When running Steam on Windows and Wine, I'd received multiple prompts across a year. My understanding based on all the digging around I did when trying to put together an FAQ was that you received a prompt and an option to decline if you were selected, even if you had previously participated. If they no longer do that, then I think that'd be an undocumented change to the sampling process (which isn't documented anywhere anyway, so we're all just guessing \o/ ).

The sampling bug that I'd reported years ago was about people who had previously declined not being selected to participate again, limiting the pool. When this was corrected, there was a significant shift in the ratios shown (I didn't think to archive the data, but I recall shifts in CPU, graphics card, screen resolution in the tens of percentage points).

ricki42
VoltageI think I have read that games bought on steam depend from which platforms you did it, making statistics.
Today I saw a windows game in sale so I thought that if I buy it from linux that may be a sign which be counted.
https://www.gamingonlinux.com/articles/how-steam-computes-linux-sales.4675
In addition, don't buy using mobile, apparently that always gets counted as Windows.

I can't find the original source, but I had seen developers who'd spoken about seeing Android purchases in their sales data (mentioned in this reply to that article).

I wouldn't panic too much.
Beamboom 15 March 2016 at 9:24 am UTC
PeciskAs for recent incredible increase of Steam users - games just gets more and more accessible and that's most likely thanks to small indie games...not AAA publishers.

To be honest I doubt many non-gamers all of a sudden install Steam and start gaming because of an indie game they've heard of.

PeciskGTA5 and Witcher 3 alone could be reason for additional users. XBO turned out to be turd and most likely lot of people switched either to Windows or PS4.

That's a interesting theory. Some transformation from Xbox to PC gaming may have taken place, but at the same time the huge success of the PS4 is very likely a lot of former Xbox owners who jumped platform. Numbers from Sony indicates the same, with a large share being users who's not owned a Playstation earlier.

Still, the jump is puzzling because it is so enormous - if at all true.


Last edited by Beamboom at 15 March 2016 at 9:25 am UTC
ricki42 15 March 2016 at 12:33 pm UTC
CheesenessI can't find the original source, but I had seen developers who'd spoken about seeing Android purchases in their sales data (mentioned in this reply to that article).

I wouldn't panic too much.

I seem to remember reading that mobile goes automatically to Windows, but I can't find that quote, so I may have misremembered. But according to Aspyr_Blair on Reddit mobile purchases default to Windows of they aren't played on Linux. So it's: "Don't buy on mobile unless you're sure you'll play the game on Linux during the first week."
ricki42 15 March 2016 at 12:42 pm UTC
BeamboomStill, the jump is puzzling because it is so enormous - if at all true.

I don't think it's a sudden jump, Steam has been growing exponentially for years. If you look at the link to some older data that I posted, gamasutra is noticing already in 2013 that the growth is exponential. They used numbers from 2005 to 2013. I looked at data from 2007 to 2015, and the exponential growth continues.
[img=450x300]http://i.imgur.com/jgur3Ea.png[/img]
It may have accelerated a bit since gamasutra predicted 130 million by the end of 2016, while Steam reached 125 million in early 2015. But that may also be fit uncertainty.
We don't have any data later than Feb. 2015, so it's anybody's guess whether this trend is holding. There are only so many people in the world who have PCs...
tmhorne 15 March 2016 at 12:48 pm UTC
I've only gotten the survey once and most of the data looks like it could be gotten programatically. Why even take a survey, rather than using computers to report their own data? Doesn't make much sense to me.
Cheeseness 16 March 2016 at 12:02 am UTC
ricki42
CheesenessI can't find the original source, but I had seen developers who'd spoken about seeing Android purchases in their sales data (mentioned in this reply to that article).

I wouldn't panic too much.

I seem to remember reading that mobile goes automatically to Windows, but I can't find that quote, so I may have misremembered. But according to Aspyr_Blair on Reddit mobile purchases default to Windows of they aren't played on Linux. So it's: "Don't buy on mobile unless you're sure you'll play the game on Linux during the first week."

I think there are two separate concerns being conflated here.

Steam has an automated payment calculation system so that when multiple publishers are involved in a game (which is how Aspyr's business model works - they become the publisher for the Linux ports of the games they make), the right people get paid. Because SteamPlay allows people to play across a bunch of platforms, working out who a sale "belongs to" is a bit more convoluted - this is where the first week of playtime thing that everybody is crazy fixated on comes in. For developers who're self publishing their Linux ports (which I'm pretty confident makes up the vast majority of Linux titles on Steam), this stuff is irrelevant.

The understanding I've gotten from speaking with other developers (unfortunately, I have no first hand knowledge - I don't have permission to view this stuff for any of the games I'm have Steam partner access for) is that this is done separately to the actual sales and playtime data. Whether platform specific publishers can see data that's not for their platform, I don't know.

There are a couple of different ways that developers can view data, and no guarantee that a given developer is going to care enough to look at all of them. If a developer cares more about play time than sales (which I know Valve have promoted - no idea if that's more prominent in the partner site though) and it turns out a hundred thousand Linux users have bought the game but hardly play it, then they're not going to feel supported by us - and it's not going to matter what platform they purchased it on.
Seegras 17 March 2016 at 11:12 am UTC
NyapI'm switching to debian - is there anything I should know?

Yes. Don't use the stable distro for workstations. Use "testing".
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