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With the dust settling on the absolute bomb that Valve dropped with the new Steam Play feature, I’ve had a little time now to think about the broader implications. It’s obviously a lot to process and these are just my own personal thoughts.

In the short time Proton has been live, the Linux gaming community has come together in a way that I've not seen in all the years I've been doing this. Looking at the GitHub page for Proton, there's already masses of people submitting issues, mentioning games that work perfectly to add to Valve's whitelist of games, people submitting code to help the project along and so on. There's also a massive document on Google Docs, with people submitting their findings on how games run. Seems like it's off to a rather good start!

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One of the major worries I had initially, which I’ve seen others share, is that this could mean the end of native Linux ports. However, I have a different take on it.

When it comes to the long-term viability of Linux gaming, getting 2 or 3 AAA games natively ported a year is simply not sustainable. While I am absolutely appreciative of the effort and a big fan of the porting studios, we needed something else to complement native ports to help push us forward.

To be clear on something, I’m absolutely all for the famous “No Tux, No Bucks” slogan people like to throw around. It’s a brilliant thing that there’s a lot of enthusiastic people out there sticking to their guns, buying only games that support Linux. A small reality check though: for the vast majority of developers you’re basically pissing into the wind due to our market share. Developers aren’t likely to see enough sales to think it’s truly worth the effort.

Thinking that this will completely kill off ports from Aspyr Media, Feral Interactive and other porters is probably thinking too short-term. In my mind, this could actually help them quite a lot when thinking about the bigger picture.

With this Steam Play move, this could be a massive push for more people to actually play their games on Linux, get more people actually install Linux and so on. This could, at least in theory, give native porting houses a much bigger market to sink their teeth into. After all, the biggest problem we face is market share, what happens if this starts to move it upwards? Like with SteamOS though, let’s keep expectations in check—I don’t expect this to instantly move mountains. However, this seems like a long-term plan that’s thinking ahead and if it does result in more people using Linux for gaming, that will benefit the entire platform—not just gamers.

Think about it: what’s the single biggest issue people have when it comes to sticking with Linux for their gaming requirements? The actual games, duh. If this bridges a gap for all the people that claim “if x game worked on Linux, I would be on Linux” this probably will become a game changer. Especially important, is the fact that this doesn’t require time and effort to configure, like any other Steam game (for the whitelisted games at least) it will be click and play. The value of that, should not be underestimated. To give an example of that, see the below video:

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It’s especially important for all those games people have on Steam that they would otherwise lose access to when moving to Linux. People shouldn’t have to lose their favourite games! Even if it’s only used as a bridge while people move towards purchasing native titles, it’s still an extremely useful feature.

Valve told us directly, that purchases of Windows games played with Proton on Linux will count as a Linux sale. If you missed the update to the previous article, they said this:

Hey Liam, the normal algorithm is in effect, so if at the end of the two weeks you have more playtime on Linux, it'll be a Linux sale. Proton counts as Linux.

So, with any luck, all the people who were already buying Windows games for Wine (and any users coming over to Linux from Windows) will start doing so from within Steam directly. Now if you pick it up to play in Steam Play and a native Linux port comes later (for those times when a release is delayed) you’ve still been counted for Linux gaming—which is truly awesome!

This may help give Linux gaming a more positive outlook in the eyes of developers looking at their sales statistics. That’s quite a big point to reflect on. This might give developers who otherwise ignored Linux some incentive and a push to actually support the platform. If they suddenly start seeing a ton of people buying on Linux, it might start some interesting conversations about actually supporting it officially. Those types of conversations end up creating waves through the entire industry, I've already seen a lot of developers quite excited and hopeful about it all, so it's already making a positive impact on some.

There’s other points to think about too. Linux GPU Drivers and the Vulkan API will be given a much larger testing pool. I imagine this benefiting them greatly. Valve said it themselves in their announcement, that they recommend that developers target Vulkan (as well as telling developers to avoid invasive third-party DRM middleware), so this could be a good way to push Vulkan which is better for all of us since it’s an open API.

However, Valve’s Proton can only do so much for performance and getting a game to work in the first place. What about bugs in the game itself they literally cannot code around to get it working on Linux? What about the masses of online-only games, that have various forms of anti-cheat that Proton/Wine simply cannot handle?

There’s a large number of games that only half work or simply don’t work at all. What about when your favourite game gets an update, which breaks it with Proton? There’s likely many cases that I’m probably not even thinking of, where Valve’s solution simply wouldn’t work or would give a subpar experience.

This is where native ports will still be king. You know what you’re buying will work on Linux and it will give you official support from the developer. When it gets updated, you know it’s still going to work because that’s literally their job to ensure it does. That’s likely the major reason why native ports won’t, or rather shouldn’t, dry up. Valve have to attempt to support a massive, ever-increasing library of Windows-only games and so their resources are going to be spread pretty thin on this. Not to mention that there’s always a chance that Valve could decide to pull back on support in a year or two if they decide it’s not working well enough.

Compare that with a developer putting out a Linux version; obviously they have a much smaller (and likely easier) bit of code to focus on. I would still expect the experience to be superior with a native port, since it’s tweaked specifically for Linux and it’s likely gone through some proper QA. When it comes to games that do require anti-cheat that doesn't (and might never) work with Proton, this could end up being a rather lucrative selection of games for game porters.

Like what happens when any new tech comes out, porting companies will need to adapt to survive. I hope they do, I want them to. The more options we have, the better it is for everyone.

I mentioned drivers briefly earlier. Well, how many times do you think driver issues have held up a Linux port? From what I know, quite often. If we do indeed get better drivers as a result of this, it might also create fewer issues for developers when it comes to doing native ports. We know that some driver developers have been specifically fixing issues with games in Wine, so it sounds like it's been someting ongoing for some time now.

I did speak to Feral Interactive, who told me “Our plans for our future Linux projects haven't changed.”. So we should be able to look forward to continued native Linux ports, including their currently announced Linux ports for Life is Strange: Before the Storm and Total War: WARHAMMER II. I also reached out to Aspyr Media, who declined to give a public comment for us at this time and Virtual Programming did not reply at all.

It remains to be seen what truly happens, but this is probably one of the biggest things to ever happen to Linux gaming. It’s a very interesting time to be both a Linux gamer as well as someone who writes about Linux gaming news.

At the very least, it’s put Linux gaming back on the map for a lot of people. I’ve lost count many times over at the amount of people sending us messages across our various social networks, telling us how excited they are about the possibilities of this.

These are just my own thoughts, I invite any game developer, game engine developer or game porter to write their own post to talk about it. Our submissions are always open and I appreciate having different viewpoints.

Also, as a final note, I find it somewhat amusing that John Carmack said this back in 2013:

Improving Wine for Linux gaming seems like a better plan than lobbying individual game developers for native ports. Why the hate?

To pinch a popular meme—it’s as if Valve said “hold my beer”.

75 Likes, Who?
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132 comments
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thykr 26 August 2018 at 11:31 pm UTC
Quotethis could be a massive push for more people to actually play their games on Linux, get more people actually install Linux and so on
Quote“if x game worked on Linux, I would be on Linux”

I really doubt this.
Those few adventurous Windows "gamers" who might have been seduced by the idea of using GNU/Linux instead of Windows, will very quickly realize that their games run like crap in Wine / Proton. They will quickly move back to Windows with their tail between their legs and probably never think about using GNU ever again.

QuoteThere’s a large number of games that only half work or simply don’t work at all. What about when your favourite game gets an update, which breaks it with Proton?
Exactly.
This is also shifting a lot of work onto the Valve's Linux team, which as far as I know is relatively small.


Last edited by thykr at 26 August 2018 at 11:47 pm UTC. Edited 2 times.
Shmerl 26 August 2018 at 11:33 pm UTC
thykrThose few adventurous Windows "gamers" who might have been seduced by the idea of using GNU/Linux instead of Windows, will very quickly realize that their games run like crap in Wine / Proton

Many run just fine. Wine / Proton will help those who were already displeased with MS junk, but hesitated switching because of their Windows only games. If they can run games with acceptable performance, it would be enough for them to ditch Windows. The key here is acceptable, it doesn't even need to be the same as on Windows. And let's be clear, many games run in Wine (+dxvk / esync and etc. when needed) with acceptable performance.

The end result is quite obvious - more people will switch to Linux. Also don't forget about those who were dualbooting and will stop now. It's also a positive shift.


Last edited by Shmerl at 26 August 2018 at 11:35 pm UTC. Edited 3 times.
Salvatos 27 August 2018 at 2:49 am UTC
thykr
Quotethis could be a massive push for more people to actually play their games on Linux, get more people actually install Linux and so on
Quote“if x game worked on Linux, I would be on Linux”

I really doubt this.
Those few adventurous Windows "gamers" who might have been seduced by the idea of using GNU/Linux instead of Windows, will very quickly realize that their games run like crap in Wine / Proton. They will quickly move back to Windows with their tail between their legs and probably never think about using GNU ever again.
By that logic, why are you here? Why am I here? Why didn't we all go back to Windows?
dubigrasu 27 August 2018 at 5:23 pm UTC
dubigrasuNaive question, what's with the name Proton? Must be some reason behind this name. Just curious.

https://github.com/ValveSoftware/Proton/issues/642#issuecomment-416262220

QuoteWe've been working on this for a long time. We needed an internal codename we could use that wouldn't tip our hand if it leaked (so Wine puns are out), and that we wouldn't be embarrassed to continue using after release (sorry, BadgerBadgerBadger). A bunch of ideas were tossed around the CodeWeavers office one afternoon, and I ended up picking Proton because it's short, easy to remember, sounds cool, and is hard to Google for.
Sir_Diealot 10 September 2018 at 7:40 am UTC
Shmerl
Sir_DiealotI'm less optimistic.
It's a win for Steam for sure. If you are buying at other platforms this has zero benefit.

Not really, since projects they use are open source and either will be upstreamed in Wine itself, or can be used as add-ons like dxvk. So you can use them with GOG games as well.

I'm not a Steam user, but I've been using dxvk for a while already, and it's clearly a big breakthrough.

Are you using Proton though? My guess is no. It's probably not that easy to actually use it outside of steam.
Shmerl 13 September 2018 at 3:48 am UTC
Sir_DiealotAre you using Proton though? My guess is no. It's probably not that easy to actually use it outside of steam.

Proton is too Steam specific, so I'm not using it. I didn't find installing dxvk any harder than various other add-ons that are sometimes needed for Wine configuration. Pretty common thing for Wine users.


Last edited by Shmerl at 13 September 2018 at 3:49 am UTC. Edited 2 times.
svartalf 14 September 2018 at 8:01 pm UTC
Shmerl@svartalf: You didn't elaborate on why such stats method is a problem besides the "user agent can be spoofed" or "what if it's downloaded from Windows" (why would Linux users even do that?), but I assume that you mean, this position is why Feral don't release DRM-free games. I don't find it convincing in the least, since other porters release DRM-free fine. Including Icculus whom you mentioned above.

Why should I- I already had elaborated NUMEROUS examples of why it doesn't work, to whit you said, "Well, don't do that," which is BS and rubbish. I told you but you seem to know it all over an Industry Vet that's gone through all of this. I wandered off, not caring about you. The only reason you're getting the time of day from me right now is to put paid to your remarks once and for all. I've little time for what just came my way- and most everyone WANTS me to be that busy to be blunt.

Your answer? Browser ID downloads didn't work for iD on Quake3:Arena, where you could buy any SKU and "patch" it with a downloaded engine install for the other Two OSes. What in the HECK posseses you to think that it will be better "now"? Carmack still swears that he lost a quarter of a million in royalties off of the Linux side of things. That should be a telling thing...but apparently not.

It's better than nothing- but it doesn't tell you much of anything realistically USEFUL in the industry's eyes. How many times was <x> downloaded for <y> OS? How do you know it's not the same person re-downloading, etc.? Like I said. Your thinking is **WHY** it's been this long in the making. It's why iD's coming of age party for Linux **NEVER HAPPENED** and it doesn't change with the "now"- because you're **NOT** measuring anything USEFUL. Three decades of this sort of thinking and you're not getting any further. It. Doesn't. Work.


Last edited by svartalf at 14 September 2018 at 8:05 pm UTC
svartalf 14 September 2018 at 8:03 pm UTC
Sir_DiealotAre you using Proton though? My guess is no. It's probably not that easy to actually use it outside of steam.

Proton's basically a version of WINE with a bit of hooks to more readily use it within Steam and all. Much of it's been upstreamed all the same, so a fresh pull of the latest will get you most of the fun as long as you're skilled at things like many of the current "regular" WINE users are.
Shmerl 14 September 2018 at 8:09 pm UTC
svartalfWhy should I- I already had elaborated NUMEROUS examples of why it doesn't work

I already answered why it works, you just said that "oh no, spoofing". Not convincing, and you so far didn't propose any practical method for doing it DRM-free. GOG and Humble have theirs and they work.

If you can't substantiate your claims, don't make them in the first place, that way you won't need this condescending tone of "I'm the vet, and see no point to explain things to you user peasants". It looks more like you have no arguments really. But if you make claims, better substantiate them properly, that's the way discussion should be held.

svartalfBrowser ID downloads didn't work for iD on Quake3:Arena, where you could buy any SKU and "patch" it with a downloaded engine install for the other Two OSes. What in the HECK posseses you to think that it will be better "now"?

Not sure how this is relevant. Normal practice in all stores today to sell all versions at once, and you can download them all or one for your particular OS. No need to patch anything. All stores need to do, is come up with some way to calculate usage per OS for such games. It can be an estimation, which is fine. If some industry can't cope with it, it's some retarded industry really. A lot of industries (like advertising) cope with browser ids just fine and built successful multi-billion businesses on them (try saying Google uses nothing USEFUL).


Last edited by Shmerl at 14 September 2018 at 8:11 pm UTC
svartalf 14 September 2018 at 8:12 pm UTC
thykrI really doubt this.
Those few adventurous Windows "gamers" who might have been seduced by the idea of using GNU/Linux instead of Windows, will very quickly realize that their games run like crap in Wine / Proton. They will quickly move back to Windows with their tail between their legs and probably never think about using GNU ever again.

Well, if you're just running the ones they certified, they work in the same quality domain as they do on Windows. It's only when you turn off the "bar" to anything that they've not checked out/fixed that you run into any "problems"- it actually works better than I'd thought it would, all things considered. The quality is faintly better in some situations than the official WINE, in fact- which would be what people would run if they weren't using Proton.

QuoteExactly.
This is also shifting a lot of work onto the Valve's Linux team, which as far as I know is relatively small.

Heh. What if you get an update, while running in Windows that breaks the game? Happens ALL the time, folks. ALL THE TIME. NVidia pushes an update...breaks something...hell, even on Oculus, guys... Windows pushes an update, breaks the game. Game pushes an update, but now you have to wait for NVidia, AMD, Windows, etc. to fix their f-ups. WINE doesn't just magically make it easier to get broken or not. It just IS.

YES, native code is "better", but only sort-of. I can't count how many times a distro broke some of my game ports over the years or, or, or... C'mon. If this is the best you've got...
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