Now and then I come across a game on Steam where I ask in the Steam forum about possible Linux support, Marble It Up! is one such game but the developer has decided to let Valve handle it with Steam Play.
I’ll get something out of the way first: I think Steam Play is great, I do use it but I appreciate it’s a complicated subject for many reasons and some people don’t want to use it. This is meant to highlight some issues facing future Linux support as a gaming platform and as a talking point. Now, onto the topic at hand…
After the developer suggested the use of Steam Play, one user said “OK but that's not Linux support” and mentioned how they won’t buy it for that. This seems to have caused this particular developer to go on a little rant, where they gave some reasons why.
“Steam Beta includes Proton out of box. I guess technically the game is not Linux native but if you can play it with one click, I'm not sure there's a lot to argue about. You can refund it no questions asked. I think you'll like the game and there is no risk to you. Why not try it?”
Note: On ProtonDB, the unofficial website where people can rate how well Windows games work on Linux with Steam Play, Marble It Up! has a “Platinum” rating. This means it should be click and play, like any other game. To be clear though, that’s only from four tests so far.
The developer goes on to mention how Unity games aren’t technically native “no Unity game is able to run as fully native code”, how Feral Interactive (made a lot of AAA Linux ports) have their own graphics emulation layer, games like Curious Expedition that use Electron and so on. They also directly mentioned Tropico 6 too, which apparently works better with Steam Play/Proton than the native version, although ProtonDB only has one report to say so. They mention plenty more types of games and how they could package it up with Proton themselves and all the points are very interesting.
One part I found particularly interesting was this statement: “Is a truly native Linux worth it you that you would pay 15-25% more for games that had it? I've seen a lot of people say that but when it came down to it they just really wanted it to be free like Linux. So - would you really? Would you switch to a different Linux distro if yours wasn't supported?”
For me personally, it’s not a case of a game needing to be “native”, I’m so long past caring about the internals of a game. I want a game that both works and is supported. The latter obviously being extremely important, since if a game update breaks the Linux version then as a paying customer I would expect something to be looked into and fixed up.
Support is the biggest problem, we still don’t really know how things will go down in future when games stop working. The support with Steam Play is supposed to be on Valve’s end, although technically only for titles that are in the Steam Play whitelist which hasn’t seen an update since December last year and Marble It Up! Is not on that list.
You may end up waiting a day, a week, a month or perhaps longer if a game update or a Steam Play update breaks a game. Being realistic here, it’s not like a game developer is going to go and help fix up Steam Play themselves when part of the reason a developer is even using Steam Play, is so they don’t do the Linux side themselves. There’s also the idea of vendor lock-in here, Steam Play is all open on GitHub which is fantastic but again, how many are likely to go and pull it themselves for their games to put them on other stores for Linux? I’m betting about zero.
I don’t want to seem like I’m being a “debbie downer” (remember my starting statement, I really do like Steam Play) but it’s already happened with multiple titles that stopped working due to changes with Easy Anti-Cheat like Darwin Project, Paladins and Pandemic Express. That might not be an issue forever though but you get the idea, it can and will happen.
To the credit of Valve/CodeWeavers and Steam Play here, they did get a fix out for RAGE 2 into a Steam Play release the day RAGE 2 became available which was impressive, but that’s likely a special case due it being a bigger release.
As for the developers comment about people wanting things for free like Linux, I had an entire paragraph dedicated to debunking that but 99% of our readers know such a statement just isn’t true. It’s not worth any argument or time on, it’s silly and has been proven wrong time and time again.
They end their post with “Linux gaming has never been better than it is today in large part thanks to WINE and investments like Valve is making. Why not embrace it however it comes?”
I will absolutely agree that right now, Linux gaming is a fun place. Thousands of games supported and plenty more available to play with Steam Play, I’m certainly never bored! However, I'm interested to see how Valve and game developers handle issues as they come up in future before putting down a lot more money into games played with Steam Play.
So, what do you make of all this? What are your thoughts? Has Steam Play changed things completely for you, are you using it purely for old games or games both old and new?