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Note: I should highlight that this is an editorial, this is my opinion and yours will differ. These thoughts have been gathered after having a SteamOS machine that I regularly use, running Linux on my desktop, and from the comments I have seen across the wider community.

Hey Valve, what’s the point of SteamOS? I joke, of course, but that was a very real headline on a website. There’s a number of hit-pieces like this aimed at SteamOS, the problem is a lot of people haven’t used it for longer periods, don’t understand what they are actually doing, or just parrot what they read from others.

Valve have a lot of work to do to bring SteamOS up to full speed and actually show that they regard it as an important platform. And it has to be not just important to them, but be truly useful to us.

I need to state for the record that I am actually feeling positive about it all. I’ve said time and time again SteamOS and Steam Machines would never be an overnight success, but Valve certainly aren’t helping matters. This is more of a “what I hope to see” and not a “we are all doomed” piece. If someone at Valve is reading, please take some notes. I want it to succeed, but Valve need to actually help it.

Valve have pushed Linux gaming to incredible levels. That is clear, but I want more. We will probably never have an issue with getting enough indie games thanks to their push, but we need something bigger.

I think SteamOS is actually quite good at what it does. I really didn’t like using a normal OS from across the room on my sofa, so it did solve that issue for me. The interface is actually pretty good and easy to navigate around, with some niggles here and there. I actually prefer it to the PS4 interface which I’ve used for years. I completely understand that the Steam Link offers a good compromise if you don’t want a full machine, but not everyone will want to use a Steam Link due to networking issues, or just not having a good enough PC for streaming. Many people will be sharing a PC too, so the Link is not really an option for them either.

A lot of what is wrong with SteamOS boils down to issues within Steam itself, as I will highlight. I could probably go on all day about the issues with Steam that affect SteamOS, but here’s a drop in the ocean of my thoughts for you.

Some issues I have

New games arriving on Linux & SteamOS that previously had a Windows/Mac version don’t appear in the new releases list. This is stupid considering it has been an issue since Steam came to Linux over three years ago now. Valve used to update that manually for certain titles, but they appear to have stopped even doing that. Visibility for newer Linux & SteamOS games is a problem, so people end up relying on us and other websites to know that they exist. This should not be a problem, but it certainly is. This sort of issue can’t be hard to fix if they are able to manually populate it like they once did. It could only be a matter of detecting games that previously did not have a Linux version that now do. As a programmer myself I know how easily such a comparison can be done.

Leading into new games, let’s talk about advertising. Very few Linux games get big announcements on Steam. Some actually do, but they’re few and far between. Many Windows games get massive front-page banners to announce their availability. Why on earth don’t they want to advertise some of the bigger games gaining support for their own SteamOS operating system?

Their own VR device is not yet Linux compatible. I don’t know what the issues are and I don’t care. I think it’s utterly ridiculous that Valve made a Linux push with SteamOS and Steam Machines but their flagship VR device doesn’t even support it. I’m not a fan of VR—yet—mainly because I haven’t used a proper one before to change my mind. I would have personally purchased a Vive, but Valve and HTC seem to be reminding me again how Linux is still a low priority for them.
Having Linux/SteamOS locked out of a major new platform for playing games has already hurt us and the longer it doesn’t support us the more people will switch over to their Windows installs (or re-install Windows) because “VR is not on Linux”.

The only communication I can see from Valve on this was a one liner:
QuoteWe are working on it but it's not ready yet.

That was back in March and no official update since then.

The Vive also listed SteamOS right up until launch, then suddenly, Windows only. What happened to communication?

Windows games showing up everywhere on the Steam store if you’re on Linux. This is again an issue that shouldn’t be there. Originally if you browsed through the store on Linux all the featured sections and recommended sections would only list Linux games - now it’s full of Windows games. Many SteamOS users are likely also Linux users, so it would make sense to fix this. It seems it’s part of a wider issue on the Steam store, as they seem to repeatedly break the filters that control what games to show.

Today for example, I click through the featured banner. Windows only, Windows only, get the idea. I don’t care about them, I care about what I can actually play myself.

Personally, I think that the overall store should default to only showing what games your detected operating system supports. It’s easy to detect and it’s a very simple solution, and if you do want to see other platforms games, the filters are already there to do it.

Also, Steam Big Picture mode and SteamOS are still to this day not even included in their own Hardware Survey. Plenty of websites use those statistics to claim Linux/SteamOS is going nowhere without even considering that. How can anyone can claim that SteamOS and Steam Machines haven’t helped Linux gaming popularity (and bigger websites do claim this) while they aren’t even included in that yet? It certainly doesn’t help when a Linux website uses the Hardware Survey to claim Linux gaming has fallen to one of the lowest levels ever (it hasn’t).

Web Apps

Steam Machines could be useful for more than just gaming. Netflix and Spotify are two such easy examples that Valve could possibly do without too much fuss. I hope they are reaching out to such companies to get them to support it. They only really need some sort of fullscreen browser window that goes directly to the websites for them, it could be that simple. A Youtube application would also be pretty easy to do in a similar way.

They are at least trying to get more movies directly onto Steam, the recent deal with Lionsgate is proof of that. Baby steps, but it’s something.

Now let’s talk about that little SteamOS icon.

Still, to this day, I get people telling me “game X supports Linux, see, it has SteamPlay”. Yes, the SteamOS logo is the Steam logo and it sits right next to the SteamPlay text and it does confuse people. Having a Linux tux icon and a SteamOS icon would solve this instantly. I don’t think there can then be any confusion.

There are still games on Steam right now that work fine on Linux but, due to Valve doing a moment of store curating a while back, they had their SteamOS icon removed. I’m okay with Valve doing that (and I think they need to do it more for SteamOS), as it’s up to developers to make their games properly work on SteamOS itself, but when it looks like the game doesn’t support Linux at all it’s a bit frustrating as a customer and as someone who writes about the games themselves.

The other issue with this, is that people are wary about buying a game if it doesn’t have the SteamOS icon (even if it has a downloadable and playable Linux version) as they don’t know if it will count as a Linux sale. Hint: It will. Just don’t buy a game if it isn’t confirmed to be downloadable and playable.

How can Valve help with more games?

To give credit to Valve here they have helped push Vulkan, so it’s not all gloomy. Having such a massive and influential company push an API that is open will help us in years to come. They could be doing a fair bit more though.

We all know exclusives are a bad thing. I don’t want to see a SteamOS/Linux exclusive as I think somewhere along the way that will hurt us more than it will do us good. Linux games aren’t yet big sellers, a few exclusives that don’t sell like hot cakes will end up with headlines like “SteamOS doesn’t pay” and you get the general idea. The platform just isn’t good enough for it right now.

What would be interesting to see, is for Valve to offer some sort of incentive for bringing a Linux & SteamOS version to the Steam store. It wouldn’t lock out any other platform like an exclusive and it may end up helping us. It could be increased store visibility, a small reduction on Valve’s own take of the sales or something else entirely. I think doing something would be a smart move.
I don’t think giving games that get a SteamOS version increased visibility would be wrong either, since they already do this for major Windows game releases.

Not exactly to do with SteamOS, but would be nice

It would also be nice if Valve were more open about their store statistics, like the amount of active user accounts overall. It would make working out the amount of Linux users on Steam a little easier. I’m sure there’s business reasons someone will come up with on why they don’t do this, but they do announce it now and then, so I don’t see why having a more public counter would be an issue. They could even publish this number monthly along with their survey. They have a stats page to show peak and current online, so why not active accounts overall?

Going further than that, I don’t really get why Steam don’t just automatically query machines to be more accurate. They already have vast amounts of data from you that you probably don’t realise. Privacy issues maybe, but you probably shouldn’t be using a closed source store application like Steam if you genuinely care about privacy and stuff like that anyway. Heck, even Unity 3D games phone home with details about you.

Valve also never seem to bring over any of their modding tools to Linux, so if you want to make anything with their games, you are again forced onto another platform. They already have almost all of their games on Linux (Hi Alien Swarm, where are you?) so why not the modding tools to enable Linux users to also help Valve earn money? It’s another one of those things that doesn’t make sense. You could argue that the tools use x library that’s only on Windows, but that was the case for everything Valve/Steam not so long ago.

Communication, communication, communication

This is probably the single most important thing.

Finally, Valve’s silence on SteamOS. This is what I am most surprised by. Valve were talking big about SteamOS and Steam Machines a while ago before the release. Now they seem to be very quiet about it. Heck, SteamOS itself has seen no major updates since the initial release that came along with Steam Machines. Sure, they have updated drivers, done security updates and other general fixes, but nothing big or interesting from themselves. It concerns me how quiet they are being about it. I would have thought by now at the very least Steam Broadcasting would finally be supported on Linux but, instead, silence.

Like everything Valve: They seem to be a jack of all trades, and a master of none. I don’t want SteamOS/Steam Machines to end up as a failure. I just want Valve to step their game up, they need to.

What are your thoughts? Do you think I am talking a load of old rubbish, or am I making sense? Stay a while and tell me.
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Comments on this article are now closed.
Yasser 10 June 2016 at 7:29 pm UTC
things will happen in your time, you do not need to be pushing it,
Rome was not built in a day
aFoxNamedMorris 10 June 2016 at 7:29 pm UTC
I agree, completely.
liamdawe 10 June 2016 at 7:31 pm UTC
Yasserthings will happen in your time, you do not need to be pushing it,
Rome was not built in a day
I, better than most understand this all too well. As a Linux user and gamer for about 10 years now.

The problem isn't how long things are taking, but how Valve should have done more to address issues laid out in the article.
wolfyrion 10 June 2016 at 7:59 pm UTC
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Very Nice article however there a lot of wrongs and rights here but I dont have time to analyze everything right now

So since I dont have time I would just express my opinion

Now the situation for Linux Gamers is BAD before was Extremely very bad!

If I was a fanatic gamer I wouldnt switched to Linux , who the heck would switch to Linux if all the new games are getting released to Windows?

Dark Souls 3?
NBA 2k17?
Watch Dogs 2?
Battlefield 1?

I can keep going on ...

All the broadcaster , TWITCH TV Gamers , youtubers etc there is no way that would ever switch to Linux if that is keep going NOT IN A MILLLION!!!
Have you ever saw a Windows Live streamer popular gamer?? they have like more than 8k people watching their shows is not that simple to switch to Linux for a gamer.

You remember the days when people were saying "Windows is for Gamers!" ?
Well that is what Valve is trying to do, turn the tables upside down which is not that simple and make people to say "Dude you still playing in Windows? lol? Linux is for Gamers!"

So in order for SteamOS to succeed the answer is very simple but yet very complicated to be implemented.

Linux is not ready yet for Gamers and Valve knows it better than us. Vulkan needs to get mature, it will need another 1 year at least to outperform Windows. VGA Drivers need a lot of improvements and so many other things need to settle out.
Developers have to release day 1 titles for Linux as well and if Valve or any other AAA company manages to release some titles exclusively for Linux then you will see many people switching to Linux.

So in short :

1. Make it easy for developer to elease all the games at day 1 for Steams OS
2. Outperform Windows FPS at gaming with Vulkan
3. Release exclusive games for Linux even for 3-6 months
4. Improve Linux OS , system, drivers , etc

Last edited by wolfyrion at 10 June 2016 at 8:06 pm UTC
wojtek88 10 June 2016 at 8:02 pm UTC
Liam, I have to say:
For the first time your article shows balls. Everything you wrote is true and most of it I already wrote on this page.

I know that all we currently have we have thanks to Valve, and I am very grateful. I just hope they will be more open and they will continue support of our beloved platform.
liamdawe 10 June 2016 at 8:10 pm UTC
wojtek88Liam, I have to say:
For the first time your article shows balls.
Probably one of my favourite comments ever made here...
wojtek88 10 June 2016 at 8:30 pm UTC
wojtek88Liam, I have to say:
For the first time your article shows balls.
Probably one of my favourite comments ever made here...
Nice to read/hear that this comment was so well received.
And at least you know now how to pair my account on this page with my Twitter account
BlackBloodRum 10 June 2016 at 8:49 pm UTC
I think you're talking a load of old rubbish
godlike 10 June 2016 at 9:24 pm UTC
SteamOS was and still is Valve's backup plan. If things with Windows store go south SteamOS will be a viable alternative for them.

There is no need for SteamOS/Linux to be perfect or shinny or with 100000 games. The only requirement is to appear as a good Windows alternative. I think Valve managed hit that goal already by
- porting their infrastructure (steam etc),
- with the excellent performance of their games,
- the fact that more engines support Linux now and
- finally with the push of a low level API (Vulkan).
Now SteamOS/Linux has almost all the infrastructure in place for a potential move.

To me SteamOS appears like a loaded gun pointing to M$. I wish it was something more and I think Valve genuinely tried to grow the user base but it didn't quite worked out.
t3g 10 June 2016 at 10:18 pm UTC
I hate that the volume is always 100%, with no volume control via buttons in the interface or the media keys on the keyboard. I have to adjust the in-game volume so my ears aren't blown out when using headphones. Or I can just use Ubuntu where the keyboard's media keys work in-game like on the desktop.

Last edited by t3g at 10 June 2016 at 10:19 pm UTC
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