Why Aren’t There More Linux-Using Gamers?

Rarely do major game developers and publishers make a cross-platform game, and those that do rarely release the game for all platforms at the same time. Usually if there is a Linux or Mac version of a game, it won’t be released for weeks, months, or even years after the Windows version.

Indie developers seem to follow suit. Introversion Software released Defcon for Windows in September of 2006, and there wasn’t a Linux version of the game until May of 2007. The Mac version was released a month earlier.

At least these games get released. Most developers focus on Windows exclusively. The thinking is that Windows has such a large market share that there is no need to focus on the smaller Mac and Linux user base.

Of course, indie developers have already found that the Mac users are starving for good games. Providing a Mac version can sometimes double your sales, according to the sales figures that some developers have released.

But why not Linux? Oddlabs created Tribal Trouble, and the sales figures were as follows:

Direct online sales: 1500
….. Windows: 460 (31%)
….. Mac OS X: 680 (47%)
….. Linux: 160 (11%)
….. Undefined: 200 (11%)

160 direct sales, while lower than either Windows or Mac sales, are nothing to sneeze at. The conversion rate for Linux was 1.1%, while for Windows it was 0.8%. The difference between having a Linux version of a game and not having one is clearly significant.

And Tribal Trouble is just one example. I know A Tale in the Desert is an MMO, but there were two Linux users for every Windows user subscribed to it at one point. I would love to see stats for Vendetta Online as well.

What about games that release a Linux client after the Windows version has been released? I imagine that sales would be much lower. After all, since there aren’t many games available for GNU/Linux, many gamers will continue to run a Windows machine specifically for games. If they can buy the game for Windows, why wait for the Linux version to be released?

And so publishers find no reason to support a completely new platform when they know that their customers will buy their games anyway. Those publishers who invest in a port after the original Windows release will of course be disappointed when the only people buying the Linux version of the game will be those who waited patiently. Linux users who play games on Windows aren’t going to buy the game a second time just because it is available on their OS of choice. I’m wondering how Defcon for Linux sold since it was released seven months after the Windows version. I would also love to see a comparison to Darwinia, since the time between the Windows release and the Linux release was a little over a week.

A lot of people point to the now-dead Loki Games as proof that there is no market for Linux games, but from what I was able to learn about Loki’s business, it didn’t close its doors due to lack of sales so much as bad business management. Having the owner of your company order tens of thousands of units over what could be sold is painful financially, but Loki: A promising plan gone terribly wrong also details a lot of the shadiness that contributed to the damage. It’s hard enough to be a success when running a business without someone sabotaging it.

Of course, why would I buy Quake 3 Arena (I actually do have the Loki Q3A tin, still unopened, that I found at a store after Loki was liquidated), Railroad Tycoon II, or any number of games for Linux when I was already playing them on Windows? Was Loki going to make original, exclusive games as well as ports? It didn’t seem like it was going to do so anytime soon.

So perhaps the problem isn’t so much that there aren’t any games for Linux. While there are fewer games, they exist. It’s just that most of them were bought and paid for when they were initially released on a different platform, and people don’t like spending money on the same product twice. At least with Quake 3 Arena, I can use the same CD to play on my Linux-based system as well as my Windows system. When I downloaded the full versions of Orbz and Dark Horizons:Lore Invasion from Garage Games, I could grab the Windows, Mac, or Linux versions without paying separately for each. Now compare the experience with buying The Sims for the Mac. If you already own the PC version and just bought a Mac? Tough. EA outsourced the port to another company, and that company handles Mac sales. It’s the same game, but you’re expected to treat it as if there are two separate games to pay for. Great for EA, but not so great for the customer. I know of one person who decided that paying for The Sims and all of the expansion packs a second time just to play it on her new computer was not worth it, and so she turned to not-so-legal channels instead.

Anyway, back to the existence of Linux games…where are they?

TuxGames and Linux Game Publishing are two online retailers that get mentioned often. It seems most of their catalog includes major publishers’ offerings, such as X3: Reunion and Unreal Tournament 3

LinuxGames.com is always announcing new games, but there is also a podcast, sometimes featuring icculus, a former Loki employee who makes a living porting games and game engines to Linux. The Linux Game Tome will announce new games as well, but the forums and irc channels are great places to talk about games, whether playing them or developing them.

And usually on these news sites you will find indie game developers mentioned almost as often as the open source games are. In fact, recently an update to Dark Horizons: Lore was in the news, sitting next to stories about Nvidia’s new 3D accelerated drivers and updates to Abuse and Battle for Wesnoth.

With over 30,000 registered IDs in the forums, even if not all of them are active, you have to wonder what the total market for Linux gamers looks like. Just 160 of them paid for a Real Time Strategy game about vikings and islanders. The creator of Dirk Dashing claimed that 33% of total sales were from the Linux version after it had been released for only 10 days.

What I am learning is that the Linux user base is actually very diverse, and there are a lot of people who use Linux simply because they don’t like Windows and want an alternative – at the end of the day, they don’t care about the ideals of the FSF or the GPL, they just want something safe and reliable that they can use. And they are very hungry for commercial-quality games!

While Linux may not be a viable platform for every kind of application, I think it is certainly viable for games. And I am so glad we tried a Linux version of one of our games – this has turned out to be a huge shot in the arm for our business!

Clearly the market exists, and it is significant. It may not be as significant as Windows or Mac, but it can be for some developers.

So forget about asking where the Linux gamers are. I think a better question should be: why aren’t there more games being made for Linux?

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18 comments to Why Aren’t There More Linux-Using Gamers?

  • This is worthy of a much deeper response, but I’ll just say for now that I do not buy games that only run under Windows. Booting into my Windows partition gives me a headache and I do it as little as possible.

  • You’ve pretty much answered your own questions. The linux version comes out quite a bit later because there are alot of people with multi-boot systems. No need to focus on linux ports, instead you wait until you’re sure that most everyone that’s going to buy them at first has, then you go for the secondary platforms.

    Am I going to ignore the huge pre-built market for windows, just so I can get a few linux fans? Is there full hardware support for games. Oh yeah you have OpenGL which is good I guess, and OpenAL which the last I heard wasn’t really all that wide spread (of course I can be wrong since I don’t go around the linux circles like you do). What about input, are we stuck polling ports? Do they support the latest controllers and sticks? Direct-X is a unified architecture which is backed by a lot of hardware vendors.

    Also there’s the issue of the type of people that use linux. Most of them are nerds and geeks. I don’t mean that as a derogatory remark either. Simply most of the people that use linux are either businesses (that find that open source os is good for their business), or those on the technically inclined side of the bench. Even though windows could be a ton better, they’ve spent years at providing a consistant easy to use (somewhat) user interface, that linux hasn’t really done exactly. Yeah there’s gnome, and kde, and those sit on top of what, x-windows? There’s Ubuntu which is probably one section of the linux community. Most of the common people don’t know that it exists or that they can use it easily.

    I know what you’re going to say, being that the fact that linux users are primarily techy, they are probably harder core gamers than most users. You’re probably right, but the hardcore gaming market is somewhat niche. Most people fall anywhere inbetween, and that’s where windows is. You have your indie casuals, and your AAA shooters, and so forth.

    So tell me again, why do I want to do linux either exclusively or at least make my original games on there and port it to windows?

    Really what needs to happen is there needs to be something like direct-x that’s a unified architecture for all the major platforms, with full hardware support, but that’s open like opengl and openal.

    Then also all the different flavors of linux also need a unified gui system that promotes ease-of-use so that more non-techy types will use it.

    Once all of those are in place, then cross-platform development needs to be promoted. Then each platform gets the game at nearly the same time, the user gets an easy to use, unified experience, supports the latest hardware.

    Once you have all of that, i think you would see alot more people rush over to linux. Because we all know how much windows costs, how it is fairly bloated, prone to alot of security hazards, and so on. People are just looking for a decent chance to jump ship.

  • One thing I’ve noticed is also that Linux Gamers focus a lot on the open source games and many times we make for more news about the free games than the pay games. I think as pay games become more available to Linux users the news with become more common for those games and more sales will occur as a result. Companies such as Transgaming are building a base from just helping users get Windows games running in Linux so it’s quite obvious we’re out there. I think once more and more games get ported, you’ll hear more and more news about these games and sales will increase and no just that, but Linux users will increase as a result. But, in the mean time I’m sure you’ll hear more news about Warsow & Urban Terror over commercial games until we have a larger selection to choose from. I’m aware Windows users have access to most of our games…but they don’t know too much about open source and don’t see these games in there face all the time :)

    I love Linux and if the games isn’t ported…I probably wont play it.

    Ed

  • Bob Robertson

    A serious game player, with the money to buy games, is going to know that there are fewer (or later) games for Linux. So even if they want to “jump ship”, they already know how to dual boot.

    As a gaming console, a PC with Windows is pretty good. As a Linux user, I don’t see any other use for Windows than that.

    Yes, I have subscribed to Vendetta Online, and enjoyed it greatly. I bought the Linux version of _Savage_ by S2 Games, and felt disgusted when they dropped support of it a month after I bought it.

    Indeed, releasing a game for both or, dare I say it?, for Linux first, ensures that Linux users have a fair chance without having to dual-boot.

  • Mace Moneta

    What I don’t understand is why all games aren’t published for Linux ONLY. Let me explain.

    In the past Windows and Macs were very different machines, but now they are both x86 platforms. When developing a game, why not develop it on Linux, and distribute it as a bootable Live image? Put it in an x86 compatible machine and hit the power/reset. It doesn’t matter if its a Windows, Mac or Linux (or even OS/2, *BSD, BeOS, whatever) machine, you’re now playing the game. Because Linux is free to distribute, and the game is an application, there is no GPL issue (as long as the LiveCD source (minus the game) is made available on request).

    That way, game developers only have to develop for one platform, they control the environment completely, and they cover 100% of desktop/notebook users.

    Saving games and options? Linux supports every filesystem (including NTFS and HFS+), so you can put saved games on hard drives, external drives, flash – wherever the user directs.

    Updates? Download them and the application can find /apply them from any accessible device to an in-storage image during startup.

    I’m sure if the game developers could freely distribute Windows with every game, they would. Linux is even better, running on hardware that neither Windows nor OS X can run on out of the box.

    Develop once, run everywhere. Why wouldn’t they do this?

  • Um… OpenGL and OpenAL are the cross platform development tools you’re saying we need. To say OpenGL is “all right I guess” is hardly a valid argument against going cross platform. And since you can easily and legally distribute OpenAL along with your application (like in the early days when games would ship with the DirectX install executable on the disk), penetration isn’t an issue either.

    Sure, DirectX makes things ‘easy’, but at what cost? You’re locking yourself to a Microsoft platform and limiting your distribution options. If you’re a major publisher with a huge marketing budget, you may be able to ignore the fringe markets. But for an indie developer, it would make sense to try and reach as many communities as possible by working, from the ground up, with cross platform tools.

    The primary issue, to my mind, is the gouging attitude of the publishing arm of our industry. Rather than spend a little extra money at the outset to build a title as a cross platform game, they farm it out to porting studios and then release the Linux and Mac versions as separate titles with separate price points. As much as I’ve come to dislike Bioware, they did the right thing with NWN, releasing the Linux binary for free to use with the Windows’ data disks.

    I do believe that if PC developers took a similar approach, they would see a significant bump in sales of their product.

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  • Is OpenAL widespread and have decent hardware support? (I know OpenGL does, but AL is relatively new)

  • Neil Davis

    The solution to this issue lies with the community. There are a lot of people just like me that would help make stuff work in WINE and the costs, by comparison to the rest of the project, would fit the size of our demographic perfectly. It might require a few adjustments and advice from the studio’s end, such as provided by a community liason, but it should be minimal.

    For this to work, it has to be FOSS model. A paid model won’t work, as Loki found out. There can be a symbiosis between a proprietary software company and FOSS. The result is more games for us, and a (slightly) bigger profit base for the game developer at very little monetary cost.

    The developers get a free game out of it and a credit in the credit list.

    Everyone wins. I’d do it.

    Providing the source code isn’t necessary, just the binaries, but very early in the internal alpha process of a new game so you can identify issues early and possibly get some cooperation early on resolving issues.

    By comparison if you use the cedega model, it’s not as good. They have a limited set of developers. We’d have everyone else. It’s not rocket science.

    That’s the best way to get wine packages made. Start a project like cedega, only use the FOSS model. Call it the GoWINE(Gaming on WINE) project or something. Build debian(and ubuntu), red hat, gentoo, SuSE, slackware etc packages and build them correctly. Also provide a tar file for just untarring in drive_c with a registry patch.

    Develop a relationship with the various gaming studios to get them to release alphas to the GoWINE developers so the linux packages are ready on gold day.

    We could also submit patches back to the WINE direct x developers for evaluation and possible inclusion in the WINE project where they deem the patch appropriate, well written, and meeting standards.

    Of course the cedega guys would put a hit out on you ROFL. I bet it would work very effectively. The game studios might even start throwing incentives at the project to get priority if it became well regarded >wink

  • I’m the owner of My Game Company, and we’ve released two commercial games so far on Linux: Dirk Dashing, and Fashion Cents Deluxe. I have a lot of experience with cross-platform technologies. I’ve seen OpenGL and OpenAL mentioned, but not SDL. SDL is the cross-platform solution that Keith Weatherey said he we needed above. We use SDL for our input (mouse, keyboard, joysticks, gamepads), and we use SDL_mixer for our audio. It’s easy to use, and very stable across lots of distributions. OpenAL, on the other hand, is very flaky on both Linux and Windows – we started off using OpenAL, and quickly switched to SDL_mixer. OpenAL is solid on the Mac, but we had a number of Windows and Linux users report problems, especially laptop users and users with onboard audio chipsets.

    We also develop our games on Linux and port to the other platforms. We use a simple text editor (NEdit) and Makefiles, and ddd for our debugger. While it isn’t a nice integrated solution like Visual Studio, we get along just fine. And I like the simplicity of this system – compiles go very fast, and everything is much more responsive than VS. Plus there are some extremely useful free tools for Linux development, such as Valgrind for finding memory errors and leaks. Valgrind works better than Purify, and you can’t beat the cost. But it only works on Linux.

    Plus, I don’t think I have to point out that when I’m developing on Linux, I don’t have to worry about spyware, viruses, or malware interrupting my work. Or my virus scanner kicking in and bringing the responsiveness of my system to a crawl.

    We run our business entirely on Linux, from development, art and sound production, bookkeeping, office programs, etc.

    I would be happy to talk more about this with anyone who is interested. You can e-mail me at info@mygamecompany.com.

  • By the way, I forgot to mention that I wrote a series of articles on Linux Game Development last year that were published on GameDev.net. You can read them here: http://www.gamedev.net/reference/programming/features/linuxprogramming1/

  • Bob

    Try http://www.s2games.com

    They are publishers of Savage 2, and Savage. They have done a fair job of keeping the linux crowd in the loop.

  • Hi, we run a website for commercial linux games. I invite you to check out our games catalog of recently published titles by developers who have decided in favor of Linux support. You’ll find the link on the website linked below. The list of available titles may surprise you, because it’s not really a rare event. That’s really a misconception.

    Another misconception is how the Linux’s 1%-3% of desktop market is insignificant. That’s still an enormous number of users. As discussed in our essay, “The Loki Demise”, the problem was fundamentally their business plan to release a Linux port 9-19 months after the initial Windows release, at a higher price, and when the original could be found at a discount. Today, just like back then, people buy the cheaper version or the earlier release, when the two versions run on the same architecture. (Take a look at Savage 2 and Unreal 3, for modern examples. Both got the Linux community excited by promises of a same-day cross-platform release, but then they did not fulfill this promise. Witness the Linux users breaking down and reluctantly buying the Windows-only versions anyway.)

    So, those are really the two big misconceptions we are trying to clear up with the LGW website: that there’s no commercial game, and that there’s no market for developing on Linux.

    Also, I want to applaud Troy Hepfner, above, for being such a champion of Linux gaming. His compendium on GameDev is the only complete and up-to-date Linux game development guide that I know.

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  • Diego Viola

    “Why Aren’t There More Linux-Using Gamers?”

    The answer is simple:

    There aren’t many Linux gamers because developers still don’t write games for Linux.

    It’s a chicken-or-egg problem, make games available for Linux and there will be A LOT of Linux gamers overnight, I guarantee it.

    There is a lot of cases of Windows gamers wanting to switch from Windows to Linux completely but they still can’t because the game is not available or Wine wont run it yet.

    So make the games for Linux available and you will see how the numbers of Linux gamers grow.

  • Diego

    Troy Hepfner:

    you are a very admirable developer for using and supporting Linux, you already got some fans for that, I guarantee it.

    And I’m getting your games to support you :) .

  • [...] asked before: why aren’t there more Linux-using gamers? But the market exists. It has a significant user base. And they pay [...]

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