I was wrong about gaming on Linux

Is Linux gaming ready for the masses? It might not be for everyone... yet.

by Pete
Published: Updated: 12 minutes read

I built a Linux-powered Steam box out of leftover parts and was able to play Retroarch games just like I did on Windows. Even some Windows-only games performed better under Linux than under Windows on old hardware. My expectations were high for an even better gaming experience (albeit on an older, but still formidable, console), but not everything was peaches and cream.

Not the hardware…

Unlike my SteamOS machine, which has limited graphics and processing power, my demands on my main desktop are much higher because this is where I play games from the usual brands: Blizzard, Epic, Steam, Origin, GoG, and old-school CDROM installs. So, when I switched to Linux, I discovered that Steam was my only friend—and it was lonely.

…It’s the software

To be clear, Linux accounts for a very small percentage of the gaming community (1.28% according to the Steam Hardware and Software Survey), so I’m extremely grateful that Value has such fantastic Linux support. You could argue that it’s in their best interest to expand Linux compatibility given that they’ve bet their console on gamers having a quality experience.

Because of the SteamDeck, gamers now have such good Linux support, thanks in large part to the high-quality Proton layer.But where are the other publishing players? They’re nowhere to be found.

Blizzard has openly stated that there are no plans for Linux support; EPIC is silent on the platform (as far as my research indicates); EA hasn’t released an Origin client for Linux; and GoG hasn’t (and probably won’t) release their Galaxy client for the platform.

Having said that, some of these players’ titles are available on Steam, so you should be able to play some of them with Proton.

The Humble Bundle, on the other hand, sells a plethora of Linux games, so there’s that.

Lutris and Wine are Heoric, but can’t open a valve to Steam

Lutris is a neat concept in theory, but I found it difficult to get started, and I eventually gave up on trying to instal Windows native games through the installer. I read on Reddit that there is a lot of support for it, but I couldn’t get it to work for my use case. I can see the advantages of having a single front end for games, and Lutris has done an excellent job of attempting to script or automate games, but I prefer control. And I like that it’s a front end for RetroArch, ScummVM, MAME, and other emulators.

Personally, the majority of my games are via Steam – so naturally, it’s a win with the Steam client.

Steam Big Picture view
Steam Big Picture view

I know gamers have had success with Wine as well as Lutris, but it’s all too much of a hassle for something I just want to get on with. I’m too old, and I don’t have the time to devote to possibly getting a game to work. But I appreciate that developers are working on it and attempting to make it all work together. Kudos!

There are some valiant efforts

The open source community is amazing – if there’s no available software through proprietary means you can get bet some talented individuals are starting a project to fill the void.

Some notable mentioned if you plan to persist with Linux based gaming:

1
Wine Front Ends

Winetricks prefix selection menu

2
Game Managers

The Official Minecraft Launcher for Linux

3
Gaming Utilities

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uchS6OiwiU

4
Emulation Support

DR-DOS 6.0 running on 86BOX

And then there’s the GPU drivers

On my main desktop, I have an NVIDIA GPU and various integrated Intel Graphics chips, and I’ve found that overall support for those GPUs is pretty good. In most cases, I get higher FPS than their Windows counterparts, but I miss out on GeForce Experience and further tweaking and customization, if that’s your thing. I know some players are upset that the drivers aren’t completely open source, but at least NVIDIA is giving the major distros a chance to collaborate and improve stability and performance.

While for AMD fans, there are open-source Vulkan drivers for their cards that, in some cases, outperform their proprietary counterparts. Additionally, AMD provides Linux Radeon software, which is a plus.

What about Gaming device support?

Corsair, Logitech, Razer, and SteelSeries all lack native Linux applications for their gaming products. Some have Windows, while others have both Windows and MacOS, but no Tux. While I’d like to say it’s a missed opportunity, I can see why software is missing for the 1.28%. Sure, wine could save you, but in my experience, wine isn’t a good one. I have a Corsair Gaming Keyboard and Gaming Mouse, both of which work fine under Kubuntu using generic drivers. I don’t have any fancy lighting or preset controls, but they do the job.

I owned a Logitech Gaming headset that worked with native drivers, but the lack of compatible client software prevented me from enjoying the lighting effects and fanciness.

Back to Windows, then?

For me, any Battle.net, EPIC, and Origin games will return to where I began. However, for Steam games, I’m loving my Linux experience, particularly for titles that are native (TF2 L4D, HL, etc). While I’m not quite ready to abandon my Windows partition entirely due to the above reasons, I’m hoping to see more Linux support from the other publishers, and then we’ll see the 1.28% shift dramatically upwards – or will the Proton engine get better and better and we’ll get them anyway? Only time will tell.