My Thoughts On Valve's Proton Steam Play Feature and Linux Gaming

So I was reading a great post by liamdawe@ over at gamingonlinux.com entitled: 'Some thoughts on Valve’s new Steam Play feature and what it means for Linux gaming', and I wanted to share my thoughts about it.

liamdawe's post is about Valve's new Linux+GNU Gaming initiative dubbed 'Steam Play', which uses an open source fork of the venerable WINE compatibility application for playing win-based programs on Linux, see winehq.org for more information about this great program.

First of all, these are exciting times for Linux Gaming!

I've been plugging for gaming on Linux for a decade or more. I've also been using and working with Linux for even longer than that. For example, I wrote some simple posts about how Linux would be great for gaming back in 2009, e.g., 'Proof - Gamers want GNU/Linux ports'. After all these years, I'm still just as excited about Linux being a major gaming platform as I was back then!

Also, I remember back on 7/25/2012 when allthingsd.com reported Gabe Newell as saying,  “We want to make it as easy as possible for the 2,500 games on Steam to run on Linux as well. It’s a hedging strategy. I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space. I think we’ll lose some of the top-tier PC/OEMs, who will exit the market. I think margins will be destroyed for a bunch of people. If that’s true, then it will be good to have alternatives to hedge against that eventuality."

After that, Valve valiantly carved out this new path of making Valve games work with Linux. Valve pulled a lot of heavy work by investing a metric f-ton into trying to make gaming on Linux expand. Vulkan is big, Steam machines, Valve's games ported, Steam OS, inviting Debian Developers to the platform, etc. etc. There is a real vision from Gabe and obviously people at Valve to make gaming on Linux happen! It's fabulous! We have come so far with Linux as a gaming platform!

Valve's Proton, which uses a forked version of Winehq.org, is the latest iteration of Valve moving toward Gabe's stated goal. Valve was able to get quite a number of games ported over to and available to Linux. Then things seemed to plateau, just a bit. And, a recurring problem is there are still some a-list gaming titles missing from the platform.

In my opinion, Proton, is like dropping a gear, flooring it, and flying past any Linux gaming market share ever realized before! Keep in mind, even with all the great work Valve has done, steam reporting of Linux as the market share for games still stayed in the single digits as a percentage. So this proton, this is the signal that Valve is not giving up, but instead - Gabe's opening the next can of whoop-ass to bringing Linux gaming to the mainstream!

First of all, they make proton open source. This is absolutely the right way to do it! Gabe said it himself. I figure Valve is working with codeweavers.com(they created the WINE project) at some level as well, which is good. Also, imagine if GoG.com and anyone else who wants to allow some windows software to run on Linux, could use this same approach - like Proton, to make it easier.

Next, as indicated by their statement about showing users on Proton as Linux users, Valve will be able to show game studios proof in numbers on how many users are interested in playing games on Linux. The fancy trick here is that Valve can prove that Linux is a viable platform, without the studio having to basically fork everything, spend $$$, and run two development shops to provide a native port of Linux. This should in turn provide an incentive for developers to make sure their titles work with Proton and thus work with Linux.

Consider Gabe's original stated goal - Valve is committed to bringing games to Linux, and by investing in proton, it shows Valve is still (after 5 years) in the business of making that work. It's great stuff!

As for Feral and other porters that have done great awesome work to port things over, couldn't they work to make more games work good with Proton (open source software), as well as do ports to Linux?

One of the main problems with porting to Linux is that it doesn't make $$$ sense to go back and port all of the previous software titles over all the way. Nobody will pay enough money to make this worth doing, e.g., if you have an old game you'd like to play in Linux, what incentive is there for the studio to spend $$$ to port it and then only be able to sell the game for a lesser price? Will you buy the old game for $60 a title? Likely not. So it's tough to port old stuff. And there's so many titles out there that are not ported to Linux.. With Proton, maybe porting the old stuff can be easier and cheaper, and maybe Feral can help with it. Then if the studio wants to sell the old titles, they can do it and sell it for a nominal fee and still profit.

All in all, hasn't the goal always been to make these games more cross-platform-compatible, as opposed to changing over everything to a Linux only version. It doesn't make sense for Valve or anyone to switch from one near-monopoly of market share in windows, only to do the same with Linux. Let the market share expand in working with Vulkan, which is cross-platform, and open source.

Crossover.com's Winehq.org is a fantastic project. The problem is that Wine has not been made mainstream enough for game makers to embrace it seriously (well maybe not publicly, Blizzard's games have historically worked awesome with it). With Valve making a version of Wine in Proton, Wine has just been made mainstream. It's like Debian to Ubuntu.

Now the thing to do is to get enough buzz going around Proton, that the major titles will make their stuff work well with it. Then we have more gaming on Linux, more recognition of Linux as a gaming platform, a hedge to windows, and a win win all around! Also, consider that Linus Torvalds himself even wants Linux on the desktop to be used more, more gaming on Linux means more of Linux as the Desktop as a possibility!

Here's how you can help: Send the message to game developers - Ask for that Linux port! Also, ask that if no Linux port can be done, then the game should at least work well with Valve's Proton! This way, thanks to Valve and Open Source Proton, the games will be Linux compatible!

Get your Freedom on! Switch to GNU+Linux as your Universal Gaming Platform today!

Cheers!
Shannon VanWagner
2018-10-13








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