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What is wrong with the Linux/*nix family for games? What makes the development of games for this platform too slow compared to Windows or even OS X?

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closed as off-topic by Josh Petrie Aug 21 '13 at 21:23

  • This question does not appear to be about game development within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Also, there's this excellent list. – George Edison Jan 31 '11 at 3:38
I believe I read somewhere that Valve failed to get an OpenGL port of a game to run slower then the DirectX port! Give me a minute to double check! – Luke San Antonio Aug 21 '13 at 20:28
I'm pretty sure this isn't it, but pretty interesting anyway!… – Luke San Antonio Aug 21 '13 at 20:30
This question appears to be off-topic because it is speculative in nature and has no single answer. – Josh Petrie Aug 21 '13 at 21:23

14 Answers 14

up vote 18 down vote accepted

For game clients, it mostly has to do with culture, leading to difficult monetization strategies.

Servers for multiplayer games, on the other hand, have gotten a lot of traction for linux/nix, it is a very attractive platform for developing server technology.

There is hope that eventual release of Steam for Linux will help change that culture when it comes to clients, and provide developers and publishers a more monetarily viable platform for distributing games.

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What is wrong with the Linux/*nix family for games?

'Wrong' is a strong word, but I'll list a few things that hold games developers back from working on Linux.

Culture - Linux people tend more to believe software should be free - this isn't conducive to making a profit off selling your software. This may change in the future with online games being 'software as a service' in a sense.

Market share - The market share of Linux on the desktop has always been quite small. Now that the market share has finally crept up from 'negligible' to 'pitifully low' you could make a small argument for targetting that platform - if the previous point wasn't at all true, that is. This has also come a bit too late - the non-console game market is really quite small these days when you exclude MMOs.

Developer support - Microsoft have poured a lot of time and money into DirectX, and more recently into XNA. With one download, you had all the APIs and documentation you needed to make games. Linux has no central body to do this, nor even one single product that could be used instead. SDL doesn't do 3D graphics, OpenGL doesn't do anything but graphics, neither have had a very credible upgrade strategy in recent years, and there are a billion other libraries (many of which can be found on a list I maintain here) you can throw into the mix without any clear leaders. It's just a lot more hassle. On top of that a lot of leading middleware doesn't work on Linux, so instead of tried and tested code with paid support you have to consider using abandoned open source that's never been used in a shipped game.

OS support - Linux can do everything Windows does, but it certainly makes it hard sometimes. Sound support in particular is awful. Video support is awkward due to the legalities around codecs. Distribution of your binaries can be fiddly when you consider the different packaging types you need to support. All these things can be overcome if you know what you're doing, but most Windows developers won't know what they're doing with Linux so they aren't able to smoothly port their product to Linux.

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Linux accounts for roughly 1% of total end users accessing the internet (OS Marketshare). It's usage increases significantly when talking about servers, but it's just not a big consumer OS.

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And regarding the markshare of gamers? Remember that Unix was invented by a bored guy that wanted a multi-tasking OS so he could play :P Most people using windows don't even game, they use it to check their e-mail, use MS Word (I cringe at that :/) and etc... – speeder Jul 21 '10 at 21:23
going to throw in as an example, here are some awesome games that work cross platform, and as seen by the chart, about 1/3 of the people who bought it were Linux, so the whole 1% thing doesn't hold for games... – admalledd Feb 9 '11 at 8:29
On the other hand the Steam Hardware Surveys put the percentage back closer to 1. It could be argued that the humble bundle stuff targets a more specialist/enthusiast market, and counterargued that Steam targets a hardcore-rather-than-casual gamer market, but either way it seems that there is no "right" figure, and you need to know what kind of target audience you're aiming for with the kind of game you're making. – Le Comte du Merde-fou Aug 21 '13 at 22:46

There's nothing wrong with the Linux/*nix family of OSes for game development except for perceived audience. Most devs feel that the effort to create games for Linux won't translate into copies sold of their games, especially in the AAA communities.

Even several companies that just ported even AAA games to linux (didn't even pay the upfront cost of developing the game) have not been able to generate enough sales on that platform to stay afloat.

That said, Linux can be a boon to many indie devs, because there are some Linux zealots will buy a game simply because it comes out on Linux.

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Linux gaming is a largely untapped market, in my opinion, especially for indies. If you look at the numbers as reported by Hemisphere Games for Osmos and the numbers reported by Wolfire Games for the Humble Indie Bundle (especially the total revenue for each platform), you can see that Linux users can be pretty eager to support those who support Linux.

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But will Linux users pay for the games? Will some or many of them have ideological issues with DRM? – Jared Updike Jul 30 '10 at 22:34
@Jared I absolutely think that MOST of them will have issues with DRM; after all, Linux was formed out of the need for free (as in freedom) software, and I think a lot of its users know and respect the culture that has grown out of GNU/Linux and the free and open source software movement. I can't speak for Hemisphere Games, but I know that all the games in the Humble Indie Bundle were completely DRM-free, and I truly think it helped their cause, especially in the Linux world. – Ricket Jul 30 '10 at 22:45
@Ricket: +1 @Jared: I'd pay but, only for DRM-free games. If the only reason for not pirating a game were DRM, something went wrong in the design. – Tobias Kienzler Aug 11 '10 at 12:47
@Jared: There are probably very few folks who wouldn't use any closed-source software on Linux. You're likely to find more anti-DRM sentiment, but DRM doesn't do any good anyway, so I don't see the harm in dropping it. – Branan Aug 31 '10 at 19:14

One thing i noticed that hasn't been touched on here yet, is the overall hodgepodge of drivers, kernels, and libraries you have to work with on linux. It's gotten better lately (with a few distros making up what i can only guess is the majority of the linux boxes out there), but it still is a mess. For a great example of what i mean, see this post-mortem of the linux Osmos port, specifically the "Didn't Love" section. In short, that article complains about:

  • Supporting multiple distrosDEs/WMs/drivers/etc.
  • Audio [my comment: and let's face it, the audio support on linux is pretty atrocious at times]
  • Lack of documentation and consensus (little official documentation, and if you ask in a forum you get as many answers as posts, not to mention outdated thread containing wrong answers)
  • Packaging the game
  • No OS-level GUI layer for simple dialogs
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What do you mean with too slow? I don't think that gamedev for linux is any slower than for other operating systems. If you meant to ask why there are no commercial games developed for linux I'd guess it's mostly because the market is too small. There was a company that started to port commercial windows games to linux but they closed down because they hadn't any success selling those games iirc. Futhermore if you want to develop a game for linux you still need to provide it for windows as well if you want to make enough money, however developing it in such a cross-platform manner is even more costly and the linux market is probably not worth it. So I'd say it's just not cost-effective.

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The company that closed down, was Loki games. However, there is now Linux Game Publishing (LGP) that does much the same job. – SpoonMeiser Jul 15 '10 at 22:08

One reason that I think Linux doesn't get as much attention is simply that most people who run Linux can also choose to run Windows via a dual-boot setup to run games. This also effects Mac users as well to some extent, but due to the less technical make up of the userbase (not saying this as a slight to Mac users -- it's more that Linux users tend to be the kind of people who don't mind doing all sorts of arcane technical tasks to get something working), there are less people willing to install Windows on their machine.

Closely related is that anyone who is interested in PC games is probably going to buy a PC with Windows on it. Since they have a Windows machine already, they aren't going to be demanding native Linux or Mac versions.

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This is it. The problem is not simply the small Linux install base: the problem is that most people who use Linux and are interested in gaming, just dual boot or give up and play with consoles. – o0'. Jan 31 '11 at 0:22

I also think there's simply power in numbers. There's many more windows users than linux users and thus more output on windows. Also, entry level is a lot lower with visual tools versus command line tools (although that has changed over time). Also a lot of kids got their parent's old PC to tinker with, which statictically was more likely to be a windows PC than a Linux box.

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The common game user is not a linux user. So the market is not there and not wise to spend money trying to focus on that market.

I know that id Software try to release a linux client of their games, just because they are awesome and love the platform.

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Strange. A similar answer is upvoted a lot, and this one downvoted? Why?… – Suma Aug 12 '10 at 8:39
No clue. People are strange. – Ólafur Waage Aug 13 '10 at 11:20

Let's not forget that most commercial game engines is tied to and/or have a toolset squarely rooted on win32/consoles. This is also the reason why so many games still uses BSP for instance. Because they've made a huge investment, they are not going to take a huge risk for a smaller market. Might change in the future, but right now you have to invest a lot of effort to become cross platform.

Since Steam just appeared on the Mac, which is really excellent news, I suspect it will only be a matter of time before it appears on Linux. A Mac is running a unix-like OS, so there shouldn't be too much trouble porting the games over.

At least we can hope. :)

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Erm, several games were developed away from Win32... Like, several id Software games (made using the NEXT that today is named MacOSX0 or the engine already supports *nix like... id software games! And older unreal iterations (I dunno why U3 has no Linux version... UT2004 had even linux autorun!) – speeder Jul 30 '10 at 5:22

Another major issue you must take into account when developing for linux is how to install your game. There is no standard install mechanism that works without issues across distributions. There are package management systems which make your life easier though not all distros use the same formats. The two most common packaging formats would probably be .deb (used by debian based distros) and .rpm (used by redhat based distros). You can waste a lot of time getting the packaging of your application right for multiple distributions, though if you choose not to supply your game in a distros chosen packaging format you run the risk of alienating their user base.

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I wonder if the market is as small as people say. I mean I know several people who use Linux as their day to day OS that keep a partition free for a windows install to play their games. (I do the same) The one and only reason we have windows installed is because of the software developers. If they shift their positions and support Linux then I'm certain the adoption rate would go up. But nothing will change unless somebody takes the leap first (come on valve).

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Personally, I solved a lot of Linux's issues by using Wine, but I still had problems finding a standardized installation solution that'd work for everyone.

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