Open Ballot: does a lack of games hold Linux back?


After getting sucked into Osmos last night when he should have been doing something far more useful, Andrew got to thinking about games on Linux. Osmos is beautiful, intelligent and original, but our neighbours on PC Format would likely scoff at anything less than the latest Assassin's Creed or Counterstrike iteration.

That got us thinking: is the lack of big-name games for the Linux platform a deterrent to first-time users? Or is a handful of independent games (plus ZSNES and DOSBox) enough to satisfy their gaming urges?

Let us know what you think in time for our latest podcast, and we'll read out a fair, balanced and representative sample of them on air – but not if you can't be bothered to change your name to something more original than Anonymous Penguin.

You should follow us on or Twitter

Your comments

Gamers aren't the majority.

Most PC users aren't hardcore gamers. Most PC users are more likely to play their flash and facebook games and be happy. So having a linux desktop shouldn't hold them back in that regard. I still think that the "stick with what you know/have" mindset is what stops Windows users moving to Linux.

I think so aye. How many of

I think so aye. How many of us dual boot with windows for gaming, or know folks who do? The problem with that is the temptation to boot into windows when they come across something they don't know when using Linux. instead of learning the packaging system, they may load Windows to install the application, because they have been using windows for decades and know how to do it in Windows. My flatmate has ubuntu 8.10 on his system, but he never uses it. started at.first, and loved it. he kept Windows for gaming. he doesn't quite understand how to install spotify under ubuntu, so he loads into Windows to install it. same with Chrome. he is up against a different method and new terminology and it was easier for him to slowly start using windows again, and now it is all he uses. games aren't the sole cause for this,
but it is a reason why some people keep Windows and end up returning to it rather than learn a new system.

It's probably the last thing holding back users from switching

I've heard it lots of times from lots of people: "I like Linux, but I'm sticking with Windows because Linux doesn't run my games. When games will work on Linux (nativelly, not in some WINEy emulated sort of way), I'll switch over."

Definitely, but it's not only that

I would disagree with Steve Ward's comment to a certain extent in that while gamers aren't the majority they are a significant minority. More hardcore gamers want to play games and they are also, generally, a bit more techie level users so they are a good target for not only becoming Linux users but also Linux evangelists as other folks often come to them for advice. Yes, there is also the apathy/"scared of something new" factor that is meaning other, more general users aren't adopting Linux, but I think the lack (or perceived lack) of games on Linux is quite a significant factor in slowing adoption. Many gamers may well convert, especially if all their titles are supported, when they build a new system if it means they don't have to spend money on Windows in addtion to everything else. Having to dual boot to play games is quite a killer in actually using it, as many gamers will log on, do some stuff, then play a game with what time they have left - and they won't want to have to reboot to do this. I play WoW and on my dual boot system it runs faster on Linux than on windows (I have measured this), and so I use Linux 99% of the time but when there were WINE issues a year or two ago I used windows as most of the time I'd be doing other stuff as well, at the same time. Fortunately that brief period of WINE problems have gone and not come back so now I'm virtually exclusively Linux on my dual boot system.

It's one problem for sure

Despite a few minor applications that users use and don't work in Linux (yesterday one designer told me that if he could run all the adobe suite applications he uses in Linux we would switch over, until then, he stay's with windows)
games are also one issue that make users staying in windows.

Hold Linux back? No it's not.

It's the last thing holding Linux back.

I'll reiterate what @Brian Hunter said.

and add that
Most people haven't got the time and the energy to learn a new operating system when the one they have works fine.


it is still a relate issue of getting commercial apps on Linux

Open TTD

Once you have discovered open ttd, there are no other games you need.

I do dual boot into windows sometimes to play games, but if steam(Valve?) ever releases a linux version of steam (??) then I wouldn't need too.

I don't think that the vast

I don't think that the vast majority is all that concerned with anything other then farmville and the like. But for us that likes games it's kind of an thorn in our paws.
While there are quite a few awesome games on Linux, and just judging by the amount today and say seven years ago, when I started playing around in it, I think we are on the way to some nice gaming on Linux as well. 0 A.D. just as an example.

Further more I think most people, like me, could easily skip World of Warcraft and co and be quiet pleased with a functioning OS and do their gaming on the consoles. Which, to me, is by far a more pleasant gaming experience all around(comps really only win on fps, cant get away from how much better a mouse is for aiming).


While _I_ think that the previously said is true in most families I think its the kids that decide to some extent what computer the home will use, that would be the way that Linux "loses" potential users by the fact that games are largely a windows only thing.


I play tetris. Linux has tetris. Of sorts. Otherwise I use my Linux computer to work and make a living.

On the rare occasions I play anything else than tetris it's on my PS console.

Btw your captchas suck something terrible :) it's like playing a game and a boring one at that trying to figure out the letters.

Not really

There are a number of things holding back greater Linux adoption but I don't think gaming is one of them. Most people I know who are exclusively Windows/Mac users don't play that many games on their machines, instead choosing to use their phones and games consoles. I'm the same, when I see a new game that looks good I tend to look for it on the console before I think about the PC.

Having more of the independent games developers release onto Linux would be nice, but I doubt it would bring more people into the fold.

Yes, but not because there's a lack of games.

I think if every big-name game had a penguin on the box next to the Windows logo, a lot of hardcore gamers would switch to Linux - and use it to watch Youtube, while they play games on their collection of consoles like they've always done. The problem is not the lack of games per se, but the lack of incidental marketing provided by games.

Of course there are some great games that only run on Windows, and there are plenty of gamers who would install Linux if it was required for the latest & greatest game, but I don't believe that deters the majority of first-time users. Most people simply don't consider Linux a serious OS, much less a serious gaming OS, because they don't see it mentioned 50 times every time they visit a computer shop or game site.

Depends on Who You Ask

Hard Gamers will say yes there is a lack of games. But us non-gamers will say no it is OK. So it really depends on who you ask. Everyone is waiting for one big Gaming company to release a "big" game natively to Linux. But with gaming company pinching every penny I think it will be a while for that Big Gaming company to do that. I think in the short to mid term the biggest hope will be a smaller company that releases a game for Linux and that game for what ever reason becomes a smash hit.

Linux users tend to know what they're doing

They're not afraid of playing around with something for a little while to get it going, and with that attitude, you can run a hell of a lot of decent Windows games on Linux.

PlayOnLinux makes installing Steam very easy, which gives you access to all sorts of greatness.

I'd say the main thing holdinng us back is ATI and NVidia not updating their drivers for the latest version of X very often.

I was running linux for a

I was running linux for a number of years, making real efforts to learn the packaging system, even running my own mail/imap and web servers, even create a couple of packages myself.

I kept switching back to windows for games. Then I switched back to windows for the odd app that didn't exist on linux and getting it working in wine was too much effort.

The sad truth (for me at least) is that the more precious my time becomes the less likely I am to use linux. As a consequence I don't have any linux machines any more; something I'm really disappointed about, even my server is now a dedicated WHS box, and I've not had a single problem with it.

No matter how much better linux is under the hood and how much more sensible in many ways, the convenience of windows (and the readily available software I need) meant that whenever I quickly needed a computer up and running, it got windows installed. There is no way in linux to "quickly try something out", if the software isn't in the package db,then you're out of luck. No such issue with windows.

Case in point was the revo I bought recently. It came with Linux pre-installed. When connected to my TV via HDMI the resolution was totally wrong (graphics overlapping everywhere) and after 20 fruitless minutes of trying to get it working I installed Windows 7 and was fully up and running in the correct resolution 60 seconds after install. If I had been my landlord the machine would have gone back to the store as "broken".

I think games are merely a symptom; the biggest hurdle I found to using linux was fragmentation. I can't install package X on system Y. If you test your whatever (game/app) on distro A, there's no guarantee it will run on distro B.

It's the freedom and variety that makes linux so great and popular with geeks and techies that makes it a nightmare for ordinary users. Too many desktops, too-many package managers, too-many everything. Sit in front of any windows or apple machine as an ordinary user and you're mostly good to go. Sit in front of a "linux" computer and you're confronted with Gnome/KDE/xfcb, RPM/DEB, every function seemingly has a different app in every distribution.

How much worse must that be for game/app developers who have to hit a moving target of kernel/compiler/library versions?

I think if those issues are resolved, games will start coming to linux and with them ordinary users.

No idea...

I have no idea, as I am not a PC gamer so the lack gaming on Linux doesn't really wager into my computing at all.

I think it does, at least to an extent

It's not just kids that like to play games these days. I know many adults (including seniors) who will not even try to use Linux because they already know that there is not a large variety of games available. I'm an adult too, and I also like to play games all the time, but I choose to use Linux for many reasons. The main things I miss about using Windows is I can't go to the store and buy a game to play on my Linux computer, and that I can't play the same games as my friends who are using Windows.


Of course it does, it would be absurd to suggest otherwise. It doesn't matter whether we're talking about millions of people or even a few thousand, the simple fact is that there are plenty of people out there - myself included - who keep Windows around to play games. Myself, I dual boot, using Windows for gaming and Linux for everything else. Many gamers wouldn't have the knowledge or inclination to do that, so they just stick with Windows. If Linux could run all games natively, it would be used by a lot more people.

Haven't you played doom or quake??

Most of us have switched to Linux from our time on Windows' Jail. We've made this move happily to come to a system that respect us but most of us enjoyed playing some of the most popular games on Windows, and sometimes, at least I do, we miss them. Younger boys and girls may not want to leave those enjoyable apps.


I think there is some validity to the argument that dual booting keeps people from really trying it and absorbing it because their old comfy friend is just a reboot away.

The things that used to cause people to dual boot, like program incompatibility for files, have shrunk down a lot, but games is still one of the last frontiers that hasn't really been addressed at all.

Games like World of Warcraft, Starcraft 2, Fable (I/II/III), and other big box games will only run on Windows and sometimes Mac.

There are a few good games on Linux, but let's not kid ourselves, they aren't even in the same league and real gamers are not going to be satisfied with them.


I am certain that it holds Linux back, as a gaming platform we're pretty appalling. There are a few alright FPS' but that's about it, even them you need to use buggy proprietary drivers to play. If even the steam client came to Linux it would be GREAT as I know people who dual boot into windows JUST FOR GAMES, wine isn't good enough (unless we can make it work 100x better than it does now for gaming). First we need to do well in OTHER areas to gain our market share, then devs will think about porting games to Linux as right now they (perfectly understandably) don't.

Most power users are also pc gamers

The Linux community wants the power users to switch to Linux, power users will learn the system and encourage other people, friends and family to learn Linux. They will also be the "goto" guy in their social circle for problems concerning computers.

I am a power user myself, I work as a programmer for a large software company that shall remain unnamed, I have friends who dabble in programming and I have friends who also work in software development in competing companies.
Common to them all is they're always looking forward to the next computer rpg thats coming out, the next strategy game; I'll name a few thats being played Planescape: Torment, Baldurs Gate II, Fallout 1+2, Fallout: New Vegas, Civilization V, Sword of The Stars and Neverwinter Nights 2.

These are people who love computers, they love programming and technology and they love games. They find Linux to be interesting but as long as these "big title games" aren't supported there they see no future or use for it.

Wine does the job in some cases, but it's support can be flaky at best and it's never good enough when the next great rpg or strategy game gets released, then they think why should they only have second grade support if at all, when they can just play the newest thing on Windows the moment it's released?.

Theres a sort of hostility towards retail pay for games in the Linux landscape.
Many people thinking that the open source games should be good enough.
Unfortunately they're not even remotely close to the games that got released 15 years ago in whats considered the 'golden age' of pc gaming amongst the power users in my own social circle the years 1992 until 2002.
People like Linus Torvalds and many of his peers never experienced that as they've been using and programming on Linux since 1993, and so pc gaming to them is a non issue, for them a pc is something you use to program with, surf the internet and check your email. And that might be good enough 'for most people' who don't see the computer as anything but a tool to get a job done.

But for the power users who did experience this golden age and love pc gaming for the qualities it attained during this 'golden age' and might still retain some of them, it's not good enough as they use the pc for work and fun, the pc isn't as much a tool, as it's an extension of themselves, and if they're not able to do it all on the operating system, then the operating system is just not up to par.
Even if it's technically, ethically and morally superior, if it can't play the games, then it's not good enough.

I think that games are an

I think that games are an important factor. If you brought mainstream games to Linux, you would get many more converts almost overnight.

However, I think that the most important thing to get people to use Linux is to pre-install it on computers. Many people will just stick with what they've got, and not bother with anything else. I don't think that for most it's a problem of not being bothered, or not knowing how to switch, it's a problem of not knowing Linux is out there, or not knowing enough about it to understand. The amount of times I've told my friends I run Linux, and then had to explain it in terms of "You know how Windows and Mac are different? Well, Linux is different again." Because that is the extent of their knowledge, and it is hard for computer-literate people to understand. One of my friends didn't even understand what I meant by "browser". It's a question of education.


No, as minecraft works for linux. Minecraft is ace!

Another brick in the wall...

Whilst Linux has many attractions for various users, it clearly does lack in big-name games that other platforms provide. Personally, I loved playing games on my old Amiga 500, and later on Windows 98, but the attraction has since waned (with the sole exception being a prerequisite that a Tetris clone live on my Linuxbox).

Serious gamers, like my brother-in-law tend to prefer dedicated games consoles (like the PS3 or X-Box), so I don't think a linux desktop is likely to compete, especially if 3D graphics are still an issue for some nVidia and ATI cards.

That said, Linux is more than capable of playing host to any number of native or ported games if correctly applied and marketed. And, if we would like to see Linux become a mainstream desktop of choice, then the choice of big name games must also become another brick in our wall.

We often talk about how Linux or FOSS provides choice, but I'd say we are severely lacking in providing THAT kind of choice. Serious gamers are a market we must exploit. So as long as we can convince developers to provide decent games for our platform, and we can match that gaming experience with hardware and OS excellence, then why not? I'm not sure if Linux NEEDS to attract gamers, but what have we got to lose if we try?


I can't stop playing openTTD. All my friends on windows also play it XD. I don't see why we need another game.

Games or Gamers?

Linux has many good games plus emulators for classic games from other platforms.

A hardcore gamer who wants the latest game will stick with Windows, folks like me who play a game to fill an odd 10 minutes find linux games just fine!

Yes very much so!

Its one of the few reasons I keep a partition of Windows on my Laptop.

Wine does help, but its never as easy as just playing it on Windows.

If linux had Steam like Mac just got maybe things would work a little easier.

linux needs gamers...

linux needs gamers 'cos they tend to be the tech support in many households. and if they went over to using Linux then they would wear down their surrounding users to try Linux also.
Linux has got what it takes low system overheads great hardware compatibility all that's holding it back is a good range of games, i'm sure if porting were done well they would easy run as good as windows if not better. kinda down to the video drivers to keep up.
Some independent software houses are catching on... now if we could get a standard base... mmm mmmm sounds a good idea..

...perhaps we could get Pink Pony running with 3d glasses!!


download time and again

I do still dual boot, and that is mostly for games, however there are some other things holding me back, like hot plugging projectors/second monitors. One issue with games on linux is the fact that if you like to try other distros, you end up redownloading huge games every few months. You don't just stick in the CD/DVD and install.

Good riddance to games!

I like the fact that there are no "serious" games on Linux. Time spent playing GTA San Andreas and Star Wars Battlefront can now go on more productive things like website design and learning to code.

It's just one a ways the lack of apps problem manifests itself

It's a lot more difficult to make a linux application than a windows\mac application due to lack of standardization, this leads to much less applications and some of the casualties of that have to be games.

A lack of the same games

A lack of the same games holds Linux back. My friends hate it when I say, nope, can't play the latest Call of Duty, I'm running Linux. I know about Wine, but it has its limitations. Until the game developers start investing in Linux ports this will always be a problem.

Gaming is not such a big problem now.

Gaming on Linux is not such a big problem now. We have Wine(wine-tricks) and Wine based emulators: Cedega and CrossOver Gaming. Major popular games could run very well on Linux although the performance is not good as on the original windows platform. IMHO, one of the most important aspect that holding Linux back is the community is so diverse. Diverse makes the Linux world colorful, but diverse also cause a lot of duplication of efforts and can not utilize the resource to concentrate on big issues.


All it takes is one or two PC gamers in the family when the kids are young to ensure the family computer is Windows based - and then the addiction is started.

Interest in Linux then depends on the geekiness factor - and dual booting.

It is a problem for those who need the latest and greatest

It would be great if the games companies could create games that run directly under Linux, but as the market is probably perceived as too small it isn't worth their time to do it.
For me Wine has been great it has allowed me to run a lot of the windows games I like Starcraft 1 & 2,Warcraft 3, Doctor Who adventure games, Civ IV.
However you can't rush out and buy the game and run it smoothly straight away. Which is the killer for many people
It took about 3 weeks for me to be able to run Starcraft 2 on my machine. I just kept biding my time plugging away at it and eventually I got it to work. Thank heavens for Play On Linux and the ablility to select specific versions of Wine to run against an Application.

It is a problem for those who need the latest and greatest

It would be great if the games companies could create games that run directly under Linux, but as the market is probably perceived as too small it isn't worth their time to do it.
For me Wine has been great it has allowed me to run a lot of the windows games I like Starcraft 1 & 2,Warcraft 3, Doctor Who adventure games, Civ IV.
However you can't rush out and buy the game and run it smoothly straight away. Which is the killer for many people
It took about 3 weeks for me to be able to run Starcraft 2 on my machine. I just kept biding my time plugging away at it and eventually I got it to work. Thank heavens for Play On Linux and the ablility to select specific versions of Wine to run against an Application.

It is a biggy

For some like me it is quite a biggy. I am a massive fan of linux as an OS but annoyingly find myself reverting to windows because dual booting seems irrelivent to me, as I spend most my time gaming, so dual-booting just to use firefox? No thanks!

I understand that WINE does help but it never seems to support the game I want to play. It is an amazing project though.

Maybe when gaming support improves I wont need to use windows, but I dont see that happening any time soon.

Less games means less distractions

In my windows running days It would be easier to become distracted due to the abundance of new games available. Part of my initial reasoning for switching for linux was to start doing some "proper" computing and stop wasting as much of my time.

If I did ever want to start running the latest and greatest games I would just buy a games console.

In the long run it's saved me a hell of a lot of money and given me an environment with less distractions, improving my knowledge by being able to spend time actually reading and properly computing.

I won't complain about more games

When I first attempted to switch to Linux in the late 90's this was one reason to keep Windows and ultimately the reason I gave up on Linux at that time. I was heavily into Counter-Strike when it was just a mod to the original Half-Life. I didn't understand why I couldn't get better performance and why I had to do so much configuration to get some games to work at all (Wine, etc.).

Now my priorities for computing have changed and I don't get to play games much; I've reduced the M$ usage to a virtual machine if a program won't work any other way. I think there is probably a large audience that would switch to Linux if their games would run on it.

Yes...Games would boost the

Yes...Games would boost the use of Linux to a wider audience....

Would be nice, but

I certainly don't find the current crop of Linux games very interesting, but I'm not sure the PC games market is so big that it's worth the (presumably) massive effort it would take to get even a tiny slice of games working on Linux.

Personally I dual boot so that I can play games on the Windows machine, so it would obviously be nice for me if, say Valve released Steam for Linux. But I doubt it would attract anybody to switch.


I think If Ubuntu got Games like Doom3, QuakeWars ect... on a one click install in the software center, it would bring the intermittent gamers like myself in.

And if that crowd purchased a lot of games, this could be a snowball effect for other games (and dear I say, software)

Hardcore gamers will always go to the hot cake place like PS3,XBOX and (sadly) Windows

Gamer Hell

I love gaming and love Linux and it's a total nightmare everyone i know would use Linux if they could play proper games, and not be palmed off with "there are some great Linux games" until they can install any game and load it with a few click Linux will never challenge Windows seriously.

It's not a show stopper but it is a factor

For those who are into games and young and bright it is a point. Like me it keeps a Windows dual boot around. Except I'm not young and getting dimmer

Long Road

Look at OSX. That has a lot more games than Linux, but no real gamer tries to get by on OSX alone simply because there's always going to be games that aren't ported from Windows. Likewise with Linux. More games might entice some Windows users to make the switch -- at least partially -- but unless there's a 1 to 1 correspondence in terms of what's available, it's hard to imagine a dedicated PC gamer giving up Windows.

Myself, I'm reconciled to having to reboot my desktop into Windows whenever I want to play a game and having to reboot into Linux whenever I want to work, browse the internet securely, or just enjoy an elegant operating system!


I've heard numerous times over from people, notably PC gamers, that would make the switch permanently to Linux if the Steam platform came to Linux, or some other such solution that would make replacing Windows or at last dual-booting obsolete

Games may not be that important for all Linux users, but there's enough folks out there craving the full gaming experience on all platforms, including Linux, to make it worthwhile, IMHO.

"Silly Reasons..."

There are many reasons that most big time game developers don't want to create games for the Linux platform. It comes down to these few:

1) "Not enough users to make it worth while." According to most stats, Linux users are either at or just below where Mac users base are at which is 10% (give or take a few).

2) "Too fragmented to create games for." This point maybe true. One of the benefits of using a Linux distro is the abundents of choices that a user can choose from. If you get sick of one, or you dislike a direction a distro is taking, just pick another. This may be nice, but for most game developers this can get frustrating, since a developer likes a common platform to bug test on.

3) "Linux users refuse to pay for anything." This point has been muted with the release of (memory slips me)the compilation game set released awhile back. If a well developed game, or application, is offered at a reasonable price, most Linux users would be willing to purchase that product.

So those are just some of the many reasons, but lets focus on point two. "Linux is too fragmented..." - Opengl is capable of running on any Linux distro, or for that matter, any 'nix os. So why the argument with Linux fragmentation? Seems really silly to me, wouldn't you think. Some have complained about the difficulty deciding what sound platform to support. Well, thats becoming less and less a problem, since more and more Linux distros are opting for Pulse-Audio.

Well that leaves the first point, which is not enough users.
Let me see here...If there are the same amount of Linux users as there are Mac OS X, again give or take afew, then why the beef? IMO, there may be a need of some of the leading Linux distros to start taking a stand with EA and the others. But this may be asking too much, since some of them could care less. Until this changes, this will always be a sticking point for Windows users (myself included) to make the switch to Linux permanently.

It is the major draw back for young people

If you try to get anyone into linux you can mention so many nice or even great things about it. Then the typical questions will come:
- Office?
No problem
- Surfing the web?
No problem
- Communicating?
No problem
- Games?
No good linux games, wine is too complicated to use, and the big ones won't run
(you could always double boot, but that isn't linux, is it??)

It is easy to convert some old fart that never used a computer before, it is easy to convert someone that knows well enough how to use his PC and it is completely fed up with WIndows. The hard part is to get someone there in between and specially someone young that uses 80% of their computer time playing.
The future of the world would be a much better place if we could have a nice bunch of young people moving towards the open and free world.

So I say: get the games in linux and save the future!

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Username:   Password: