Abandon all hope. The Linux gaming desktop is a pipe dream.
This is obviously only one man’s opinion, but lets think this through historically. Was 2013 the year of Linux gaming? Or even 2021? Simply put, no. So if we’re not there yet, what would it take?
What would it take to make a true Linux Gaming Desktop?
First off, let’s define what we’re arguing about. Some believe it to mean that you can run most games almost as well as you can on Windows. Even if that requires compatibility software like Proton and Wine. Other’s argue that it would mean a major game studio like EA or Blizzard started supporting Linux natively. I would argue a huge step further, for Linux to not be treated like a second-class operating system by the majority of the gaming world. For people to consider “Do I want a Console, a Windows PC or a Linux PC?”
I have been using various distros for a decade and most recently made the switch to Kubuntu 21.10 for five months before having to call it quits and go to Windows 11. These are some of my takeaways of what would be required for me to switch back.
Native developer support
That requires a lot more buy in and support by major players. You can’t have people worried they might be banned from playing their favorite game. You can’t have people looking at ProtonDB support pages for hours trying to figure out why their game isn’t playing nice when most people’s are.
How close are we to supporting most games natively? Not very. Less than 30% of the top 100 games from ProtonDB have native support. Then only another 13% are “Platinum” ranked.
That means over 50% of the top 100 games are ether unplayable, or users will experience issues with them or lack some feature.
It also requires the operating system itself to support the features those games will need. Linux is constantly lagging behind on features. As of writing this article HDR is still not available five years after it was introduced in Windows, you cannot have multiple monitors with different refresh rates*, lack of driver support**, lack of DirectX support (no surprise), and lot of smaller nits.
This is a bit of an unfair comparison as it’s like comparing a flea market to Target. Linux, like a flea market, can be built up with a near endless amount of oddities in it’s own unique way. One flea market may have cuckoo clocks available when another doesn’t. Whereas as if Target doesn’t have something in their system, they don’t have it. Imagine HDR tech is like Target announcing they are putting a pharmacy in all stores. Now a few flea markets might have someone selling pill bottles as well, but you know it’s not the same.
Larger ecosystem support
To use Linux as your primary platform, you’re going to want the same comforts as if you’re on Windows. However there are just a few things that are missing, the ones that I found lacking were:
- Peripheral software support
- Logitech G HUB
- Razor Synapse (unofficial community one does not support everything, like Kiyo Pro)
- SteelSeries Engine
- MSI Afterburner / MSI Center (and probably most motherboard and OC tools)
- NZXT Cam
- and 90%+ of all other peripheral software suites
- GPU Tools
- Radeon Software
- Geforce Experience
- RTX Voice
- Office tools
- Microsoft Word (No, libreoffice isn’t good, and Google Docs is too slow on 200+ pages)
- OneNote (No equal I have found that can work cross platform and write with on phone)
- Adobe Suite
- Photoshop (gimp is pretty good, but not as user friendly)
- Premier (DaVinci studio is actually better, but had some issues on my linux install)
- High Res Streaming
- Netflix and others don’t support Linux at all for Ultra HD
When I bring some of these up I inevitable get questions similar to “do you really need that?” The answer is unequivocally “No.” They are correct, no I don’t need it. I don’t need to pay Adobe $10 a month for a meme making tool or bloat my install with every peripheral’s software tool; nor need a $2K machine to play a tenth of the casual games I buy on a steam sale. That’s not the point of a gaming PC. It’s supposed to be what you want. And right now, no Linux can provide that.
How do we get there?
To not bury the lede, we don’t. I would absolutely love to be proven wrong on this but there is simply no incentive strong enough to drive the development for a better Linux ecosystem in the near future. However that doesn’t mean it won’t turn for the better over time.
To achieve more developer support it’s almost a catch 22. We have to prove that Linux users can bring in the dough. Which means there has to be major games with a lot of Linux buyers. Which means someone has to develop said game, which they probably won’t do without proof it will bring in money.
To get a lot of people paying for these games, we also need to convince people to buy a system and put Linux on. Which there is no reason to do if it doesn’t already support their games. So how else can we do it?
We basically need champions to rise up and show that it’s not only a viable market, but a profitable market that developers are missing out on. I am actually optimistic that Steam Deck will make some waves here. If it has long term success as a new standard platform, game developers will naturally put out more content for it. However starting out, it already has its software hiccups.
Better support for core Linux systems will come with paid development by other parties. The more people interested in using Linux, the more money it will receive, and the better the tools will become. Not an overnight thing, but this one is a more long term balancing act of what features are most desired vs cost to implement and how much is available.
Larger Ecosystem Support
This will be the slowest and most staggered issue to handle, if ever tackled at all. Peripherals still generally work even if the software that can update and tune them doesn’t. The other software people have spent a lot of time and effort making “good enough” clones of to cover the gap. Until there is a large spill over onto Linux and huge amount of customer requests, this simply won’t be addressed.
What can I do to make a difference?
If a game you want to play doesn’t support Linux ask for its support on their forums. EA, and Blizzard, and Ubisoft, and Bungie will all need some persuasion to put in any effort. Same is true form AMD and Nvidia for GPU tools, or Adobe for their products.
If you have the willpower, vote with your money. Don’t buy games that don’t support Linux natively. And again, let them know it! Instead buy similar or other fun Linux supportive games.
If you’re willing to develop or beta test, make sure to give feedback where appropriate. For example, if you’re trying out a proton enabled game and has a bug, report it on the issue for that particular game (don’t create a new one, search for the games existing issue.)
* such as a gaming 144hz and separate movie screen
** AMD PRO drivers only available on few LTS linux versions which are needed for ROCm/tensorflow/VCEEnc, printers and scanners have horrible support (try installing mp495 drivers on Ubuntu 21.10, or getting a V600 to scan at high resolution)