Will video games make desktop Linux into a killer consumer platform?

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I had an interesting email exchange over the weekend with a reader of this blog who was wondering if video game producers targeted desktop Linux as platform then would this significantly increase adoption of Linux over Windows? Alternatively, those same producers could help ensure that their games worked under Windows emulators such as Wine.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s exclude running Windows under a virtual machine on Linux, or even on the Mac. After all, that’s really just running the game on Windows.

People who are serious about computer-based (vs. console-based) video games often build and upgrade their own machines, making custom choices for the case, the power supply, the motherboard, the processor, the video card(s), the memory, water cooling systems, not to mention hard drives, DVD reader/writer, Blu-ray readers, sound cards, speakers, and miscellaneous cables. These days you’re probably strongly considering an Intel i7 quad core machine and have deep and troubling thoughts over whether a one terrabyte hard disk will be enough.

You can get by with less, of course, but this if what serious computer gamers think about. Gaming pcs can run from $1500 up through $4000 or more. Again, you can get by with less, but serious motherboards, processors, and video can cost you more that $700 together, just to start.

Almost all commercial computer games run on Windows and a handful run on Macs. Almost all of the online MMORPGs like World of Warcraft run on Windows and a couple run on the Mac. There are healthy communities of people who are working on games for Linux. See, for example LinuxGames or this collection of Linux game listings.

A problem with thinking about Linux replacing Windows as the operating system for games is that many Windows gamers bemoan the fact that many if not most of the really cool new games are coming out on consoles and then only later, maybe, become available on the PC. If we take this to be the case, you have to ask not just “can Linux replace Windows for PC games?” but “can Linux replace Windows for PC games and stop the flight of games to consoles like the PS 3, Wii, and Xbox 360?”

That’s a much taller order and also forces the question “why are you chasing a market that is declining?”

Possible answers are:

  • You really think you can reverse the trend.
  • There is so much money to be made in this possibly declining market that it is still worth it.
  • You really believe this is the right thing to do.

I am by no means advocating against doing really cool games on Linux and using open source to advance the state of the art in games and all they entail, such as artificial intelligence, extendability, multiple players, and so on. Do it!

But do it because you want to, because it motivates you, and you think the people who play your games will have a great time. I doubt there is a huge fortune to be made, and that is certainly ok too, but do be realistic.

What do you think, will Linux take over the world of PC-based video games?

Also see: Open source game engines for Linux.