Linux Gaming Begins Gathering Steam

Linux users have been mostly left out when trying to get in on the gaming action, but soon they’ll be able to be “Left 4 Dead 2” instead. On Tuesday, Valve announced that it would bring its digital distribution service Steam to the Linux platform.

The company reportedly formed a new team last year to work on a full-featured version of the Steam client for Ubuntu 12.04, and the result is “Left 4 Dead 2,” a first-person action game developed by Valve and set in world overrun by zombies.

The so-called “Steam’d Penguins” project will see more titles ported to Linux, and this will allow developers to target gamers via the online service beyond just Windows and Mac. To date, Linux users have had to rely on Windows emulators such as Wine and often have been annoyed with bugs and compatibility problems along the way.

“Valve wants Steam to be on all platforms, and it is possible that Linux could see greater exploitation as a gaming platform,” Billy Pidgeon, a game industry analyst with M2 Research, told LinuxInsider.

Valve did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

Steam’d Up With Open Source

Steam’s move to Linux will be done through Ubuntu, at least initially. The goal of the development team is to create a full-featured Steam client, and good progress has been made so far. However, no date has been set when gamers might actually get Steam’d up on Ubuntu and blast away the walking undead.

In addition to opening up the online service to open source gamers, this could help Steam get a bit more attention as well.

“Steam remains one of the best assets in the gaming space today that doesn’t get much attention due to the console cycles and the rise of social gaming,” P.J. McNealy, consultant at Digital World Research, told LinuxInsider. “However, it’s right in the thick of the emerging business models for gaming, and being available on Linux certainly can’t hurt.”

Battling Piracy

While gamers will get to battle those zombies in the first game for Steam on Ubuntu, the online service continues to do its job battling the digital pirates plaguing game publishers and developers.

The Steam service requires gamers to log in to the service to play a game, and this authenticates that the copy is tied to the specific user. This in turn makes it very difficult for pirates to copy and distribute the code.

“Steam has largely stopped piracy of games that are available on the service,” said Pidgeon. “This is especially true in the Asian markets, where piracy has been an ongoing concern.”

It was piracy concerns that led many game developers to move away from PC games to the video game consoles, but some game companies see opportunities in the PC market again, thanks to services such as Steam. Being on Linux could help attract that small, but very passionate market of gamers.

“It doesn’t cost too much to support it, so why not?” asked Pidgeon. “And as the consoles get long in the tooth, there could be more game development on the PC, which Steam could support.”

Linux Gaming Beyond Steam

Steam of course is not the only online service operating. While it is the leading service, some game publishers, including Activision and Electronic Arts, have created their own services that allow users to purchase, download and update games.

This has also helped reduce piracy of some hot-selling titles such as those in the “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield 3” franchises.

But could Steam get developers powered up to look more closely at open source? Probably not.

“It is hard to say, but I don’t think there will be a huge effort to open source on the PC,” said Pidgeon. “It is going to take a lot more than Steam to get publishers on board with Linux.”

2 Comments

  • About time, as a long time Ubuntu user I’m really tired of having to dual boot to play my favorite games. I’ll be the first to jump on board as soon as it’s available and I’ll make it worth their wild with my wallet.

    • I’m sorry but without a viable competitor to directX what you’ll get is Valve and the same Humble Bundles you could get without Steam. Its sad but Kronos has really hindered FOSS gaming by holding back OpenGL to favor the CAD devs and forcing the hardware OEMs to use extensions, which means it may work one way on AMD, another on Nvidia, and a third way on Intel. Compare this to directX where DX11 is DX11 no matter whose hardware you have.

      So I hope that someone, maybe Valve, forks OpenGL away from Kronos. With TLC and support like OpenGL had in the 90s it could easily overtake directX again, especially with Ballmer running MSFT into the ground with dumb moves like refusing to backport directX 10 and 11 to XP and thus fragmenting the market, but as long as Kronos controls the direction its just not gonna happen.

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