Sure, hardcore gamers will probably still choose Windows over Linux, but there’s more than enough evidence that many high-quality games can be played on Linux, and the number of available games is just going to keep increasing.
The hard part is knowing which games work on Linux and finding them for digital download. Fortunately, there are a few services you can use to make the whole process more convenient on your end.
Steam is the frontrunner platform for digitally downloading PC games. I still remember when Steam first debuted and nearly everyone screamed about how much it sucked and that it had no future. Well, look where we are now.
It’s great that Valve is embracing the Linux environment. In fact, they’re even going as far as developing a Linux distro dedicated to gaming. Linux users don’t have many champions in the gaming industry, so Valve deserves some respect for this.
First things first, you’ll have to install Steam on Linux. It’s actually not that painful of a process and you’ll be up and ready to go within just a few minutes. Then, you can either use the Steam interface itself or hop on over to the online Steam store to browse the selection of games. Be sure to filter the database by “Linux platform” to only see the games you’re able to install.
At the time of writing this, there are 2790 games and software under the Linux filter. If you’re only interested in games, that number still sits at a healthy 1447 games. But if you cut it down to free games only, you’re left with 66.
But those numbers are always on the rise, and as far as gaming on Linux is concerned, Steam is definitely the best place to start — it’s even better than using Wine.
As far as digital games distribution is concerned, Steam has no peers. Many consider GOG (formerly Good Old Games) to be an alternative to Steam, but even so, it’s not even in the same league in terms of popularity or number of games available.
It wasn’t until mid-2014 that GOG even supported Linux at all, and when we look at how that support was implemented, it turns out most of those games just run using Wine anyway. However, that doesn’t mean GOG is bad.
GOG is great. It loses to Steam in a handful of areas, but GOG’s customer support is lightyears ahead of Steam’s customer support — which is so lackluster that it seems disingenuous to call it “support” at all — and this reason alone could be enough to consider GOG the superior service.
Two features distinguish GOG from all other games distribution platforms. First, all of its games are free from DRM restrictions. Second, its prices are some of the lowest you’ll see (except during Steam sales and Humble Bundles).
Of GOG’s database of 1216 games, there are 331 games that will work without any hassle on most Linux machines — a fraction of Steam’s offerings, but certainly not a pittance. Ideally, you should buy games on GOG if they’re available, otherwise look on Steam.
Itch.io is a newcomer to digital distribution, but it has surged in popularity over the last year or so. Why? Because it makes it incredibly easy for indie developers to publish their games, create product pages, and earn revenue.
Ethically speaking, Itch.io is one of the best platforms due to their “open revenue sharing” business model. Developers get to choose what percentage of each transaction goes to Itch.io, whether that’s 0%, 10%, or even 50%.
So is it surprising to find that Itch.io’s database contains 18,453 games and counting? What’s even more surprising is that 3,020 games are available to play on Linux, and all of their games are DRM-free.
The one downside to Itch.io is that it’s almost entirely comprised of indie games. This isn’t an inherently bad thing — indie games are quite good these days — but don’t expect to find games like The Witcher, Bloodborne, or even Splatoon here.
Like Itch.io, Desura is mainly known as a publishing platform for indie developers. It used to be a viable alternative to Steam, but news broke of potential bankruptcy in mid-2015 and it’s still too early to tell if Desura will collapse for good.
However, for as long as Desura remains standing, it remains a good source of games for those on Linux.
Of the 3,103 games available, 761 games can be played on Linux, and not all of them are purely indie. Amnesia, Mount & Blade, and Postal 2 are some examples of high-profile games that you can purchase through Desura.
Desura is the sister site to two other places where you can find new games to play: IndieDB and ModDB. The former is all about indie games currently in development while the latter covers modifications to popular games.
GamersGate celebrates its 15th year in business this year, which is a bit shocking because most of the gamers I know actually haven’t heard of this site before.
In comparison to a lot of other digital distribution platforms, GamersGate doesn’t have much of a unique spin. It has a lot of games, which is good, and they’re all available at fair price points, which is also good, but ultimately it’s “yet another place to download games”.
Out of 6,310 total games, 506 games are available for Linux. The good news is that most of these games are not indie titles that random people have uploaded from their basements. Civilization V, Borderlands 2, and BioShock Infinite sit among the top sellers right now.
Which isn’t to say that there aren’t any indie games here. Stealth Bastards, Hotline Miami 2, and Dungeon Defenders are selling well here, too.
Lutris is an open source games manager that prioritizes free and open source games, which naturally makes it a perfect fit for the Linux gaming community. Like Steam, it’s a downloadable client that manages all of your games using one clean interface.
What’s great about Lutris is that it can manage and launch all manner of games — even ones purchased through Steam or Desura.
Just to be clear, Lutris doesn’t sell or distribute games, but it is a great tool for finding new games to play. The website includes a list of recommended open source games that can be run without much hassle through the Lutris client along with download links for each game.
In short, the list includes 252 games that are compatible with Linux and 56 of them are free in one way or another. It’s a great tool and we recommend all avid Linux gamers to support Lutris in some way, even if that means just using the program regularly.
Linux Gaming Is Growing
While there might be plenty of differences between Windows and Linux, “ability to play games” is slowly but surely being knocked off that list. Developers like Valve are starting to see Linux as an important platform, and we’ve only seen the beginning.
If the above digital distribution services aren’t enough for you, check out these websites for finding free Linux games to cap off your collection.
Linux gamers, which distribution services do you like the best? Were there any that we missed? How do you install and manage your library of games? Share with us in the comments below!