When people think of gaming, Linux isn’t exactly the first operating system that comes to mind. The vast majority of the consumer market still uses Windows which is where the majority of games are played.
But does that mean you can’t game on Linux? Definitely not! Here are five Linux distributions made specifically for gaming.
From the company (Valve) that changed the way we bought games comes SteamOS. The SteamOS experience is probably the closest you’re going to get to a games console.
Built on Debian, it’s touted as being optimized for a “Living room experience” or as close to a console experience as possible. This means that it is exceptional at what it was designed to do, being a gaming operating system. Most of your system resources are directed towards games you’re playing as opposed to background tasks as in a typical desktop OS.
Out of the box you get access to any Linux games available on Steam, a web browser, and apps that are available on the Steam store. If you wanted to install games like Minecraft, you would have to go into desktop mode, yet soon as you power on the machine, it launches into big picture mode. Now with just two or three clicks, you can launch directly into a game.
This makes it easy to control the entire system with a game pad, something both macOS and Windows 10 have yet to master. If you prefer a keyboard and mouse, that’s possible too.
Outside of big picture mode, you can install virtually any Linux applications you want. This will allow playing Super Nintendo or Wii U games via an emulator, something impossible using an Xbox or PlayStation. SteamOS does have some beefy minimum requirements, but if you’re expecting to play some of the more demanding titles, this is necessary.
There is also the option for Steam in-home streaming. This allows you to install and play games from another machine on your network that is logged into the same Steam account! Meanwhile, if you want your Steam library on your existing Linux operating system, Steam can be installed independently.
2. Fedora Games Spin
The Fedora Project produces several spins, which are alternate versions of the distribution, offering tools and software components chosen for a specific purpose. For example, Fedora ships with GNOME, but if you prefer KDE or Xfce, there are Fedora spins for each of them.
The Fedora Games spin ships with a wide variety of games and genres. That’s the reason for the image’s massive 3.9GB size. The reasoning behind this is that it is big enough to include many games but small enough to fit onto a DVD. You can use Fedora Games as a Live CD and play your games on other peoples computers while retaining your progress and high scores.
The games that are included are not your triple-A titles. Neither does Fedora Games ship with Steam, Wine, or Play on Linux, but these can be downloaded after installation. Fedora Games Spin is ideal for those looking to quickly try popular titles such as SuperTuxKart, The Battle for Wesnoth, Freeciv, Warzone 2100, and many more, and benefits from the speed and stability of one of the more popular Linux distributions.
Download: Fedora Games Spin [No Longer Available]
3. Lakka OS
Lakka is a lightweight Linux distribution that transforms a small computer into a full-blown retrogaming console. It can be installed on a myriad of systems including the Raspberry Pi.
Lakka can emulate a wide variety of consoles. It brings all the console emulators under the elegant front end of RetroArch. For copyright reasons, Lakka ships without any games preinstalled, so you’ll need to obtain legal copies of either ISO images of games you own or precompiled ROM files of arcade games.
Lakka also supports two player and multiplayer via Netplay, as well as “savestates.” These are games which previously didn’t have save functionality that can now benefit from having saves. There is even a rewind feature which will allow you to go back in time to before you died in-game, and try to land that jump you missed again.
Lakka offers a stunning out-of-the-box experience and comes preconfigured with many joypad configurations. This means you can be up and running in a sea of nostalgia in no time.
Download: Lakka OS
4. SparkyLinux Gameover
Weighing in at 3.8GB the Debian-based SparkyLinux has a few tricks up its sleeve. Preinstalled you get Steam, Wine, and PlayOnLinux which helps you get your dose of the current games. SparkyLinux then features APTus Gamer. APTus Gamer features an easy way to install game consoles emulators and other tools helpful for gamers. There are emulators for Atari, PlayStation, and even DOS!
SparkyLinux also ships with the Lutris gaming platform which helps you install and manage your games in a unified interface. Using this single interface, you can view all your Linux, Windows, Steam, emulated and browser games.
Download: SparkyLinux Gameover
5. Ubuntu GamePack
As the name suggests, Ubuntu GamePack is an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution. Similar to SparkyLinux, Ubuntu GamePack does not only come with Steam but Lutris, PlayOnLinux and Wine. Ubuntu GamePack is a complete Linux distribution which means you can install any other software packages as you need.
Ubuntu GamePack’s Ukranian developers (UALinux) claims that their distribution provides access to thousands of games and applications for Windows and DOS. The emulators DOSBox and DosEmu are preinstalled, as is the more fully-fledged Windows emulator Crossover.
Crossover has similar functionality to Wine in the sense that it lets you run Windows applications under Linux or macOS. Crossover is a paid for application which takes away some of the complexities of Wine. This may make it easier for beginners.
Download: Ubuntu GamePack
Gaming on Linux Has Never Been Better
Of course, the experience is nowhere near perfect. That being said, Linux has come a long way as a gaming OS. As adoption continues to grow, more and more developers will begin to cater for Linux.
There are some great community resources on Reddit, not to mention Wine’s extensive game-specific pages if you need some direction. It might take a little more effort, but there are certainly possibilities.
Fortunately, if you do already have a specific distribution that you’re comfortable with, you could customize it to include some of the packages mentioned above. For both console and desktop experiences, Linux has you covered.