Linux Gaming, an Overview: What You Can And Can’t Expect
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gaming on linuxWhile desktop Linux may be a tempting platform, there’s one thing stopping a lot of people from making the plunge: PC gaming. Like it or not, Windows is the de facto platform for PC gaming. You can’t count on Linux supporting your favorite games, but you may be surprised: some Windows games work on Linux using the Wine compatability layer.

While gaming on Linux has been one of desktop Linux’s main weak spots, this appears to be changing. With Valve working on bringing the popular Steam gaming service to Linux and strongly criticizing Windows 8, we can expect a brighter future for gaming on Linux.

Native Linux Gaming

Most games are written for Windows. If you insert a Starcraft 2 disc into your Linux computer, it won’t work — it needs Windows. Game developers have to go out of their way to support Linux.

Unfortunately, few do. One organization that deserves props for supporting gaming on Linux is the famous Humble Indie Bundle The Humble Indie Games Bundle: Pay What You Want! The Humble Indie Games Bundle: Pay What You Want! Read More , which insists that all games included as part of a  bundle include Linux versions. If you’ve bought a few Humble Bundles, you likely have quite a few games that run on Linux already. If you haven’t purchased any bundles, you can still buy many of the games individually — the Ubuntu Software Center 5 Great Tips for the Ubuntu Software Center [Linux] 5 Great Tips for the Ubuntu Software Center [Linux] Read More offers these some of games for sale. If you have purchased the bundles, you can even activate your games in the Ubuntu Software Center to easily download and install them. Some of the bundled games include Bastion, Limbo, World of Goo, Braid, Psychonauts, Machinarium, Trine, Super Meat Boy, and more.

Web browser-based games also work fine on Linux. Angry Birds Play the Angry Birds Game in Your Browser Right Now, For Free Play the Angry Birds Game in Your Browser Right Now, For Free Are you too productive working on your computer? Good news! Angry Birds is now available on every computer, so you'll never actually work again. Or, at least, never be able to. That's right, the infamously... Read More , Cut the Rope, and all the other cool games from the Chrome Web Store 10 Really Cool Games From The Google Chrome Store [MUO Gaming] 10 Really Cool Games From The Google Chrome Store [MUO Gaming] The Chrome Web Store contains thousands of games - we've dug through them for you and unearthed some gems. Whether you're looking for casual fun, Zen puzzles, rich 3D graphics, arcade-style multiplayer action or interesting... Read More run on Linux, just as they do on Windows and Mac. All the Flash games on websites like Kongregate MUO Games - The Best Websites to Play Flash Games MUO Games - The Best Websites to Play Flash Games Read More  work on Linux, too.

gaming on linux

This being Linux, there are also quite a few open-source, free games you can install from the Ubuntu Software Center (or your Linux distribution‘s software repositories). You shouldn’t expect to find any games that can stand toe-to-toe with the latest and greatest commercial Windows games, but there are quite a few fun games to play. Check out Nexuiz MUO Games : Top 5 Free Cross-Platform FPS Games MUO Games : Top 5 Free Cross-Platform FPS Games Read More (now known as “Classic Nexuiz”) or the Nexuiz-fork Xonotic if you’re looking for an old-school multiplayer FPS game. If you’re looking for something a bit slower and more tactical, try Battle for Wesnoth Live Out Adventure and Conquest in the Battle for Wesnoth [Cross Platform] Live Out Adventure and Conquest in the Battle for Wesnoth [Cross Platform] Read More , a turn-based fantasy strategy game. We’ve also covered some great casual games for Linux 5 Casual Linux Games You Probably Don't Know About 5 Casual Linux Games You Probably Don't Know About Read More and websites you can use to discover Linux games Top 4 Websites To Discover Free Linux Games Top 4 Websites To Discover Free Linux Games We (as in Linux users) have all wished that some of those popular games we see in commercials would be readily available for Linux. Finding good, native games for Linux can be a bit tricky.... Read More .

linux gaming

Many console emulators 10+ Emulators to Play Old-School 16- and 32-bit Consoles on Your PC (1987-1993) 10+ Emulators to Play Old-School 16- and 32-bit Consoles on Your PC (1987-1993) Read More also work on Linux, so you can play console games that you own and have turned into ROMs. You can use DOSBox How To Get Old DOS Computer Games To Run On Windows 7 How To Get Old DOS Computer Games To Run On Windows 7 Read More to play your old DOS games on Linux, too.

AAA Games & Steam on Linux

Popular, mainstream AAA games have become even less common on Linux than they were in the past. ID released Doom 3, Quake 4, and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars on Linux, but ID isn’t planning on releasing Rage and their future games on Linux. Epic Games released the original Unreal Tournament and Unreal Tournament 2004 on Linux, but games such as Gears of War never made it to Linux. While Epic promised Unreal Tournament 3 would include Linux support, they spent years promising support “soon” until finally announcing, years after launch, that UT3 would never support Linux.

This appears to be changing. With the release of Windows 8 and its integrated app store, and the possibility that Microsoft will one day close the Windows platform and prevent third-party software stores like Valve’s Steam from operating on Windows, Valve is porting Steam How To Migrate Steam To a New Hard Drive How To Migrate Steam To a New Hard Drive Unlike most Windows applications, Steam can be easily moved between hard drives without redownloading or reinstalling anything. If you want to put Steam on a new hard drive – say, if you’ve bought a new... Read More and many of their popular games to Linux. When Steam for Linux is released, games like Left 4 Dead 2 and Team Fortress 2 A Selection Of The Best Free-To-Play Steam Games A Selection Of The Best Free-To-Play Steam Games Content delivery service Steam is a real money-spinner for Valve, prompting publishers like EA to shy away from it in pursuit of their own system. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a couple of free gems... Read More will be playable on Linux. If you own games that work on Linux, you’ll be able to easily install them. Valve may one day use Linux as the base to create their own console, a “Steam box.” This would result in many more games supporting Linux.

linux gaming

Another sign of the times is Electronic Arts launching games on Linux. EA added two games, Command & Conquer Tiberium Alliances and Lord of Ultima, to the Ubuntu Software Center. Unfortunately, these games are little more than bookmarks to web-based games that you play in your browser. However, EA is noticing Linux gamers exist and this may lead to native games in the future.

Graphics Drivers

One important consideration when gaming on Linux is your graphics hardware. Most Linux distributions will use open-source graphics drivers by default. However, AMD (formerly ATI) and NVIDIA also provide closed-source graphics drivers for Linux.

These proprietary graphics drivers will generally provide much better 3D performance than the open-source ones. Historically speaking, NVIDIA’s 3D drivers have been much more stable and better-performing than AMD’s on Linux. To squeeze all the 3D performance you can out of Linux, an NVIDIA graphics card is the way to go.

Onboard Intel graphics also works on Linux, and Intel even helps develop the open-source drivers themselves. However, just like on Windows, Intel graphics isn’t anywhere near as powerful as an NVIDIA or AMD graphics card, although Intel graphics are definitely improving What You Need To Know About Intel’s Ivy Bridge [MakeUseOf Explains] What You Need To Know About Intel’s Ivy Bridge [MakeUseOf Explains] Intel has just released its new updated processor, code-named Ivy Bridge, for both desktops and laptops. You’ll find these new products listed as the 3000 series and you can buy at least some of them... Read More .

Playing Windows Games

The majority of the games you want to play are probably not available natively for Linux. However, you may still be able to play them using Wine Run Windows Applications on Linux (or Mac) With WINE Run Windows Applications on Linux (or Mac) With WINE Read More . Wine is an open-source compatibility layer for Linux that attempts to implement the Windows APIs on Linux. In other words, it allows you to run Windows applications on Linux. However, it doesn’t work perfectly, so you can’t expect every game to work properly with it.

To easily install your favorite Windows games (and other supported Windows software), use PlayOnLinux PlayOnLinux Brings Windows Games & Programs To Linux PlayOnLinux Brings Windows Games & Programs To Linux Read More . PlayOnLinux is an easy-to-use interface for automatically downloading, installing, and tweaking supported Windows games so that they’ll run properly in Wine. If a game is supported by PlayOnLinux and you have good enough graphics hardware, installing and playing it should be fairly easy.

gaming on linux

To see if your favorite games and other Windows applications work on Linux, search the Wine AppDB. You’ll generally find that older, popular games work well — for example, World of Warcraft 4 Reasons Why Mists Of Pandaria Makes WOW Worth Going Back To [MUO Gaming] 4 Reasons Why Mists Of Pandaria Makes WOW Worth Going Back To [MUO Gaming] The latest World of Warcraft expansion has been on the market for a couple weeks, and I have been able to spend far too many hours playing it. I started playing WOW again a few... Read More is very well supported. A newer game like Guild Wars 2 may work, but it has quite a few outstanding bugs and will require a lot of tweaking, according to the AppDB. If you want to play the latest games as soon as they come out, gaming on Linux is probably not for you — yet, at least. This is why many gamers dual-boot Linux and Windows How to Dual-Boot Windows & Linux OSes on Your Computer How to Dual-Boot Windows & Linux OSes on Your Computer It's like having two computers in one - start your system up and choose between Windows and Linux. It's called dual-booting, and it gives you access to two of the best operating systems on the... Read More , booting their computers into Windows to play games.

If you’re new to the OS, have you checked out the MUO guide to Linux? What has your experience with gaming on Linux been like? Do your favorite games work in Wine on Linux? Do you know any awesome Linux games you’d like to recommend? Leave a comment and join the discussion!

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  1. Robert Backlund
    March 21, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    What we need to be pushing for would be for the game developers to stop using Microsoft only technologies one of the biggest is Direct X. If they instead used Open GL and Open AL and used code that is cross platform it would be fairly easy to port games or any program for that matter to any of the desktop OS's because everyone is using the same hardware. I just do not understand why they only use Microsoft only tech including their SDK's. As much as I would love to see more and more games on Linux there is one issue I would like to see happen universally in the gaming industry and that is stopping the trend for using more and more draconian DRM in an futile attempt to stop piracy. It is proven that the only people that are inconvenienced are the companies real customers who have no problem paying for the content that they use. The people who download a pirated version that are always available from Bit torrent on the games release date are not and will never be a customer.

  2. owen420
    January 13, 2013 at 12:45 am

    the whole point people turn towards linux is better performance, but if your emulating windows under linux your not gonna get better performance...

    it seems kinda pointless

    dual booting is the only way to go if your running it on a gaming rig.

  3. Anonymous
    December 4, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Hope gaming in UBUNTU would be easier soon!!

  4. Sean A
    November 15, 2012 at 3:26 am

    I didn't know about steam I will look into that

  5. Boni Oloff
    November 11, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    Linux don't have a big money to support their development.
    But if they are as easy as other operating system they will get more attention i think. But for every people who trying to migrate to Linux, most of them just get a more frustation better than an excited..

  6. themainliner
    November 11, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    For cutting edge gaming Linux can't hold a candle to Windows. This is ultimately nothing to do with the viable of either platform for gaming, it is a simply a matter of which platform the vast majority of games are written for.

    Games written natively for Linux are just as good and perform just as well as games written for Windows do on that platform. If you want to run games written for Windows on Linux then expect to make some compromises.

    I run World of Warcraft 5.0 with Wine 1.5.17 and it's very, very good. But I cannot have the settings all the way to Ultra or have DirectX11 water effects or sun shafts. This has little or no effect on my enjoyment of the game.

    If game developers would release native Linux ports of their games then we'd see which, if either, platform was better for gaming.

    • Chris Hoffman
      November 29, 2012 at 6:02 pm

      Yup, that's the reason gamers (and most people) use Windows -- compatibility with existing software.

  7. Ritwick Saikia
    November 11, 2012 at 7:39 am

    I wish that the gaming companies recognize the Linux community for what it is, people who play games and are willing to pay for them. Had read somewhere that the indie game bundles on linux on an average get paid more than those on Windows.

    • Chris Hoffman
      November 29, 2012 at 6:01 pm

      Very true. The market is smaller, but there's less competition -- a developer supporting Linux won't have to compete against as many other games and will have lots of grateful Linux users.

  8. gpvprasad
    November 11, 2012 at 3:03 am

    I think they didn't create because
    1. GPL

  9. Timothy Liem
    November 10, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    Windows is only fun because of its games. If more developers build great games for Linux, the Windows era is on its end.

  10. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    November 10, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    I like text-based adventures and visual novels in addition to MMORPG when it comes to PC gaming, a bit more relazed since I do all hardcore gaming with console. A lot of indie creators are reaching out to Linux community, providing native versions rather than porting the Windows version. It'll take more time to convince the big boys,but there is hope. They're already trying.

    • Chris Hoffman
      November 10, 2012 at 5:52 pm

      Indie developers are definitely a lot more friendly to Linux. While linux is a smaller market, it's also not as well served -- there's a lot of appetite for Linux games, which is why the Humble Bundle always sees the highest donations from Linux users.

  11. vineed gangadharan
    November 10, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    once i tried and installed nfs mw on ubuntu/wine and thereafter i never installed wine on any linux distro,,,worst experience,,,wine as per i have seen is good to run applications which are not made for linux or are not as good as the windows version...

  12. Daniel Crowley
    November 10, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Whatever happened to cloud-based gaming where the games are run remotely so you can play them on any device, regardless of hardware and OS?

    It was going to be the next big thing a few years ago.

    • Chris Hoffman
      November 10, 2012 at 5:49 pm

      Onlive was the big service here, and it isn't doing too well financially.

      Shockingly, they never released an official Onlive client for Linux, although you may be able to run it in Wine. I think that's a big mistake -- Onlive should have targeted Linux users.

  13. ha14
    November 10, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Linux will mature in gaming field like microsoft did it, is a way to get more linux users.

  14. Trí ??c Nguy?n
    November 10, 2012 at 9:05 am

    oops my poor AMD Graphic, it work bad on my linux.
    Because of game, i prefer windows. Almost people use an OS are not developer. So easy to choose Windows

  15. Ryan Borja
    November 10, 2012 at 5:30 am

    dota 2 on steam linux?

    • Chris Hoffman
      November 10, 2012 at 5:48 pm

      We will probably see this happen fairly soon, since it's a Valve game using the same Source engine that TF2, Left 4 Dead 2, and other Valve games use.

      • Ryan Borja
        November 11, 2012 at 9:00 am

        I see. That's great!

    • XxLordxX
      November 27, 2012 at 9:07 pm

      There's a game called Heroes of Newerth which is like a Dota for Linux, try it :D

  16. Terafall
    November 10, 2012 at 5:13 am

    In a year or two,gaming will be mainstream in Linux thanks to Steam

    • Chris Hoffman
      November 10, 2012 at 5:48 pm

      I really hope so!

  17. Zhong Jiang
    November 10, 2012 at 4:08 am

    It's always good to keep your existing Windows system to be dual booted along Linux.

    • Chris Hoffman
      November 10, 2012 at 5:47 pm

      Yup, you never know when you'll need it. If you want more space, you can always shrink your Windows partition to make more room for Linux.

  18. Mustafa A.
    November 9, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    One of the main reasons I haven't switched to Linux is because of the availability of games. If Steam does migrate it's entire library to Linux, then it'll certainly be a huge incentive to switch as now my primary source for buying games is through Steam.

    A lot of people tell me to dual-boot with Linux for "everyday use" and Windows for gaming, but to me that's extremely inconvenient. Hardware has become so powerful now that doing basic common tasks like surfing the web, watching movies, listening to music, and working with an office suite are easily done on Windows with no performance issues. Having to reboot and switch OSes just to play a game would become so annoying! Think about it: many power users don't even like waiting 1.5 minutes to restart their computer and thus leave them on for weeks and weeks on end--do you really think they'll want to reboot every time they want to play a video game on their PC??? Back in the day when every GHz of processing power and every MB of RAM would make a huge difference in performance (and Windows booted super slowly), I could understand using multiple operating systems to take advantage of their performance benefit for different tasks. But these days even cheap laptops come with decent dual-core processors and tons of RAM, so I really don't see the point.

    If one isn't a gamer, then Linux is a great alternative to try. But for me, as a gamer, I'll stick to Windows for now. :)

    • Chris Hoffman
      November 10, 2012 at 5:47 pm

      I agree completely. I use Windows as my main system because dual-booting for games is too much of an annoynace.

      The entire Steam catalog won't appear on Linux immediately, just as it is on OS X, but if Valve pursues a "Steam box" console-type system that uses Linux, we could see a lot of Linux support. This may take a few years, though.

    • Boni Oloff
      November 12, 2012 at 12:02 pm

      I think games not very popular in linux not only because there are little people using it, but also the system itself is not mature enough to make great games maybe.. That's just my opinion.

      • Sebastian Cork
        November 23, 2012 at 6:30 am

        I would like to understand your point but I struggle slightly. Linux is not mature, in which way do you express? Linux (built on Unix) has been around for ages. It's constantly developed and many of the most powerful web services we've come to know and love wouldn't be around if not for Linux OS. Apple's own OSX is a Unix-based operating system. Linux is very mature in many ways, I'd have to say—just not in the gaming sector. As this article suggests, that's not entirely the fault of the Linux community. Microsoft has kept a hold on the multimedia industry for over a decade now. Software companies were pressured to follow suit. No one wanted to be the first of few to invest in Linux for gaming or anything else non-system admin related. That's all starting to change now. Here's a to an upcoming revolution.

        • Chris Hoffman
          November 29, 2012 at 6:00 pm

          Yes, it's a chicken-and-egg problem, but Microsoft has given game companies a reason to start moving with Windows 8.

  19. Moez bouhlel
    November 9, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    seems that valve' Steam will not support windows8.
    May linux now is not 100% ready to be the gaming platform n1 but may porting steam to linux will help so much as nvidia released driver on the same day of steam release with better perfermance than before and also canonical will focuse on this ubuntu developement cycle to improve the gaming experience & unity on ubuntu

    • Chris Hoffman
      November 10, 2012 at 5:45 pm

      Steam does support Windows 8, but not the new "Modern" (formerly known as Metro) interface. Microsoft wants to be the only "app store" on the Windows platform, so Valve is scared that they'll lock down the desktop in the future and leave no room for platforms such as Steam.

      Steam on Linux would allow Valve to control their own destiny and release "Steam box" console-type devices (that run on Linux). So Valve has a lot of reasons to pursue Linux support.

  20. Besian Cato
    November 9, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    Microsoft Windows wins!!! Fatality!!!
    (even thought i really like linux but right now it's pointless to compare them when it comes to gaming)

    • Efi Dreyshner
      November 10, 2012 at 12:48 am

      We all hope that Steam for Linux will push other companies to discover the wonderful world of Linux...
      BTW, EA also created a few free games for Linux, but it seems that she forgot about them...

      • Besian Cato
        November 10, 2012 at 8:10 am

        but there's would still be some problems with the compatibility of some devices on much as wish linux gaming to be on a whole another level, i still have to admit that hardcore gaming experince is stuck on windows

    • Chris Hoffman
      November 10, 2012 at 5:44 pm

      It's true. People that play a lot of games need to use Windows at the moment. (This is a big part of why I switched back to Windows after years of running Linux exclusively.)

      If you just play a few indie games (HUmble Bundle!) and a game that works in Wine, such as WoW, Linux can definitely work for you.

      We can only hope that Steam on Linux will help improve things.