Why Linux And Gamers Do Not Mix

Linux is a great alternative operating system, allowing users to move away from the insecure Windows to another that is affected by much fewer hacks and exploits. My personal favorite is the flavor Ubuntu, which is easy to use and fast. Not to mention it has a very large backing. At this point Linux is used by both casual and professional people, as well as on many web servers. But why is it just not mixing well with gamers? One word: DirectX.

WINE

As stated before, WINE is one method for people to play DirectX games on Linux. Sadly, it is really hit and miss on what it will work on and how well. For example, WINE works great with the popular MMORPG World of Warcraft. With some games, it does not work at all. With others, such as TERA and RIFT, it works but it is so slow that the games end up being unplayable. In these cases, even though WINE does work, it is not worth messing with. And then there are even games that are so difficult to get running that they just get annoying, such as AION.

What all of this does give some hope of, though, is that at some point WINE will get caught up to what we need, enabling games to be played at an at least decent frame rate and without crashing all of the time. I would be more than happy to ditch a frame rate of 80+ at the highest settings to run at 30 FPS at one of the lower ones. Just being able to play my games would be more than enough to compensate for that lack.

DirectX Support

There is no real support for DirectX in the Linux operating systems, which is what most computer games run on. There is a program that helps emulate it to a point (although it is classified as being a wrapper, rather than an emulator): WINE. But even with this, many games just do not want to run, and a majority of them that do run are much worse than they would be if the same computer were running Windows instead. And while we do have some native Linux games, they are pretty few and far between, being that most gamers are still on the Windows system and therefore companies have a hard time justifying the time and finances needed to make it happen. This is a little funny when you really think about it, too, since the reason that so many gamers are still on Windows is because they can not use Linux for gaming, but the games are not being ported over to Linux because the gamers play on Windows. It is not like we have a choice, and it has created a catch-22 that we are slowly working our way out of.

Steam

Probably the best thing to come about in the past year or so is the addition of a Linux client by Steam. While it still has work to do, it should help show that Linux gamers do matter and that when faced with a choice between the two operating systems, many will choose Linux as long as they can game as they wish. This is something that is already happening, and through research it should end up showing us that it really is a viable operating system and that game developers should consider, if nothing else, a port of their games over to it as well for enhanced inclusion. Giving gamers a choice is a lot better than just sticking us with Windows and basically telling us that there is no alternative and that there is nothing that we can do about it (except for use Windows for almost everything).

OpenGL

OpenGL is another graphics library that is like DirectX. I am not sure how they compare now, but OpenGL used to be the top one, and based on my understanding they are still pretty comparable. The great thing about OpenGL is that it works on Linux as well, being that it is open source. DirectX, on the other hand, is proprietary and so no other operating system can use it without finding their own way to reprogram it (which really does not seem to be happening).

Having games programmed in OpenGL has its instant benefit: it is fully supported on the Linux operating systems and anything that works on them with the library will also work on Windows without any problems. In other words, if a game is programmed for Linux, it is easily made to work on Windows as well. The opposite, however, is not always true (and depends on whether the Windows implementation used DirectX or OpenGL).

Supporting Open Source

Really, what I do not understand is why DirectX is not open source. It is a system for programming, and you would think that Microsoft would want more people to be able to create custom changes to their engines to add features and such. While OpenGL allows anyone and everyone to contribute to the project and add new desired features (which means if you are creating a game and need something that OpenGL can not do yet, you can just add it), with DirectX you have to rely on Microsoft deciding that they want the feature too, and then adding it. This limits creativity and utility, as you are no longer bound to what you can come up with and do, but also what Microsoft themselves feel is important. And this is why open source is so important.

If nothing else, I would support OpenGL because it allows everyone to get involved, rather than just a small set of people. Even skipping the fact that it allows people to play games across multiple platforms, it just appears like the right way to go. And with the cross platform utility, it means many more potential customers, which leads to increased revenue (and therefore profit) for game developers. Everyone wins!

So Why DirectX?

This is not something I can answer for certain, but based on different game programmers I have talked to the answer appears to be in that, at least for AAA titles, companies are actually paid to only release their games in DirectX format so that they are not competing for the Linux platform as well. It would make sense, as well, being that Microsoft needs people to continue both buying and using their Windows operating system and the only way to make this happen is to keep people locked in to it. Of course, this could also be wrong and the answer could be deeper, but one thing I have noticed when going through game programming schools is that they all seem to teach OpenGL as well. And if we take a look at the indie games, they are often released on OpenGL (or are at least ported over to Linux) as well.

The Future of Gaming

After many years of using WINE and watching its development, it appears as if it is not getting any closer to emulating (erm, “wrapping”) DirectX at its native speed or even one that is close to it. My hope was that it would move closer and closer each year, but we do not appear to be getting there. Luckily, though, with places like Steam now showing their support for the Linux operating system, I have the feeling that they are going to be drumming up competition. Competition is awesome for us as that means we should be led to having more game choices, so we all win. So while it is hard to tell where we are going to end up getting over the years, I think we have a very good shot at getting to the point where developers focus as much on Linux as they are Windows. And once this happens, some of us can finally make the switch (instead of just using Linux for development purposes)!

Conclusion

Ever since I ran in to Ubuntu many years ago, I have been in love with the operating system. While I am not against Windows from a personal point of view, Ubuntu is just faster and safer (which is due to both its open source nature and the fact that since most people use Windows it ends up being the target of hackers), and I would love to use it all of the time. But until we finally get to where gaming on the system is a viable option, I am stuck with running Windows for my main computer.

Some people have found a median between the two systems by just running them side by side on the same system. For example, have boot options to choose which operating system you want when the system starts up. This allows for using Linux for everything other than gaming, and Windows for gaming. In my case, though, this is not really an option for my main computer as I am always writing about and recording games, as well as other tasks. So for me, it is best to just stick with Windows and do everything on it. But one day…!

Software | Computers


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