Saturday, May 8, 2010

Why there is a Market for Linux Games

Linux users are starved for quality games - there is no doubting that. Bring up the topic of a Linux port on most gaming forums and you will typically see responses about the market share of the operating system, that Linux users are cheap (thus why they use a free operating system) or there are too many package formats to support (which really is a non-issue). I'm not even going to bother trying to argue the point of market share, we all know Windows is a large majority and Linux is the under dog - lets leave it at that.

Lets stop and think about something for a moment - nowhere near all of those Windows users are gamers. In fact with the world we live in that is so heavily populated with consoles I would be surprised if even half of the people using Windows are the type that go out and purchase the latest and greatest PC games (or even play casually). Linux users on the other hand are typically a more tech savvy bunch and tech savvy people more often than not tend to gravitate towards being gamers.

Alright - enough speculation and assumptions, lets look at some cold hard numbers. Two recent games that had successful Linux ports would be 2DBoy's World of Goo and Frictional Game's Penumbra Series. 2DBoy reported that since they released their Linux port of the game 10% of their total game sales have been for the Linux platform. Frictional Games reports a similair statistic - in fact 12% of their sales for the Penumbra series up to this point are for the Linux operating system.

Still need more convincing? If you have not been made aware of it yet as of my posting this there are still two days left to participate in the Humble Indie Bundle experiment. The Humble Indie Bundle offers your five games (including World of Goo and the first of the Penumbra series) at what ever cost you can afford. All five of the games are fully cross-platform (Windows, OSX, Linux) and when you make your donation you are asked to mark which operating system you are purchasing the games for. Take a look at the following statistics up until this point from the donations they have received:
Judging by that pie chart Linux users appear to make up almost 25% of the donations and their average donation amount is almost double that of the average Windows user donation. This means that of the 571,048$ donated thus far 142,762$ is from Linux users. But remember Linux users are cheap and their is no money in Linux game market - right.

Games that already exist on only the Windows platform need ports as well. In fact there is so much demand for some of these games to run on Linux that Codeweavers has a business commercially supporting many of these titles on the Linux operating system (it's not perfect - but for now it works).

I can huff and puff about the facts and statistics till I am blue in the face, but the point is this: There is a market for Linux gaming and one that is still largely untapped at that. If you are a game developer I implore you to please port your game to Linux!

Anyone know of any other games released for Linux that have been successful? Let me know! I am always interested in picking up a new game that runs natively on my systems.

~Jeff Hoogland


  1. I think this is NOT the perception of most other developers. What they have done uniquely is make it almost like a competition between the fans of the various OSs. Most people don't pay if they don't have to, but I am glad to pay if it 1) helps the profile of my favorite OS, and 2) Helps encourage developers to continue to do support it. This idea of having customers compete on behalf of their OS is what is making the difference.

    So Come-on Linux gamers, BUY this package, .... I have bought WorldofGoo when they offered "pay what you like" ...but even then I paid full price...

  2. Did you know 3 of those games will be Open Sourced if they raise $Million?

    See the video on Humble Bundle page at 1:17, it's on the bottom of the text.

  3. I have not been a big fan of Ubuntu One to this point, but if the music store takes off, it could became a powerful incentive for the marketing of games.

  4. I did not see anywhere to select which operating system I am using.

  5. @Fred

    They can probably quantify the share based on how many hits the downloads for the different platforms get.

  6. I think you are making some misleading assumption about the Humble Indie Bundle statistics: After you donate, you will get an e-mail with a link to your individual download page. The downloads are available for Win, OSX and Linux. On the bottom of the page, you can set a nickname for your donation and choose an OS. This happens for statistical reasons only and has no effect on the ability to download the games for other operating systems. But: Linux is set as the default here!

    I think it's very likely that many downloaders did not bother to set the correct option and just downloaded their games.

  7. Given that there are few commercial games for Linux at the moment, Linux user's are more likely to want to buy any game available because there are so few.

    Therefore anyone who has written games that can be easily ported to Linux is likely to make money from them, even though the Linux desktop market share is small.

    As more Linux games get ported the effect will diminish, unless the Linux desktop market share goes up.

  8. Major blocker for linux games is video drivers. All video drivers in linux suck to some extent. And in most cases you have to stick to an old linux distro if you want a working proprietary driver (think ATI). So it is a real twist : use games or be inline with major updates.

  9. @Hicham That is really only the case with ATI. nVidia drivers are kept up to date and perform well under Linux. Check out some of the games I play on Ubuntu -

    And I always stay at the newest version.

  10. @etienne Just saw your comment. The default operating system you are donating for it default set to the operating system you purchase the pack on. On Linux it defaults to Linux on Windows it defaults to Windows.

  11. to quote ajt "As more Linux games get ported the effect will diminish, unless the Linux desktop market share goes up."

    As more games get ported the more the Linux market share will increase, because the #1 thing keeping people off Linux is the lack of games so there will be no diminishing effect. Instead it will gain more steam. A larger game library on Linux will mean a larger Linux market share and in return will mean even more games being written/ported to Linux. Thus of course starting the cycle over again building even a larger library of games and building even a larger market share.

  12. @jeff91 ATI isn't *that* bad. This isn't 2007. Ever since AMD, ATI Linux drivers have drastically improved. ATI released full documentation for their GPUs, in addition to funding to create an open source driver (RadeonHD). ATI's binary driver is fully functional, and shares the code base with the Windows driver. It has day-1 support for new ATI hardware. It has near feature parity with Windows too (I believe now it only lacks quad-crossfire.) I don't mean for this to be an ATI vs nVidia argument, I just think that the ATI driver gets under appreciated. nVidia has a nice binary driver, but they've done nothing for the progress of an open source driver.

    ATI does have problems with its drivers, namely in release timing. They track their driver to the most recent version of Ubuntu, so it can track a dated version of the kernel or xorg. That's a problem, but it isn't one for lack of features or reliability. It's one for lack of timeliness. The only other significant feature missing is lack of support for video acceleration. XvBA is nowhere near as mature as VDPAU.

    The real dilemma for a fan of open source is whether you value your own personal functionality, or software freedom and openness. nVidia for the former, ATI for the latter.

  13. Nice article, I linked it to a forum where I participate.