Probably the reason most people choose to stick with Windows is that they have been told that they cannot play games on a Linux system. Maybe you are stuck on Skyrim or still running raids on World of Warcraft. So, can you run your favorite games on a Linux system? Several years ago the answer was likely no, but things are changing.
Today, it is very likely your game will play on a Linux system. More and more developers are designing their cames to Linux or porting them over. Steam is now leading the way on getting Linux games to play on Linux.
There are several categories of games that play on Linux. One category would be games that are natively designed to work on Linux, either after the game is made or while the game is made. The next category is Windows games that are converted using various software or ports. This software may be Wine or some other program that handles these functions.
Another type of games out there are console games. You no longer need your old Nintendo or Sega Genesis consoles as special emulators can play these games very easily nowadays. You also have games that run right in your browser or in the Linux command line terminal that are options for you.
History of Linux Gaming
For many years, the most popular games you could play were never designed for Linux. You could always try Linux’s line of free open source games. Or play many other games that were later ported to Linux either by the developers or fans of a game.
One of the first games ported to Linux was Doom in 1994. Doom which had released on PC the year prior quickly jumped to one of the most popular games of the year. I remember getting a 3.5-inch floppy disk from a friend and loading the first couple levels on my PC around that time. Doom was a dark themed first-person shooter (FPS) game that changed the future for FPSs games out today.
One of the first online games ported to Linux was Ultima Online. This allowed Linux players to play along with side Windows users in the Ultima universe.
Games designed for Linux
If you are familiar with the gaming world, you have probably heard of the company called Value that started Steam. Steam currently has 5,800 games native Linux games. They have been a very strong supporter of Linux gaming. Steam has also released its own Linux distro based on Debian called SteamOS.
The new Operating System SteamOS has changed the Linux gaming world. Initially released in 2013, Steam has been opening most of its library to Linux users. If you do not want to use their specific distro, you may opt to just use their Steam client on almost any Linux distro available. Steam’s support alone has kept Linux games viable today and opens the door for the future.
Playing Windows games on Linux
Playing Windows games on Linux has been a challenge from their early days in the ’90s. The file system and kernel operate in completely different ways between the two types of Operating Systems. Back in 1993, a group calling themselves Wine (Wine is Not an Emulator), began developing code to run Windows applications on the fly for Mac and Linux.
For many years, getting Wine to convert your windows application was the only way to run those applications in Linux. In short, Wine converts the Windows system calls to something called Postix. An open-source standard for system calls that Linux can understand. This would be similar to converting from one language to a universal language that both computers can speak.
Wine was how most people would game on a Linux system for many years. Eventually, Wine would have another piece of software based on it called Proton, which would enable more Windows games to run on Linux.
The company Valve would take some of the code that Wine had been using and make a piece of software called Proton. Proton is an open-source software that produces a compatibility layer for Windows applications to run on Linux systems. This has allowed most of the Steam catalog to now be able to work on Linux based system. This has been a game-changer for the Linux gaming world.
One way to run Windows applications and games on a Linux machine is to run a virtual machine. If you are a Windows user dabbling in Linux, you may be using a virtual machine to emulate a Linux system. This can allow you to test Linux on a Windows machine, without sacrifices your Windows installation. Running a Windows virtual machine would work completely the same way but in reverse.
The main limitation here is that you must have a pretty beefy system to even install Windows on a Linux machine, but then have an even better system to play any game with high graphics. Some Virtual Machine software will help you unlock the full potential of your graphics card, but that will probably cost a license for those specialized versions. This leads to potentially the next revolution in the gaming world, Cloud Computing.
Imagine running a high-end game server on your tablet on your cell phone. This is the potential that the cloud computing gaming market holds for the future. You can rent a very fast gaming server in a Data Center in the world and stream it to your home. This completely changes how you can game on a Linux system.
From the user’s point of view, it is kinda like Netflix, but you can send your keyboard, mouse, controller, or joystick commands to the server. The main limitation of this technology is internet speed, which produces latency. With 5g rollout and more fiber line being buried across the country, this is becoming more and more of a reality.
Emulating console games on Linux
On the other end of the spectrum from the AAA games that require a $500 graphics card in your rig, playing classic console games has been gaining popularity. You can easily game on systems from the Atari 2600 to early Playstation and Xbox right on your Linux box.
Linux has specialized distros made for retro gaming. You can install one of the more popular gaming distros, Lakka. Lakka is optimized to run the software RetroArch, which can emulate many of the old classic video games.
The Raspberry PI is a single board computer that can fit in your hand. The Linux based software for this board can easily handle most older classic games. These little devices can hook up to your living room TV and you can connect a few USB controllers to bring back the games of the ’80s and ’90s with your friends.
Game played in the Linux Terminal
There have been some games able to play right in the terminal window a Linux system. These games were developed in the early days of Linux with some people just playing around with their system. Many of these games persist today. This was the original way you could game on a Linux system from the very first days of Linux.
One of the most popular terminal games for the Linux terminal is Bastet, which is basically Tetris in the terminal. Pacman4console is another that is a clone of Pacman using the command line terminal If you remember playing Snake, check out nSnake for the Linux terminal.
Games played in the Web Browser
Writing games to play in the web browser, generally makes that game compatible for anyone that can access certain web browsers that are compatible. Since the major two web browsers out there, Chrome and Firefox, are also available on Linux, just about any of these games are fully accessible.
Many new role-playing games are being run in the browser. One of the first popular games to do this was Runescape. You can play many other popular strategy franchises like Command & Conquer. They are releasing their own browser-based games, which can be played on just about any Linux machine.
Google Play Store for Android or Linux-based machines
My youngest son has a Lenovo C330 Chromebook laptop. This machine is running ChromeOS, which is a Linux based Operating System. He has access to the entire Google Play store, which gives him thousands of free and paid games he can play right on his Linux machine. This allows games designed for a Mobile device to play on many Linux systems.
There is no guarantee that your particular game will run on Linux. The number of games you will have access to, however, on a Linux system is massive. So the answer is yes, you can game and game a lot on a Linux system.
If you are new to Linux, you can read my article here about why you need to learn Linux this year.