While 2013 is shaping up to be the best year for gaming on Linux
with so many major milestones just ahead of us, it's not without some unfortunate sore points still present for gaming and the Linux desktop.
There's a lot to be happy about with everything going on in the Linux gaming space at the moment, but there's some fundamental problems to be addressed for Linux to become a viable platform for gaming and to be widely embraced by commercial studios. Among the current Linux gaming issues that quickly come to mind include:
- The open-source Linux graphics drivers (Intel / Radeon / Nouveau) still have a long ways to go. The open-source GPU drivers that tend to be the default drivers among Linux distributions are still generally disappointing when it comes to their OpenGL performance, OpenGL support level (bound to OpenGL 3.0~3.1 while OpenGL 4.3 is the latest Khronos industry specification), poor power management, and other missing features (anti-aliasing modes, SLI/CrossFire, feature-rich GUI control panels, etc) that Windows gamers would simply expect. The sub-par open-source drivers can lead to a poor first/out-of-the-box experience for new Linux users unless they are educated and aware of the proprietary alternatives. Open-source graphics drivers continue to advance at a respectable pace, but the binary NVIDIA and AMD drivers are much better and it's very unlikely the open-source drivers will catch up in 2013.
- While Linux hardware support is now generally in good standing, there's still a variety of gaming peripherals that go without full Linux support like many USB gaming mice and keyboards with their extra functionality. (See the 2012 Linux hardware shopping guide
for the holidays.) For the Linux gaming peripheral support that is out there now, most of the support was provided by the community through reverse-engineering rather than through the vendor. This though should slowly change as more hardware vendors take the Linux desktop seriously and see more game studios supporting non-Windows platforms. This will also likely be one of the many areas of improvement as a result of Valve pushing a Linux-based game console.
- Other random Linux hardware support "gotchas" like kernel/driver regressions unfortunately not being too uncommon, power consumption disparity between releases and compared to Windows, and other incidental cases where there isn't Linux hardware support or the driver is in an incomplete state. NVIDIA Hybrid Graphics / switchable graphics is one of the examples of an area that is currently in a less-than-stellar incomplete state under Linux.
- Most open-source games are still disappointing
in terms of their artwork, other game assets, originality, etc. There's a few good high-quality open-source games out there, but most of them would have a tough time competing with commercial games from the last decade. There's been no marked progress in this area recently. Most of these open-source games are being powered by ioquake3 and while the Doom 3 (id Tech 4) source-code has been out there for over one year, there's been very little progress
on open-source games using newer and more advanced game engines.
- In talking with various game studios, hardware vendors, and other commercial organizations, there's still a stigma attached to Linux that its users want everything for free and aren't very motivated to pay for software or support. There's also an unmeasured portion of Linux desktop users that won't run any games/software if it employs Digital Rights Management.
- There's a shortage of highly-qualified Linux game developer veterans for porting games to Linux. Linux Game Publishing isn't doing much
these days and most of the game studios relying upon outside help for porting their titles to Linux are relying solely upon Ryan "Icculus" Gordon. Ryan can only scale so much himself and there's few other names associated as well with Linux game porting; the bus factor is very low in this area. It was already difficult finding high-quality Linux developers for Valve to employ
this year, but this is a problem that should be organically overcome when gaming on Linux (hopefully) proves to be commercially viable.
- Fragmentation and differences among Linux distributions continue to be a problem
for studios bringing their software to "Linux."
- There's already been major game studios that have supported Linux in the past but have -- at least temporarily -- left the scene after being less than pleased with their return on investment for supporting Linux. Two of the names that come to mind are Epic Games
and id Software
. When companies leave Linux with a sour experience, it's tough to get them to quickly return.