Valve Chief: All Gaming Roads Lead to Linux

The future of the gaming industry is Linux, Valve CEO and founder Gabe Newell told the crowd during his keynote address at LinuxCon on Monday.

Newell also hinted at a Valve announcement next week that will bring Linux into the living room — perhaps a hardware extension for its Steam distribution platform. The company could be planning to release Steam Box, a Linux-based device designed to connect with TVs to play Steam-based games, which would compete with living room consoles.

Newell acknowledged he was addressing a partisan crowd at the conference, saying it was a bit like going “to Rome and teaching Catholicism to the Pope,” but he nevertheless continued to outline the ways he thought gaming would benefit from the open environment of the Linux platform.

Going forward, game development would be undertaken more by users than by large companies or studios, he said. That transition would be difficult for many of today’s closed gaming platforms.

Gamers armed with open systems and PCs are already sparking innovation in the industry, Newell pointed out — and that likely will increase when there are fewer proprietary systems.

Dreaming Too Big?

Newell seemed confident about the direction the game industry was headed, but also noted there was still a lot of ground to cover before Linux would rule the gaming universe.

Currently, Linux gaming accounts for less than 1 percent of the market when measuring players, player minutes and revenue, he noted.

That’s in part because of the technical challenges that Linux games have suffered, said Pascal Rettig, co-owner of Cykod Web Development. As technology advances, that is changing, but Linux gaming is still playing catch-up.

“Anyone who’s been around Linux for the past decade knows that Linux has struggled with desktop graphics performance and stability, and AMD and Nvidia haven’t exactly embraced Linux as a desktop OS — more sort a grudging acceptance — so the idea of gaming on a Linux desktop strikes us old fogeys as a stretch,” Rettig told LinuxInsider.

Additionally, Linux games haven’t reached the mainstream crowd that would be necessary for the platform to become more widely adapted, Rettig noted.

“Inexpensive Android-based game consoles like the Ouya and Gamestick have done reasonably well with games, but their lackluster graphics performance and the limited game selection has kept them from being mainstream,” he added. “PC gamers want their Steam PC game library available, and until that happens I think a Steam Box is going to have limited appeal. Even if Valve releases a Steam PC, until the games are there it’s not going make a big dent.”

PCs for the Win in Gaming

Valve’s devoted user base and the company’s vision of the gaming future could help Newell’s prediction carry some weight, said Roberto Lim, a blogger at Mobile Raptor.

“If it was anyone else, I would not give it much of a chance,” he told LinuxInsider, “but it is Valve, and right now they rule the PC. They seem to be correctly foreseeing a future where laptops and desktops will transition to things we use for work, with entertainment being done on mobile devices and consoles. It is Valve, so they may be able to drag their legions of satisfied customers from PC to a Steam Box console.”

Valve can’t go it alone, though, Rettig pointed out. It needs to get players, publishers and developers on board — or at least create technical support to help the games go mainstream — if Newell’s keynote address is to become one the industry will remember as prescient.

“To make it a reality, Valve needs to convince game publishers to support Linux — which is difficult until there’s adoption,” he added. “Or, if Valve enhances some sort of shim, like Wine, that allows most Windows PC games to run adequately on Linux, then it could happen.”

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