There are a lot of claims that a certain year is the year of something. The year of the PS3, the year of the mobile, etc. Many people make these claims long before anything truly remarkable happens and pretty much all of them fail to live up to their expectations. So rather than look forward and make predictions about whether a certain year will be the year of the Linux game, I am rather going to look back at the last few months and proclaim that 2012 is the Year of the Linux Game.
It seriously took a long time and a lot of trouble to get to this point. Game developers have dismissed Linux as a viable platform and have ignored the pleas of gamers for Linux support. For many years, Linux gamers have resorted to rolling their own solutions for gaining Linux compatibility in the form of emulators and compatibility wrappers. Some companies have sprung up in the past in the hopes of expanding the availability of Linux games, but have failed due to poorly thought out business strategies. So what makes 2012 so different from all the previous years?
The first step in making this year the year of the Linux game was the introduction of the Humble Indie Bundle. Originally the brainchild of Lugaru developer Wolfire Games, it made it a requirement for inclusion in the bundle to have native Linux support. This bundle has gone through five primary incarnations and numerous brand specific bundles. All of them included Linux support for the games. As a response for this inclusion, Linux gamers have paid on average far more than Windows and Mac gamers and have made up anywhere between 15 and 25% of all payments to the bundle.
The next major shift towards developer support for Linux gaming was Kickstarter. While Kickstarter was a lot slower on the draw for its influence on Linux gaming, it has really shown its power to shift trends in that direction. Recent high profile games such as the Double Fine Adventure, Wasteland 2 and Shadowrun Returns have revitalized the desire to not just add Linux support as a reward for exceeding funding goals but also as a primary selling point for funding. The number of game projects on Kickstarter supporting Linux has done nothing but grow. A recent Ubuntu Forums post highlights dozens of game projects that support Linux.
Because of these successful Kickstarter campaigns promising Linux support, we have also seen a major shift in middleware providers as well. With the success of the Wasteland 2 project, Unity3d will be adding support for exporting games to Linux with version 4. This was something that developers have been requesting for several years. It is now happening because of this shift in the market. Another high profile Kickstarter game, Double Fine Adventure, has also resulted in the addition of Linux support for the growing 2D engine, Moai.
Finally, we have also seen the largest digital distribution service for games making the shift toward supporting Linux. Yes, I am talking about Steam. Valve had recently released a Mac client for the Steam platform and with it came many rumors that Linux support was in the pipeline. Earlier this year, Valve finally came clean with the news that, yes, a Linux version of not just Steam but also its Source Engine was coming. The largest digital distribution platform in gaming history is making its way to the smallest PC market. If that is not validation of Linux as a viable platform for gaming, I don’t know what else could convince you.
So with all these events in the last few months, I am confident to say that, yes, 2012 is The Year of the Linux Game.