Released in open beta late in December 2012, Steam has now come to the Linux Platform. While every gamer knows what Valve‘s Steam service is, most gamers are unaware as to what Linux is, let alone what Ubuntu is. Linux is a free operating system comprised of open source coding for all to develop and toy with while Ubuntu is a popular form of the Linux distribution. It is a lighter operating system than the Microsoft Windows known the world around and is also very attractive. So why exactly is Steam for Linux a big deal? It makes the headlines since it now provides gamers with a free operating system to install and play games on. Any PC gamer who has built a system from scratch (without any hookups) know that in order to use any of their brand new shiny parts, or their heavenly NVIDIA GTX 690 graphics card, they must add in around $100 towards picking up an operating system. That kind of money can be better spent on doing what gamers do: buying and playing games.
The Valve Linux team even announced on their blog that Left 4 Dead has better frame rates than its Windows counterpart: 315 frames per second on Ubuntu versus 270.6 FPS on Windows 7. Aside from being a cherry picked example, it is significant since Steam is undoubtedly putting talented people and effort towards expanding the Linux gaming possibilities. If Steam consistently brings in high profile games such as Left 4 Dead to the platform while also increasing the presence of indie games into the Linux space, it is a win-win situation for everyone involved.
While the future certainly looks bright moving forward for the Steam and Linux community, there are also quite a few hurdles and issues that need to be addressed from both ends of the pipe. The biggest concern and number one reason why the Steam for Linux will have difficulty is whether or not big game developers and their killer apps would come to the platform at all. Linux does not have close to the user base that Windows does and needs to develop a solid gaming community in order to attract those developers. Getting those triple A titles and developers on board is going to be a tough sell moving forward since the demand in Linux is in its infancy, which might not warrant the time and money to port games successfully.
Even if big game studios decide to somehow green light releases, hardware optimization by way of graphics drivers from the two card makers, NVIDIA and Advanced Micro Devices, is another factor that can drown out any potential. Having a big bad video card is no fun if it does not play nice with the games that people want to play. The Linux community is small and focused but the two card makers may fall into the same belief that bothering to create solid drivers for games on Linux is not worth the effort. Free software drivers from the community, such as Nouveau for NVIDIA based cards, bridge the gap until AMD’s Radeon or NVIDIA’s Geforce drivers step up their game.
Make no mistake about it, Gabe Newell is changing the gaming landscape. He called Windows 8 a catastrophe and Linux is what is on his mind going into the future. The rumored Steam Box gaming console will allegedly run on a Linux operating system so this movement in the Linux PC space is the first critical step towards that end. Steam needs to increase the catalog and quality of games available for gamers on Linux less they want to be hamstrung from the beginning. More games, more gamers. Despite the difficulties and challenges that lie ahead, Steam on Linux is a great accomplishment. Whether it attains the heights it has within Microsoft Windows or gains some middling ground as it does in Apple iOS, remains to be seen. Regardless, it is an exciting time for PC gamers since they can stretch their legs on an open operating system while keeping their coffers filled by not purchasing a requisite Windows license.