Linux gaming used to be a wasteland. The only options were simple open source games and the handful of commercial ports that could still be obtained. By comparison, the present day seems like a jungle some times, with more and more options emerging, and it can feel like a full time job keeping up on developments.
Today, we’ll take a brief look at the various options available to you, and what benefits and drawbacks you can run into. This isn’t meant to be completely exhaustive, but rather a good introduction, if you are new to Linux or to the concept of Linux gaming in general. As such, we’ll be covering four primary sources.
Games in distro repositories:
Each distribution usually will have an assortment of games in it’s official repositories. These will of course be open source, and while many tend towards smaller, casual titles to kill some time, there are some substantial games to be found as well, like Battle for Wesnoth and Warzone 2100. If you enjoy rogue-likes, you will usually also be well cared for, and if you are an open source idealist, you can download these games with no doubts or concerns.
Upsides: Open source, and games will integrate nicely in your desktop environments menu’s. For most modern distro’s, easy to remove games as well.
Downsides: No commercial or proprietary games. Titles can be older.
Steam has come to dominate digital distribution of games, and for good reason. Valve’s service provides a wide range of games, both indie titles and big, professional titles. Valve has made heavy investments in Linux, and we will no doubt see this accelerate greatly. The Steam store is pretty easy to navigate and with the recently added Tags, it’s easier to find titles of a certain type. Each game also has it’s own community and forum, facilitating discussion. Lastly, while logged into Steam, your games are kept up to date and patched with no effort.
However, while you can play games in off-line mode, some games may require internet access, which can be a concern. Lastly, while Steam should work on pretty much any distro nowadays, it is worth noting that only Ubuntu and SteamOS are officially supported, and you may run into titles that can give you difficulties on other distro’s.
Upsides: Easy patching. Wide selection. Solid store. Good indie game selection.
Downsides: Online access expected. Early access could use more quality control.
Desura (and it’s open source client Desurium) tends to be overlooked somewhat these days, but as a centralized game distribution platform, it supported Linux back when Steam on Linux was only a rumour. The Desura store has some benefits, including a very wide selection of indie titles, and an accessible user interface. User reviews and comments are also integrated in the store entries for each game a little easier, and some things about the layout seems to encourage user scores a bit more.
On the downside, I’ve always had reliability issues with the client software, particularly when downloading or patching multiple games. Game updates are handled, though it requires more user interaction, and the client software is much more upfront with patch notes for each game.
Upsides: Wide Linux selection. Seems to encourage community participation.
Downsides: Client stability.
Humble bundles / store:
The Humble Indie Bundles have become legendary in Linux circles for pushing Linux gaming, and independent developer adoption, as well as helping give us Linux ports of games. The bundles are pay-what-you-want, multi platform and usually DRM free. In addition, there is the Humble Store, acting as a regular store front, with weekly sales. While the games are proprietary, the pay-what-you-want nature tends to appeal to Linux users, and while the quality of individual bundles can vary, some incredibly strong titles have been brought to Linux through this process.
Many other bundles have emerged since, however, I find that their dedication to Linux is often rather erratic and uneven.
Upsides: Heavy focus on independent titles. Deals that cannot be beat.
Downsides: No centralized client software also means no easy way to get patches and updated versions