Gaming on PCs offers a diverse choice of operating systems, each with different characteristics that make them suitable for various titles and applications. Today, Linux is one of the many options that gamers can choose from – but it wasn’t always this way.
- Very few gamers used Linux in the 1990s when Microsoft enjoyed a monopoly
- Linux is used as the OS of Android devices, so they’ve grown in popularity as gaming has moved to mobile
- It’s incentivized more gaming developers to develop Linux-friendly games, suggesting it has a vital role to play in the future of gaming
For a long time, of the operating systems out there, Linux was a distinct “also-ran” when it came to gaming. However, this all changed with the explosion of mobile gaming. It’s fair to say that over the years since its introduction in the early 1990s, Linux has gradually moved away from the domain of the IT-savvy developer and broken into the mainstream thanks to distributions like Ubuntu and Linux Mint – with around 1.3 billion Android devices using a Linux operating system.
Let’s take a closer look at where Linux came from, the breakthroughs that have led to it becoming more significant for gamers, and where it may well be headed in the future.
The Origins of Linux
The genesis of Linux began in the US, back in 1969, when a group of programmers in the AT&T Development Lab unveiled an operating system called UNIX. Over the next 18 years, this was continuously developed and refined until it became the MINIX platform.
Although perfect for its time, MINIX inevitably had some limitations and was a source of as much frustration, as it was practical to use. Step forward a young computer scientist from Helsinki called Linus Torvalds, who decided that he was going to use MINIX as a stepping stone for him to develop an even better operating system that was truly fit for purpose.
Linux was subsequently born and released in 1991. Its open-source nature meant it immediately started to generate attention. But, this was against a backdrop of the ever-influential Microsoft strengthening its grip as the leading OS out there, valued at $6 billion by 1995.
Nevertheless, big corporations like IBM and Hewlett Packard started to provide support for Linux. Another boost was provided when even NASA started to rely on it for the huge computing requirements of space exploration.
There was one field in which the influence of Linux was conspicuously failing to penetrate – gaming. The reason for this linked directly back to the dominance of Windows as the software run by most gaming PCs and consoles. Around 98% of them moved on Microsoft software and, in an industry already worth around $20 billion a year in 1993; it was hardly surprising that the focus was very much on producing games these users could play.
Things took on a completely different complexion in the first decade of the 21st century, however, with the introduction of the smartphone and, most significantly, Android devices whose operating systems are based on Linux.
The Android Revolution
It’s estimated today there are an incredible 2.3 billion Android devices worldwide, many of which are used for gaming. This has provided a significant boost to the choice and quality of the games that can be played using the Linux platform. Where once only a small proportion of games ever became available that could be played on a Linux device, today it’s quite a different story.
Another key milestone in the greater availability of Linux-compatible games came with the introduction of Linux downloads by the digital gaming distribution platform, Steam. This made some of the biggest Linux-powered titles available, including Warhammer, Dota 2 and Minecraft – showing how platforms were adapting to cater to Linux users.
This significant step was eclipsed in August 2018, when Valve announced that it was releasing a new Steam Play tool. This would enable players to convert many more Windows and even iOS games to be playable on their Linux devices and ensure games would run smoother than they had before.
As the market has become more mobile-centric, this has meant gaming developers have finally embraced the previously ignored Linux platform and begin programming games using Linux code.
One area that is not often the focus of discussions about Linux and browser gaming, but that is important nevertheless, are online casinos. They’re especially relevant today, as the popularity of the online gambling market has exploded in recent years, with more people choosing to play on their mobile devices – including Android phones.
The more effectively that Linux can deal with the matter of making the online gaming experience a smooth and enjoyable experience the better for mobile gamblers. The sheer variety of gameplay that the operating platform has to handle in an online casino does create a challenge, but it’s one that Linux can handle with ease compared to, say, HTML5.
This is especially the case when playing via a web browser. Traditional online casino games like blackjack and roulette can be accurately replicated with ease, but it also has to create an equally immersive experience when it comes to all types of games.
The ever-increasing sophistication of slot game designs and gameplay means more multimedia elements, like sound and video, are needed. This is particularly the case when playing at a quality online casino’s exciting slots, which feature high-end graphics and quick processing speeds. However, running the games on a Linux platform presents no problems with this at all.
Looking To The Future – What’s The Outlook For Gamers?
One of the great things about Linux, regularly cited by its fans, is that even if you don’t want to commit to it wholeheartedly, it’s easy enough to boot up a Windows PC and test run the platform.
Though there’s no official technical support available, you’ll find plenty of online forums more than willing to give help and advice. Linux is also an incredibly stable and secure system.
Looking to the future, the news for gamers wanting to use Linux can only be positive. The Valve progression has added real momentum. While it was launched with just under 30 Windows games being officially supported, this number is set to grow increasingly quickly. The open source nature of Linux also means that the OS could also be moving ever forwards facilitating easier and better cross-platform conversions.
There’s also every reason to believe that further Linux-specific games will start to be developed, to cater for a generation that no longer wants to be restricted to Windows – meaning a broader range of choice for those who love gaming on the platform.