Linux, the open source operating system (OS), was deemed the future of gaming by Gabe Newell, Co-founder and managing director of Valve, at yesterday’s LinuxCon.
Newell first talked about how Valve’s past decisions to distribute games on the PC, Mac, and game consoles were based on evolving technology—namely the diminishing cost of computing and networking. One industry that has been greatly affected is the gaming industry. This can be observed by the boom in the emergence of digital distribution platforms like Steam or even in Free-to-Play games, where the “marginal cost of a player is below the marginal benefit to the community.”
While Linux owns only around 1.5% of the market share, it is the leading OS on servers, mainframe computers, and supercomputers. With the gaming industry slowly shifting from a hardware oriented platform to a software & developer based platform, Linux is becoming a stronger contender in the future of gaming. After all, the majority of Valve’s gaming servers already run on Linux. Additionally, all the source code is run on top of Linux. Newell said that, outside of Valve, other game developers are more comfortable working under Linux.
On the consumer side, however, Linux makes up less than 1% of almost any metric used to measure (e.g. players, revenue, time used, etc.). With this in mind, Newell went on to discuss why Linux is the future of gaming. First and foremost, there is a steady decline in PC sales, but PC gaming is still going strong. Also, open environment of the PCs was outcompeting proprietary systems—“the rate of innovation was way faster.” Likewise, it was predicted that innovation friendly systems, denoting openness, will have more competitive advantages than closed systems.
Newell stated that the gaming industry will become more democratized, with consumers, alongside with the game creator, making strong contributions to games. “The one entity that [Valve] would not want to compete with are the users… You don’t want to compete with your customers, because they will be way better.” He merges this line of thought with the idea of proprietary systems, stating that they create a set of roadblocks for game development. For example, “It took Valve 6 months to get through the certification process for an update;” it goes against the user-centric model of game development. Thus, to promote the evolution of the gaming industry, it’s most prudent to reduce the number of these roadblocks.
For years, Valve has been planning of a way to help raise Linux to be a viable gaming platform. The first step taken was to get games to work on Linux, which already has a slew of problems. To success, Steam was shipped to Linux, with 198 games available. Valve has also worked with various partners to decide how to improve Linux in the context of gaming. At the moment, there is much effort being put into improving the living room environment experience of users by defragmenting everything—there should be no need for using different devices based on where one is. A goal for Linux is also to have a grand unification of devices so that gaming can be even more consistent.
Currently, proprietary software and hardware is dominating the gaming market, but will they be able to maintain their seat on the throne? While in need of a lot of revamping, Linux could provide a new, popular, and more efficient outlet for gamers and developers if successful.