Linux gaming started largely as an extension of the already present Unix gaming scene, with both systems sharing many similar titles. These games were either mostly original or clones of arcade games and text adventures. A notable example of this was the so-called "BSD Games", a collection of interactive fiction and other text-mode titles. The free software and open source methodologies which spawned the development of the operating system in general also spawned the creation of various early free games. Popular early titles included NetHack, Netrek, XBill, XEvil, xbattle, Xconq and XPilot. As the operating system itself grew and expanded, the amount of free and open-source games also increased in scale and complexity.
The beginning of Linux as a gaming platform for commercial video games is widely credited to have begun in 1994 when Dave D. Taylor ported the game Doom to Linux, as well as many other systems, during his spare time. From there he would also help found the development studio Crack dot Com, which released the video game Abuse, with the game's Linux port even being published by Linux vendor Red Hat.id Software, the original developers of Doom, also continued to release their products for Linux. Their game Quake was ported to Linux in 1996, once again by Dave D. Taylor working in his free time. Later id products continued to be ported by David Kirsch and Timothee Besset, a practice that continued until the studio's acquisition by ZeniMax Media in 2009. In 1991 DUX Software contracted Don Hopkins to port SimCity to Unix, which he later ported to Linux and eventually released as open source for the OLPC XO Laptop. Other early commercial Linux games included Hopkins FBI, an adventure game released in 1998 by MP Entertainment, and Inner Worlds in 1996, which was released for and developed on Linux. In 1998, two programmers from Origin ported Ultima Online to Linux. A website called The Linux Game Tome began to catalog games created for or ported to Linux in 1995.
On November 9, 1998 a new software firm called Loki Software was founded by Scott Draeker, a former lawyer who became interested in porting games to Linux after being introduced to the system through his work as a software licensing attorney. Loki, although a commercial failure, is credited with the birth of the modern Linux game industry. Loki developed several free software tools, such as the Loki installer (also known as Loki Setup), and supported the development of the Simple DirectMedia Layer, as well as starting the OpenAL audio library project. These are still often credited as being the cornerstones of Linux game development. They were also responsible for bringing nineteen high-profile games to the platform before its closure in 2002. Loki's initial success also attracted other firms to invest in the Linux gaming market, such as Tribsoft, Hyperion Entertainment, Macmillan Digital Publishing USA, Titan Computer, Xatrix Entertainment, Philos Laboratories, and Vicarious Visions. During this time Michael Simms founded Tux Games, one of the first online Linux game retailers.
After Loki's closure, the Linux game market experienced some changes. Although some new firms, such as Linux Game Publishing and RuneSoft, would largely continue the role of a standard porting house, the focus began to change with Linux game proponents encouraging game developers to port their game products themselves or through individual contractors. Influential to this was Ryan C. Gordon, a former Loki employee who would over the next decade port several game titles to multiple platforms, including Linux. Around this time many companies, starting with id Software, also began to release legacy source code leading to a proliferation of source ports of older games to Linux and other systems. This also helped expand the already existing free and open-source gaming scene, especially with regards to the creation of free first person shooters.
The Linux gaming market also started to experience some growth towards the end of the decade with the rise of independent video game development, with many "indie" developers favouring support for multiple platforms. The Humble Indie Bundle initiatives helped to formally demonstrate this trend, with Linux users representing a sizable population of their purchase base, as well as consistently being the most financially generous in terms of actual money spent. The release of a Linux version of Desura, a digital distribution platform with a primary focus on small independent developers, was also heralded by several commentators as an important step to greater acknowledgement of Linux as a gaming platform. In 2009, the small indie game company Entourev LLC published Voltley to Linux which is the first commercial exclusive game for this operating system. In the same year, LGP released Shadowgrounds which was the first commercial game for Linux using the Nvidia PhysX middleware.
In July 2012, game developer and content distributor Valve announced a port of their Source engine for Linux as well as stating their intention to release their Steam digital distribution service for Linux. The potential availability of a Linux Steam client has already attracted other developers to consider porting their titles to Linux, including previously Mac OS only porting houses such as Aspyr Media and Feral Interactive.
In November 2012, Unity Technologies ported their Unity engine and game creation system to Linux starting with version 4. All of the games created with the Unity engine can now be ported to Linux easily.
In September 2013 Valve announced that they were releasing a gaming oriented Linux based operating system called SteamOS with Valve saying they had "come to the conclusion that the environment best suited to delivering value to customers is an operating system built around Steam itself."
In March 2014 GOG.com announced they would begin to support Linux titles on their DRM free store starting the same year, after previously stating they would not be able due to too many distributions. GOG.com began their initial roll out on July 24, 2014 by offering 50 Linux supporting titles, including several new to the platform.
On August 22, 2018, Valve released their fork of Wine called Proton, aimed at gaming. It features some improvements over the vanilla Wine such as Vulkan-based DirectX 11 implementation, Steam integration, better full screen and game controller support and improved performance for multi-threaded games. It has since grown to include support for DirectX 9 and DirectX 12 over Vulkan.
The Steam Hardware Survey reports that as of April 2019, 0.81% of users are using some form of Linux as their platforms primary operating system. The Unity game engine used to make their statistics available and in March 2016 reported that Linux users accounted for 0.4% of players. In 2010, in the first Humble Bundle sales, Linux accounted for 18% of purchases.
Linux as a gaming platform can also refer to operating systems based on the Linux kernel and specifically designed for the sole purpose of gaming. Examples are SteamOS, which is an operating system for Steam Machines and computers, video game consoles built from components found in the classical home computer, (embedded) operating systems like Tizen and Pandora, and handheld game consoles like GP2X, and Neo Geo X. The Nvidia Shield runs Android as an operating system, which is based on a modified Linux kernel.
The open source design of the Linux software platform allows the operating system to be compatible with various computer instruction sets and many peripherals, such as game controllers and head-mounted displays. As an example, HTC Vive, which is a virtual reality head-mounted display, supports the Linux gaming platform.
In 2013, tests by Phoronix showed real-world performance of games on Linux with proprietary Nvidia and AMD drivers were mostly comparable to results on Windows 8.1.Phoronix found similar results in 2015, though Ars Technica described a 20% performance drop with Linux drivers.
An operating system based on the Linux kernel and customized specifically for gaming, could adopt the vanilla Linux kernel with only little changes, or—like the Android operating system—be based on a relative extensively modified Linux kernel. It could adopt GNU C Library or Bionic or something like it. The entire middleware or parts of it, could very well be closed-source and proprietary software; the same is true for the video games. There are free and open-source video games available for the Linux operating system, as well as proprietary ones.
The subsystems already mainlined and available in the Linux kernel are most probably performant enough so to not impede the gaming experience in any way, however additional software is available, such as e.g. the Brain Fuck Scheduler (a process scheduler) or the Budget Fair Queueing (BFQ) scheduler (an I/O scheduler).
Similar to the way the Linux kernel can be, for example, adapted to run better on supercomputers, there are adaptations targeted at improving the performance of games. A project concerning itself with this issue is called Liquorix.
Several game development tools have been available for Linux, including GNU Debugger, LLDB, Valgrind, glslang and others. VOGL, a debugger for OpenGL was released on 12 March 2014. An open-source, cross-platform clone of Enterbrain's RPG Maker (2000, 2003, XP, VX), called OpenRPG Maker, is currently in development.
There are a couple of interfaces and Software Development Kits available for Linux, almost all of them are cross-platform. Most are free and open-source software subject to the terms of the zlib License, making it possible to static link against them from fully closed-source proprietary software. One difficulty due to this abundance of interfaces, is the difficulty for programmers to choose the best suitable audio API for their purpose. The main developer of the PulseAudio project, Lennart Poettering, commented on this issue. Physics engines, audio libraries, that are available as modules for game engines, have been available for Linux for a long time.[time needed]
The book Programming Linux Games covers a couple of the available APIs suited for video game development for Linux, while The Linux Programming Interface covers the Linux kernel interfaces in much greater detail.
|Allegro||zlib License||C||Yes||Yes||Yes||Android, iOS|
|ClanLib||zlib License||C++||Python, Lua, Ruby||Yes||Yes||N/A||N/A|
|GLFW||zlib License||C||N/A||Ada, C#, Common Lisp, D, Go, Haskell, Java, Python, Rebol, Red, Ruby, Rust||Yes||Yes||Yes||a small C library to create and manage windows with OpenGL contexts, enumerate monitors and video modes, and handle input|
|Grapple||LGPL-2.1+||C||Yes||Yes||Yes||free software package for adding multiplayer support|
|Nvidia GameWorks||Proprietary||Unknown||WIP||Yes||N/A||N/A||As the result of their cooperation with Valve, Nvidia announced a Linux port of GameWorks. As of June 2014, PhysX, and OptiX have been available for Linux for some time.|
|OpenPlay||APSL||C||Yes||Yes||Yes||N/A||networking library authored by Apple Inc.|
|Pygame||LGPL-2.1||Python||Yes||Yes||Yes||build over SDL|
|RakNet||3-clause BSD||C++||C++, C#||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes||PlayStation 3, iOS, ...||game network engine for multi-player|
|SDL||zlib License||C||C||C#, Pascal, Python||EGL, Xlib, GLX?||GDI, Direct3D||Quartz, Core OpenGL?||PSP-stuff||a low-level cross-platform abstraction layer|
|SFML||zlib License||C++||C, D, Python, Ruby, OCaml, .Net, Go||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Beside majority of the software which acts as an interface to various subsystems of the operating system, there is also software which can be simply described as middleware. A multitude of companies exist worldwide, whose main or only product is software that is meant to be licensed and integrated into a game engine. Their primary target is the video game industry, but the film industry also utilizes such software for special effects. Some very few well known examples are
A significant share of the available middleware already runs natively on Linux, only a very few run exclusively on Linux.
A multi-monitor setup is supported on Linux at least by AMD Eyefinity & AMD Catalyst, Xinerama and RandR on both X11 and Wayland. Serious Sam 3: BFE is one example of a game that runs natively on Linux and supports very high resolutions and is validated by AMD to support their Eyefinity.Civilization V is another example, it even runs on a "Kaveri" desktop APU in 3x1 portrait mode.
The specifications of the Mumble protocol are freely available and there are BSD-licensed implementations for both servers and clients. The positional audio API of Mumble is supported by e.g. Cube 2: Sauerbraten.
Wine is a compatibility layer that provides binary compatibility and makes it possible to run software, that was written and compiled for Microsoft Windows, on Linux. The Wine project hosts a user-submitted application database (known as Wine AppDB) that lists programs and games along with ratings and reviews which detail how well they run with Wine. Wine AppDB also has a commenting system, which often includes instructions on how to modify a system to run a certain game which cannot run on a normal or default configuration. Many games are rated as running flawlessly, and there are also many other games that can be run with varying degrees of success. The use of Wine for gaming has proved controversial in the Linux community as some feel it is preventing, or at least hindering, the further growth of native gaming on the platform.
There are numerous emulators for Linux. There are also APIs, virtual machines, and machine emulators that provide binary compatibility:
Linux has been ported to several game consoles, including the Xbox, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4,GameCube, and Wii which allows game developers without an expensive game development kit to access console hardware. Several gaming peripherals also work with Linux.
The game engine is the software solely responsible for the game mechanics, or rules defining game play. There are different game engines for first-person shooters, strategy video games, etc. Besides the game mechanics, software is also needed to handle graphics, audio, physics, input handling, and networking.
Game engines that are used by many video games and run on top of Linux include:
There are many free and open-source video games as well as commercially distributed proprietary video games that run natively on Linux. Some independent companies have also begun porting prominent video games from Microsoft Windows to Linux.
A few original open source video games have attained notability:
There are a larger number of open source clones and remakes of classic games:
Valve officially released Steam for Linux on February 14, 2013. As of June 2020 With the launch of SteamOS, a distribution of Linux made by Valve intended to be used for HTPC gaming, that number is quickly growing. Listed below are some notable games available on Steam for Linux:the number of Linux-compatible games on Steam exceeds 6,500.
Independent developer 2D Boy released World of Goo for Linux. Role-playing video game titles like Eschalon: Book I, Eschalon: Book II and Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness were developed cross-platform from the start of development, including a Linux version. Sillysoft released Linux versions of their game Lux and its various versions.
Hemisphere Games has released a Linux version of Osmos. Koonsolo has released a Linux version of Mystic Mine. Amanita Design has released Linux versions of Machinarium and Samorost 2. Irrgheist released a Linux version of their futuristic racing game H-Craft Championship. Gamerizon has released a Linux version of QuantZ. InterAction Studios has several titles mostly in the Chicken Invaders series.
Kristanix Games has released Linux versions of Crossword Twist, Fantastic Farm, Guess The Phrase!, Jewel Twist, Kakuro Epic, Mahjong Epic, Maxi Dice, Solitaire Epic, Sudoku Epic, Theseus and the Minotaur. Anawiki Games has released a Linux versions of Path of Magic, Runes of Avalon, Runes of Avalon 2, Soccer Cup Solitaire, The Perfect Tree and Dress-Up Pups. Gaslamp Games released a Linux version of Dungeons of Dredmor. Broken Rules has released a Linux version of And Yet It Moves.
Frictional Games released Linux versions of both Penumbra: Black Plague and Penumbra: Overture, as well as the expansion pack Penumbra: Requiem. They also released Amnesia: The Dark Descent for Linux simultaneously with the Windows and Mac OS X versions. S2 Games released Linux clients for their titles Savage: The Battle for Newerth, Savage 2: A Tortured Soul and Heroes of Newerth. Wolfire Games released a Linux version of their game Lugaru and they will release its sequel Overgrowth for Linux. David Rosen's Black Shades was also ported to Linux. Arctic Paint has released a Linux version of Number Drill. Charlie's Games has released a Linux version of Bullet Candy Perfect, Irukandji, Space Phallus and Scoregasm.
Illwinter Game Design released Conquest of Elysium II, Dominions: Priests, Prophets and Pretenders, Dominions II: The Ascension Wars, and Dominions 3: The Awakening for Linux. Introversion Software released Darwinia, Uplink, and DEFCON. Cartesian Theatre is a Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, based software house specializing in free, commercial, games for Linux. They have one title currently under active development, Avaneya. Kot-in-Action Creative Artel released their Steel Storm games for Linux. Hazardous Software have released their game Achron for Linux.
Unigine Corp developed Oil Rush using its Unigine engine technology that works on Linux. Unigine Corp was also developing a "shooter-type game" that would have been released for Linux, currently the development on this game is frozen until OilRush is released. The MMORPG game Syndicates of Arkon is also supposed to be coming to Linux. The game Dilogus: The Winds of War is also being developed with Unigine and is planned to have a Linux client.
A number of visual novel developers support Linux. Winter Wolves has released titles such as Spirited Heart, Heileen, The Flower Shop, Bionic Heart, Card Sweethearts, Vera Blanc, Planet Stronghold, and Loren The Amazon Princess for Linux.Hanako Games has released Science Girls, Summer Session, Date Warp, Cute Knight Kingdom, and are considering porting Fatal Hearts to Linux.sakevisual has brought Jisei, Kansei, Yousei, RE: Alistair and Ripples to Linux. Four Leaf Studios has also released Katawa Shoujo for Linux and Christine Love released Digital: A Love Story, both of which, along with Summer Session mentioned previously, are powered by the free software Ren'Py tool.
Dwarf Fortress, a sandbox management simulator / roguelike, has been made available for Linux by Tarn Adams.
The voxel-based space sandbox game, ScrumbleShip by Indie developer Dirkson is currently under development for Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows.
The realistic replay baseball simulation Out of the Park Baseball by OOTP Developments is currently available for Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows, for single player and multiplayer online leagues.
Grappling Hook, a first-shooter like puzzle game.
Independent companies have also taken on the task of porting prominent Windows games to Linux. Loki Software was the first such company, and between 1998 and 2002 ported Civilization: Call to Power, Descent³, Eric's Ultimate Solitaire, Heavy Gear II, Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.², Heretic II, Heroes of Might and Magic III, Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns, Myth II: Soulblighter, Postal, Railroad Tycoon II, Quake III Arena, Rune, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, Sim City 3000, Soldier of Fortune, Tribes 2, and MindRover to Linux.
Tribsoft created a Linux version of Jagged Alliance 2 by Sir-Tech Canada before shutting down in 2002. Linux Game Publishing was founded in 2001 in response to the impending demise of Loki, and has brought Creatures: Internet Edition, Candy Cruncher, Majesty: Gold Edition, NingPo MahJong, Hyperspace Delivery Boy!, Software Tycoon, Postal²: Share The Pain, Soul Ride, X2: The Threat, Gorky 17, Cold War, Knights and Merchants: The Shattered Kingdom, Ballistics, X3: Reunion, Jets'n'Guns, Sacred: Gold, Shadowgrounds, and Shadowgrounds Survivor to Linux. Some of these games were ported for them by Gordon.
LGP-associated but freelance consultant Frank C. Earl is porting the game Caster to Linux and has released the first episode and also developed the Linux version of Cortex Command being included in the second Humble Indie Bundle. He is also working towards other porting projects such as the entire Myth series. He is largely taking recommendations and he comments as part of the Phoronix community. icculus.org has ported beta releases for Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and Devastation, versions of America's Army, and the titles Prey, Aquaria, Braid, Hammerfight and Cogs.
The German publisher RuneSoft was founded in 2000. They ported the games Northland, Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood, Airline Tycoon Deluxe, Ankh, Ankh: Heart of Osiris, Barkanoid 2, and Jack Keane to Linux, as well as porting Knights and Merchants: The Shattered Kingdom and Software Tycoon, for Linux Game Publishing. Hyperion Entertainment ported games to several systems, they have ported Shogo: Mobile Armor Division and SiN to Linux, as well as porting Gorky 17 for Linux Game Publishing. Wyrmkeep Entertainment has brought the games The Labyrinth of Time and Inherit the Earth: Quest for the Orb to Linux. Alternative Games brought Trine and Shadowgrounds, and Shadowgrounds Survivor for Linux Game Publishing.
Aspyr Media released their first Linux port in June 2014, they claim they are porting to Linux due to Valve bringing out SteamOS. Aspyr Media later ported Borderlands 2 to Linux in September 2014.
Having ported games to Mac OS X since 1996, video game publisher Feral Interactive released XCOM: Enemy Unknown, its first game for Linux, in June 2014. Feral Interactive stated they port games to Linux thanks to SteamOS.
Some id Software employees ported the Doom series, the Quake series, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. Some games published by GarageGames which have Linux versions include Bridge Builder, Marble Blast Gold, Gish, Tribal Trouble, and Dark Horizons: Lore Invasion.
MP Entertainment released Hopkins FBI and Crack dot com released Abuse for Linux, becoming one of the first developers to release a native port. Inner Worlds, another early commercial Linux title, was released for and developed on Linux. Philos Laboratories released a Linux version of Theocracy on the retail disk. Absolutist has supported Linux for a number of years.GLAMUS GmbH released a Linux version of their game Mobility. Vicarious Visions ported the space-flight game Terminus to Linux.
Lava Lord Games released their game Astro Battle for Linux. Xatrix Entertainment released a Linux version of Kingpin: Life of Crime. BioWare released Neverwinter Nights for Linux. Croteam released the Serious Sam series, with the first game ported by Gordon and with the second self-ported. Gordon also ported Epic Games' shooter games Unreal Tournament 2003 and Unreal Tournament 2004.
We strongly want to get into Linux for a reason," Gustavsson said. "It took Halo for the first Xbox to kick off and go crazy -- usually, it takes one killer app or game and then people are more than willing [to adopt it] -- it is not hard to get your hands on Linux, for example, it only takes one game that motivates you to go there.
Some companies ported games to Linux running on instruction sets other than x86, such as Alpha, PowerPC, Sparc, MIPS or ARM. Loki Entertainment Software ported Civilization: Call to Power, Eric's Ultimate Solitaire, Heroes of Might and Magic III, Myth II: Soulblighter, Railroad Tycoon II Gold Edition and Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri with Alien Crossfire expansion pack to Linux PowerPC. They also ported Civilization: Call to Power, Eric's Ultimate Solitaire, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri with Alien Crossfire expansion pack to Linux Alpha and Civilization: Call to Power, Eric's Ultimate Solitaire to Linux SPARC. Linux Game Publishing published Candy Cruncher, Majesty Gold, NingPo MahJong and Soul Ride to Linux PowerPC. They also ported Candy Cruncher, Soul Ride to Linux SPARC and Soul Ride to Linux Alpha. Illwinter Game Design ported Dominions: Priests, Prophets & Pretenders, Dominions II: The Ascension Wars and Dominions 3 to Linux PowerPC and Conquest of Elysium 3, Dominions 4: Thrones of Ascension to Raspberry Pi. Hyperion Entertainment ported Sin to Linux PowerPC published by Titan Computer and Gorky 17 to Linux PowerPC which later was published by LGP. Runesoft hired Gunnar von Boehn which ported Robin Hood - The Legend of Sherwood to Linux PowerPC. Later Runesoft ported Airline Tycoon Deluxe to Raspberry Pi was running Debian GNU/Linux.
Several developers have released the source code to many of their legacy titles, allowing them to be run as native applications on many alternative platforms, including Linux. Examples of games which were ported to Linux this way include Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior, Rise of the Triad, Ken's Labyrinth, Seven Kingdoms, Warzone 2100, Homeworld, Call to Power II, Wolfenstein 3D, Heretic, Hexen, Hexen II, Aliens versus Predator, Descent, Descent II and Freespace 2. Several game titles that were previously released for Linux were also able to be expanded or updated because of the availability of game code, including Doom, Abuse, Quake, Quake II, Quake III Arena and Jagged Alliance 2. Some derivatives based on released source code have also been released for Linux, such as Aleph One and Micropolis for Marathon 2: Durandal and SimCity respectively.
Certain game titles were even able to be ported due to availability of shared engine code even though the game's code itself remains proprietary or otherwise unavailable, such as the video game Strife or the multiplayer component of Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force. Some games have even been ported entirely or partially by reverse engineering and game engine recreation such as WarCraft II through Wargus or Commander Keen. Another trick is to attempt hacking the game to work as a mod on another native title, such as with the original Unreal. Additionally, some games can be run through the use of Linux specific runtime environments, such as the case of certain games made with Adventure Game Studio such as the Chzo Mythos or certain titles made with the RPG Maker tool. Games derived from released code, with both free and proprietary media, that are released for Linux include Urban Terror, OpenArena, FreeDoom, World of Padman, Nexuiz/Xonotic, War§ow and Excalibur: Morgana's Revenge.
This is a selected list of MMORPGs that are native on Linux: