There’s an ongoing Kickstarter drive for a small game engine company named Leadwerks to port its development environment to the Linux platform. According to the company, the market for native Linux games is set to increase exponentially over the next few years. With Valve’s digital distribution platform, Steam, Linux gaming finally has some legs under it. More to the point though, the company cites recent listings for Linux developers at major game studios like Crytek as evidence that the Linux platform’s importance is growing.
To capitalize on the current momentum behind Linux gaming this Kickstarter campaign aims to provide Leadwerks with enough capital to port its game development environment. Thus enabling would-be game developers to design, build, and test their creations entirely inside of the Linux environment without the use of Virtual Machines or Windows-based workstations. This is a big change from the current state of affairs in which game developers build their game with Windows-based tools and then port the finished product over to GNU/Linux environments.
The most basic goal for this Kickstarter project has already been met, and the Leadwerks 3 environment will be ported to Linux. With a little over a day left on the clock the company is trying to attract funding for the long list of stretch goals that they set out a few weeks ago. Items like Oculus Rift support, Blender integration, and even support for the OUYA gaming console are listed as goals.
Stepping back from this specific company for a moment, I think it’s important to take a broader view of the Linux-based gaming market. Right now, gaming on Linux is the strongest it’s ever been. This is largely due to Microsoft’s missteps and occasional outright antagonism toward PC gamers, and PC game developers. If Microsoft were to change its tune today, and move away from its Xbox first, PC whenever strategy the company could easily crush the toehold that Linux has gained in the PC gaming market by embracing one of the Windows platform’s greatest strengths. Alas, with the introduction of the Windows store and the announcement of the upcoming Xbox One it seems that Microsoft is dead set on neglecting PC gaming in favor of more directly profitable opportunities.
Moving back to Linux itself, Valve’s support for Linux through the launch of Steam and the ongoing process of porting its library of first-party titles to the platform has no doubt put a strong set of legs under the rather wobbly Linux-gaming table. If more developers like Valve and Crytek begin to embrace the platform then gamers are sure to follow. One important, if anecdotal, point to keep in mind is that gamers by-and-large don’t care what platform their videogames run on. Rather what they care about is having a platform that allows them to play the games that they want to play. For now that platform is Windows; but much like the field of dreams, if you build it they will come.
This is the promise that Linux holds, a growing environment for those developers that are disenchanted with the Windows ecosystem or too small to make a notable offering in more traditional places. Leadwerks integration with Steam and the project to bring its tools to Linux will no doubt bolster the prospects of the Linux gaming ecosystem as a whole.
Of course a few developers and a native game engine does not a good platform make, but it’s clear that there’s some momentum and that at least a few of the barriers to entry have been removed. Any way you slice it, what Leadwerks is doing is an interesting addition to the Linux platform. Here’s to hoping that next year, will finally be the year of Linux (on the desktop)