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Even though Linux operating system may have a number of advantages for specialized applications and experimenting with certain hardware capabilities, it does not have what it takes to be the right platform for entertainment, particularly for video games, believes John Carmack, a legendary game programmer. Moreover, it does not make any sense to officially port mainstream games to Linux.

“I do get tempted to port to Linux for technical reasons – I would like to use Valgrind again, and Nvidia has told me that some experimental GPU features I would like to use for R&D would be easier to prove out on Linux. […] However, I don’t think that a good business case can be made for officially supporting Linux for mainstream games today. […] The conventional wisdom is that native Linux games are not a good market. Id Software tested the conventional wisdom twice, with Quake Arena and Quake Live. The conventional wisdom proved correct,” said John Carmack, the technical director of id Software, over at Reddit web-site.

There are two main problems for Linux gaming from becoming reality. Firstly, Linux commands 1.21% of the PC operating systems market, according to Net Applications. Secondly, the PC in general is no longer the primary gaming device or the primary target platform for video game developers. While it is clear that the market of Linux gaming is extremely small, another big problem is necessity to support commercial titles, which may be difficult from many points of view.

“A port could be up and running in a week or two, but there is so much work to do beyond that for official support. […] The reality is that many of the same legal, financial, executive, and support resources need to be brought to bear on every single deal, regardless of size, and taking time away from something that is in the tens of millions of dollars range is often not justifiable,” explained Mr. Carmack.

In general, the legendary game developer believes it makes much more sense to create a special PC emulator for Linux rather than to port video games to the operating system that is used by 1.21% of PC users. In fact, Zenimax, the owner of id, does not even port games to Mac OS X, which is installed on 7% of the world’s PCs, itself, but outsources the job to Aspyr.

“I truly do feel that emulation of some sort is a proper technical direction for gaming on Linux. It is obviously pragmatic in the range of possible support, but it should not have the technical stigma that it does. There really is not much of anything special that a native port does. […] Translating from D3D to OpenGL would involve more inefficiencies, but figuring out exactly what the difficulties are and making some form of “D3D interop” extension for OpenGL to smooth it out is a lot easier than making dozens of completely refactored, high performance native ports,” concluded John Carmack.

Tags: id Software, Linux, ZeniMax, Windows, Apple, Microsoft, Mac OS


Comments currently: 15
Discussion started: 02/07/13 01:54:02 AM
Latest comment: 03/04/13 08:38:44 AM
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John Carmack, at one time you were a idol to me. I counted on you to stand up for linux ports. I undertand it was not a money maker for you. That does not mean someone else can do it better and make it happen. Things can go wrong. look at your game Rage.
John how could you put your name on such a disaster.
3 1 [Posted by: provervm  | Date: 02/07/13 01:54:02 AM]

Well why not make them in OpenGL to begin with and then you don't have to worry about D3D to OpenGL it is already done and will run on all three platforms?
5 0 [Posted by: BW~Merlin  | Date: 02/07/13 03:33:45 AM]

I sense a disturbance in many mothers' basements....
0 0 [Posted by: bluvg  | Date: 02/07/13 08:05:03 AM]

...create a special PC emulator for Linux...

Uh... you mean for the folks that are running Linux on mainframes and other non-PC architectures?
1 0 [Posted by: bluvg  | Date: 02/07/13 08:06:29 AM]

Shut up Carmack, you betrayed us PC gamers long ago and game after game you show us that you don't care.

We have to see a good game since quake 2, from that on you just made some average joe games and just talk good and nice for whoever pay you better...

Go make mediocre console games and let us follow Gabe to the future of pc gaming.

3 0 [Posted by: nitro912gr  | Date: 02/07/13 10:17:30 AM]

In the beginning Windows and DOS was not a viable option for game developers. They did it anyway. Back then Windows did not have DirectX until Windows 95. Ken Williams, CEO of Sierra On-line in the early 90s, helped Microsoft to construct an API that game developers could use. What is needed for Linux to become a good gaming OS is a good API that game developers can use. Linux distributions are having a look at Wayland for the next GUI API instead of X Window System. Wayland could provide API that game developers can use for their games, but John Carmack does not think Linux is a viable OS to support. John Carmack could help the Wayland project to ease game development because Wayland is still in its infancy.

Presently, Linux has tons of API that game developers can choose, but the choices are irritating. They are irritating because not all API are complete for production and the documentation is weak.
0 2 [Posted by: tecknurd  | Date: 02/07/13 01:16:31 PM]
- collapse thread

There is OpenGL, why we need another API?
It is working great with GPU and at the moment have nothing to be jealous of DX11
1 1 [Posted by: nitro912gr  | Date: 02/07/13 02:34:40 PM]
OpenGL is a graphics API. It can not be use for sound, network, and inputs. DirectX is an API that includes graphics, sound, network, and input that a developer can easily use with out making their own wheel.
0 1 [Posted by: tecknurd  | Date: 02/07/13 05:48:21 PM]
oh sorry, I though you was talking just for graphics.

Well I guess if valve play it's best now with the linux client, maybe they will settle in some specific APIs to use and evolve it, as well to write proper documentations for the developers.
0 0 [Posted by: nitro912gr  | Date: 02/08/13 09:24:37 AM]
MS-DOS was the premier computer game platform long before 3D accelerators were even invented (which was what drove the development of DirectX, Glide and OpenGL). You don't know what you're talking about.
1 0 [Posted by: lol123  | Date: 02/08/13 09:16:06 AM]

Carmack is such a moron...
3 0 [Posted by: beenthere  | Date: 02/07/13 08:13:50 PM]

I'm hardly a Linux fanatic, and I would agree that Linux is still somewhat problematic as a gaming platform, but who cares what John Carmack says at this point? He has not produced anything worth a damn in almost a decade (if not more).
2 0 [Posted by: lol123  | Date: 02/08/13 09:14:27 AM]

Pack Linux game & drivers in one package!
And this way you have a product that will work on every x86 or even arm platform!
& a happy gamers that only need the disc to play + better security!!!
0 1 [Posted by: Zola  | Date: 02/11/13 01:35:54 AM]

As someone stated above, there are free open sources APIs that can be used on Linux or other Unix based OSes. Biggest ones I can think are OpenGL, OpenAL, OpenCL, etc.
I am still surprised why the games companies are not using those, specially since M$ killed the 3D Sound in games. My guess is laziness, support from MS and video card companies, etc. And yes, consoles....
0 0 [Posted by: TAViX  | Date: 02/11/13 02:43:50 AM]

While Carmack is widely known to try to stir things a bit (as he's doing here again), I dont disagree with him completely.

OpenGL is pretty competent, but its not on a current D3D level, both in terms of technology, and especially stability. Mesa, one of the widest used implementations for example isnt nearly stable enough for a big name commercial product. This isnt to say its particularly unstable (my favorite "alternative" OS uses it, and I quite like it), but its not good enough for software costing millions to develop. Ironically perhaps, ID tend to be one of the only companies making big name games that use OpenGL.

Sound APIs are even further behind.
Things like Allegro, or more SDL are also pretty competent, but not something a person would develop a big commercial game in.

Couple this with the (comparatively) small market, and his stance doesnt seem too unreasonable. He runs a business, and its a lot/expensive use of time and effort for a small portion of a 1.7% market share.

All this said though, outsourcing a port as they do with their Mac versions of software seems a pretty reasonable idea. Will never quite reach Windows version, but Id guess people are would be happy with a version with 90-ish percent audiovisual fidelity. Only people with some form of OCD would be bothered by this
0 0 [Posted by: Patrick76  | Date: 03/04/13 08:38:44 AM]


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