Linux Is Not the Right Platform for Video Games, Says John Carmack

Video Game Guru Debunks Linux as Entertainment Platform

by Anton Shilov
02/06/2013 | 11:39 PM

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.