What Do Game Developers Think of Steam Play’s Proton?

About 3 weeks ago, Valve introduced Proton which is the new feature of Steam Play that enables Windows games without Linux version to be played within the Steam Linux client. The Linux gaming community is divided when it comes to playing games through Proton (modified Wine) and here are the usual arguments:

  1. Wine will negatively affect Linux game developers because a person who already bought a Windows game and finished it through Wine is not likely to buy again a copy when a Linux version is released. In short, it will kill the business of developing Linux versions of games.
  2. Wine will attract more game developers to develop games on Linux because usage of Wine will increase the number of Linux users.

We asked game developers who have consistently supported Linux about their thoughts on Steam Play’s new feature. Fortunately, we have answers to share.

Aquiris Game Studio: It doesn’t make sense for us to use Proton. The cost of making a game that runs natively on Linux is not so big and the resulting product runs much better.

Croteam: It’s firm #2. The logic behind #1, which is often perpetuated online, is very, very misinformed. You are unlikely to get a public explanation for it because exact details include various data which is vastly not public. What I can say is – you’re gonna have to trust me on this: Valve is doing the right move here – one that has potential to help a lot if the tech turns out to work well.

SCS Software: I do not have a clear stance on whether it benefits or hurts the Linux game dev community. To some extent, both statements are true, at least surely each may be more relevant to somebody. I would be slightly leaning to seeing the benefits of growing the Linux ecosystem overall, which is a must, before worrying if people are going to commit to it. The bigger the pie, the richer the options for developers, the higher chances of developers and publishers considering the platform a must-have. Some may go native, so may consider Wine good enough, but without enough mind-share for Linux, it’s all moot anyway.

We do support Linux actively (as several of our programmers use it as their development environment, it’s not so hard to do), however it’s not our focus business-wise – Linux probably represents less than 1% of our revenue. So our view may be rather different from noble efforts to to pull off a Linux-only project.

Overall, I understand that Steam Machines and now Proton are just battles in a bigger war. Valve and other brave knights and strong voices like Tim Sweeney are trying to protect the openness of the Windows platforms, while Microsoft would probably prefer to end up becoming a gatekeeper and have their “30% tax” of anything sold digitally on windows just like appstores on Android or iOS.

We have seen this aspiration for years and years to own the space, through OpenGL vs DirectX API wars for example. With enough pressure and a threat of “plan B” I hope developers can eventually discourage Microsoft from attempting this and risk winning a battle but losing the whole war by having gamers moving away from Windows.

Witch Beam: There’s always more nuance to these kinds of things than it being inherently good or bad, I’ve been chatting with friends in the Linux community and agree with some of their sentiment that there is a risk of developers ignoring native Linux support because they see Proton as giving them that audience for free, but I also think Valve is pushing forward with a long term strategy here to try and boost Linux as a platform.

As I see it the basic problem is that you need a player base on Linux for developers to see value in bringing their games to the platform, and you need games on the platform in order to entice the players to use it, so Proton is a method of trying to help solve this chicken / egg scenario. My hope is that Proton ends up being a well implemented version of Wine that solves some of the usability issues non power users might have on the platform with its solid Steam integration and thus pushes more users to move to linux, at which point developers might switch their viewpoint from “Proton gives us a free Linux version that works OK” to “Hey there are lots of players on Linux so we should make sure they get the best version of our game”.

We won’t know if things work out that way for a long time, but I hope that’s how it goes.

Wube Software: We think overall the Steam Proton is a good step for gaming on Linux, allowing Steams players to access a huge library of previously Windows only games.

To answer your questions more specifically:

1. It is generally not the practice to charge customers again for a Linux release of a title, developers will make all versions available through the single purchase. If some developers do charge for a Linux version, I would say that behavior if anti-consumer, and does not bear any relevance to Steam Proton

2. I believe it is the opposite, developers will see that their game works through Steam Proton, so will not invest the effort to produce a Linux specific port.

2.5. It is unclear whether Steam Proton will increase the number of Linux users

Overall for us, this announcement does not change any of our development policies, we will continue to support a Linux version of our project.

Related readings:
Newbie Friendly Guide to Using Linux for Gaming
Milestones of Linux as a Gaming Platform
Steam Play Proton Game Compatibility List