id Software’s venerable code magician John Carmack has taken to Reddit to discuss the prospects of Linux support for mainstream games. Carmack said “I don’t think that a good business case can be made for officially supporting Linux for mainstream games today.”
Carmack prefaced these words by explaining that while he still has a soft-spot for Linux due to the technical avenues and challenges it provides, it is not on his list of top ten priorities.
“I can’t speak for the executives at Zenimax,” said Carmack, referring to the id Software parent company, “but they don’t even publish Mac titles (they partner with Aspyr), so I would be stunned if they showed an interest in officially publishing and supporting a Linux title.”
“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 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. Arguments can be made that neither one was an optimal test case, but they were honest tries.”
Carmack challenged Linux proponents to make a solid business case to publishers on doing the port, including guarantees on support.
“You probably can’t even get an email returned if you are offering less than six figures to a top ten publisher. This may sound ridiculous – ‘Who would turn away $20,000?’ but 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,” said Carmack.
He wrapped up by saying that emulation is the technical way forward for gaming on Linux, adding that there isn’t anything special about a native port versus emulation. Carmack suggested that the work required to emulate a game is actually easier to pull off than creating “completely refactored, high performance native ports.”
“Ideally, following a set of best practice guidelines could allow developers to get Linux versions with little more effort than supporting, say, Windows XP. Properly evangelized, with Steam as a monetized distribution platform, this is a plausible path forward.”
What do you think the future holds for gaming on Linux platforms? Let us know in the comments below and on the MyGaming forum.