Opinion: Game Nearly Over

So here’s the news: Microsoft is forcing game developers and game developing companies through the hoop of their app store, encroaching on their revenue and putting itself in the way of dealing directly with the customers. Why am I not in the least bit surprised?

This happens when you put all your eggs into one basket, a basket held by a hulking, monopolistic company. When Thomas Edison became too greedy with his patented cinematography technology, the people who wanted to make films made the perilous crossing of the American continent to escape his shakedowns. But where do game developers go from here? There is no landmass, or ocean for that matter, that Microsoft and their platform do not reach. They can threaten to gate you out of their platform on a global scale, which is exactly what they are doing with Epic. And as Windows is the only game in town, the digital entertainment industry is mightily and royally screwed.

Hands up those of you who didn’t see that coming.

Here’s a thought: If the industry had diversified the platforms they targeted earlier on, say in the mid-2000s, when Linux was starting to come into its own, maybe this situation could’ve been avoided. Yes, marketshare, library support, drivers, hardware support, and so one, were not ideal on Linux back in the day. But we have seen how things can be turned around, right? We have an example in living memory of how, how by unilaterally nurturing a rich ecosystem of apps, you can get users to adopt a new platform. And with a healthy amount of users, developing for the new guys, even developing drivers, suddenly becomes a sound business strategy for third parties. Yes, it is circular reasoning: more apps attract more users and more users attract more apps (which attract more users), but that is how Android became top dog in the mobile app arena.

If just a handful of PC game companies had stopped for a second and analysed where their market was going back then, they would have still been in time to jump start a viable gaming platform using Linux.

It’s a bit late now, though. In fact, probably way too late. As we have seen, efforts like those of Valve porting Steam to Linux have clearly not been successful. Two years down the line and this month’s survey reveals that the percentage of Steam users on Linux is noew below 1%. Although these figures do not take into account users of SteamOS itself or, indeed, users who are forced to dual-boot to play their favourite games, they would make any company executive balk at the idea of porting their games to Linux.

Notwithstanding, my gut feeling is that only by cutting Microsoft out completely, by boycotting their platforms, and then migrating games to another, friendlier and more open platform (hint, hint) would developers be able to reverse Microsoft’s stranglehold on the PC gaming industry.

However, I am not delusional and I realise that it is unlikely that any company is going to take such an enormous risk at this stage of play. It would give too much of an advantage to competitors who are willing to jump through Microsoft’s hoops. As for the gamers: they don’t care, at least they don’t care enough. The whole gaming industry, users included, have slithered down the conformity slope way too far to turn back it would seem.

So they had it coming. All those game companies which never freed a line of code in their lives and hang on to decade-old titles just to try and squeeze a few more bucks out of the users with pointless, crappy anniversary editions? All those developers that ignored Linux and its users? They built this market and the market is as they are: lazy, greedy, pitiless and cut-throat.

In other gaming news, MAME, the emulation engine that allows you to play classical arcade and console videogames, is now open source. Now distributed under mostly GPL licenses, Linux distributions will be able to start packaging all its bits and pieces for their users right away.

And that’s how it should be done.


Cover Image: Giant Chess by Kaboompics for Pixabay.com.

  • Chris Bailey

    What a load of rubbish. Microsoft are only forcing the hand of game developers who want to publish their games on the MS store (due to the ecosystem they are trying to create). Steam, for example, will have no such restrictions. And as for Linux, Steam already publishes many games on Linux and the catalogue is ever growing thanks to game engines like Unity that allow cross platform publishing made easy. Also, the rise of HTML 5 games, web assembly and WebGL will make it difficult for Microsoft to place a stranglehold on the industry as browser based games reach native platform performance.

    It’s certainly true that the big games companies don’t (and can’t) innovate as much as they may like, but that’s simply down to the economics of running a business that is profitable for its shareholders. It’s been like that for a long time. The true innovation comes from the myriad of indie devs out there trying to stand out from the crowd.

    I don’t think boycotting Microsoft is plausible or in fact, necessary. The winning platform will be the one that makes it the easiest (and for many, most profitable) for devs to develop on.

    • Paul Brown

      > Microsoft are only forcing the hand of game developers who want to
      publish their games on the MS store (due to the ecosystem they are
      trying to create). Steam, for example, will have no such restrictions.

      Yes, Chris… For now. Being the only economically viable platform allows for a great amount of shenanigans.

      > And as for Linux, Steam already publishes many games on Linux and the
      catalogue is ever growing thanks to game engines like Unity that allow
      cross platform publishing made easy.

      Yes, but the number of users isn’t. This makes it very unattractive for developers, which, in turn, keeps away more users. It’s a vicious circle.

      > I don’t think boycotting Microsoft is plausible or in fact, necessary.
      The winning platform will be the one that makes it the easiest (and for
      many, most profitable) for devs to develop on.

      You’re half right. iOS, for example, is not the easiest platform to develop for, but developers still do it because of the profitability factor. “Easy to develop for” is quite secondary in a game company’s priorities.

      • nanday

        When Steam is releasing Linux games, what possible motive could it have for falsifying or distorting statistics negatively? If anything, I would expect the percentage of Linux gamers to be exaggerated. – Bruce Byfield (nanday)

  • anon anon

    It should be noted that the total number of Linux users on Steam has doubled since 2013 for it to remain around 1%, and SteamOS/SteamBoxes are NEVER counted in the servey.

  • DavidHollinger

    Several things are not taken into account in this story that are known issues with gathering Linux numbers:

    1. Currently Steam does NOT count SteamOS, Steam Big Picture, or Steam Machines in its survey. So how that may affect numbers overall is unknown.

    2. Valve has not released total user count since Feb 2015, at which time it 125 million users (making Linux users at that time ~1.25 million users) and all platforms have since grown.

    3. Mac and Linux users get the Steam Survey far less often than Windows users. This is a known issue and can skew the stats.

    4. Percentages are NOT an accurate representation of users. It can be assumed that Windows and Mac have grown user counts and since Linux percentage largely remains the same, it can be assumed that it is growing as well. In fact, since all platforms actual percentages have not changed much in the last 2 years, it can be assumed that all platforms are growing at similar rates

    • Paul Brown

      All excellent points. But the number of gamers that use Linux is still minutely small (compared to other platforms) however you measure it. I am not trying to demean Linux in any way by stating this. I still think the PC gaming indsutry is shooting itself in the foot by putting all their efforts into developing for mostly one platform.

      • c704710

        n>1,250,000 = minutely small
        (for extremely gargantuan values of minutely small)
        There’s far less than that number of Ouya users, and Square Enix ports to Ouya

    • edddeduck

      >1. Currently Steam does NOT count SteamOS, Steam Big Picture, or Steam Machines in its
      >survey. So how that may affect numbers overall is unknown.

      These can all be covered under the fact that Big Picture mode on any platform does not display hardware surveys meaning that on Windows, Mac & Linux you don’t get a survey when in BPM. This will effect SteamOS 100% as this is always in BPM, it will also likely effect most Windows based media centres as these will also likely be designed to boot into BPM as well for the same reasons. Given all this I don’t expect this to SKU the stats much.

      > 3. Mac and Linux users get the Steam Survey far less often than Windows users. This is a
      > known issue and can skew the stats.

      This is not a known issue, it’s a rumour that has no hard facts behind it. People on Mac/Linux have postulated that might be the case when they dot see the growth number they wanted/expected. All comments from Valve and developers indicate that it is really random and people are seeing patterns where there are none. The most obvious point that disproves this is why would Valve design a system designed to give an overall impression of their install base then deliberately design it to remove the random element and provide incorrect data?