Steamy Linux

I was thrilled, but somewhat sceptical when I first heard that Valve was going to port their Steam platform to Ubuntu. It certainly is a very good thing, but I wondered:

"What if Valve fails? What if this is another one of those examples of some company trying to make money on Linux and failing horribly."

This got me thinking. How do you achieve success on Linux? How should Valve go about their business and succeed? One thing is quite sure and that is that many PC gamers are power users, many power users nowadays install Ubuntu, so PC gaming and Linux are peas in a pod. The convenience of having your geek out platform also be your gaming platform is pretty cool, and if you're a dedicated PC gamer then shedding Windows could be just what the doctor ordered.


Because one thing is clear with Windows, and it's becoming more clear as the years pass on. Microsoft cannot ever satisfy everyone. Yeah sure it's fine for people who are now only discovering how cool computers can be, but after the honeymoon period you realise that it would be really cool if something or another was different.

Linux fills that gap nicely. Power users can customize to their will, and even limited users can pick from a variety of Ubuntu based easy to use distros each with a different focus. Don't like Unity, then use something else!

This is not an automatic recipe for success however, and Valve needs to take care to do this right. The world of Linux is much different, and many companies have gotten their fingers burnt thinking that they know what they're doing (Oh Oracle how misguided you were). Far from being complete I'm going to try and lay down some ground rules.

1. Make it simple

It's fairly easy to assume that all Linux users want to do all day is sit around compiling custom kernels and installing bleeding edge drivers that set their massive towers on fire, but the Linux demographic has never been that simple. Many people who use Linux use it for work purposes. They may be doing web development, or using it as a workstation for writing or other activities. If you don't use specialized software like Photoshop then Linux can work great for you.

It should also be noted that everyone has limited time on their hands. If Steam comes with a million little quirks and bugs the backlash will be hard to deal with. Former Windows users will just reboot and never look back and you will be a left with the Angry Nerds of the Linux world. In fact, you are not immune to Linus Torvalds flipping the bird at you if you screw up.

2. Don't make Linux a second class citizen

If you release a game that is available for all three platforms, but you do Windows and Mac first you are killing your own mission. Google does this and it results in communities that are pretty unhappy. "When will it come to Linux?" they ask. Once again if former Windows gamers feel neglected they will simply go back to Windows, and so on.

3. Engage with your users

If you have a forum where users can report issues make sure you are ready for the storm. If you don't have enough people manning this station you will get very unhappy users. The NVidia Linux forums look like this. I can't imagine the people working on Nvidia Linux having a good time. Sadly this is due to under staffing, but also due to other issues.

4. Engage with the community

I left this one for last but it probably is the most important factor. Don't release software and go "There it is! You can use it now!" and expect everything to just work out. Linux is free in monetary terms, but there is a community investment to be made to be part of it. If Valve fixes little driver bugs, or even just reports bugs on Ubuntu or releases small tools for Linux developers to use then they will get something money can't buy. If the community loves you, you will feel the love coming back. The whole point of open source is collaboration. Its about symbiosis. If you act like a parasite you will inevitably get treated like one.

Most of the traditional companies entering into the Linux world and failing has in my opinion been their own fault. They were trying to get maximum benefit with minimum input. They were acting like traditional companies do, trying to push their own agenda exclusively while getting the most of what they could out of the community. In an ecosystem like Linux companies like these are parasites, and they harm the platform more than they help it.

I trust that Valve can pull this off. I really like Valve's games and even though I have my complaints about Steam it did give me games cheaper and faster than traditional means. Bringing that and their know-how to Linux could be just the boost that desktop Linux needs.