Valve CEO: Why Linux is the future of gaming

Gabe Newell, CEO of Valve declared that proprietary software and closed platforms are gaming's past, its future is open and on Linux.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

New Orleans: If you've heard it once, you've heard it a million times: The reason why desktop Linux hasn't made it is because of its lack of games. Thanks to Gabe Newell, CEO of Valve and its Steam game platform, that's not true anymore.

Left 4 Dear Linux Gaming
Linux gaming is ready to rumble and Valve expects it to win.

As a keynote speaker at the Linux Foundation's 2013 North American Linuxcon, Newell explained that the old proprietary ways are no longer working for gaming companies. In no small part, that's because the economics of games are changing. Newell said, "Games are becoming nodes in a linked economy where the majority of digital goods and services are user generated, rather than created by companies."

In fact, Newell said that the Team Fortress Community is already creating 10 times the content of Valve's Team Fortress developers. Newell has no doubt that in head-to-head competition, Valve could take on any of the other gaming companies. But there's no way that it can beat the content of its community and companies that don't realize it's the gamers, and not the developers, who are calling the shots.

While Newell wouldn't go so far as to repeat his claim from last year that "Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space," he made it clear that he thought he disapproved of the current direction of the PC platform.

"How to be polite ... we think that has been some bad thinking. Platforms are becoming more controlled, the software developer market is controlled, the content is controlled, and [so is] the pricing." He believes that Microsoft and the PC vendors think that this is the right way, but they're wrong. "They should have leveraged the strength of open systems, rather than going to proprietary platforms."

As a consequence, "We have had significant year-over-year declines in PC units". And, "PC vendors and software programs have a deer-in-the-headlight look in their eyes." While PC sales decline, gaming sales have continued to increase, and Steam itself has seen a 76 percent year to date gain in usage.

At the same time, "The Linux desktop is painfully small for the gaming market. It's insignificant by pretty much any metrics — players, players minutes, revenue — it's typically less than 1 percent." So, if gaming continues to do well, despite Mac and Windows overall declining sales, why did Valve decide to go with Linux? Because Newell has seen the future and it's open.

Newell pointed out Valve has actually been using Linux since 1999. "We use several hundred thousand game servers and use it internally as well for game servers. Internally, we have 20TB of content, we go a year between reboots, and we delivered over an exabyte of data on the internet in the year to date, which comes to 2 to 3 percent of the world's internet." He added, "In all game companies, you'll find more reliance on and higher percentages of Linux usage."

"Linux is the future of gaming for gamers on the client as well, because, besides Microsoft moving to a more locked-in style of computing, "Open systems were advancing much faster. The old console guys are not competitive, and there's huge tension in proprietary systems." For example, Newell said, "It took us six months to get one update through the Apple store. Closed systems are at odds with the evolution of gaming."

So, Valve has been bringing its Steam games to Linux. There are now 198 Steam games running on Linux. The issues of bringing the games to Linux have been solved.

The next step, from where Newell sits, isn't so much bringing games to Linux, but rather working on the hardware side to create a living room gaming device based on Linux. This device, which we'll find out more about next week, is designed to span the gap from the desktop to the living room TV.

In Valve's future, players will run their games on Linux systems. They may not know they are running Linux — any more than nine out of 10 Android users know they're running Linux — but it will be Linux under the hood. These devices, whether PCs, tablets, or dedicated game consoles, will all play the same while running the same Steam-based games on top of Linux.

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