Experienced Points: The Achilles’ Heel of Steam

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Sep 12, 2018

Filed under: Column 84 comments

My column this week is an outline of the back-and-forth between Microsoft and Valve, as Microsoft looks for ways to lock down the Windows platform and Valve looks for ways to make their business less dependent on it. I’ve covered this material in the past on the blog, but this is the first time I’ve talked about it on the Escapist. I’m still trying to get a feel for what the Escapist audience is into. Over there the audience is a generalized “Gaming and nerd culture enthusiast” kinda deal, while most people who read this blog are here for “Whatever Shamus is into at the moment”.

It does seem like the stalemate will continue for the foreseeable future. Microsoft really does want to lock down Windows, but I think they’ve lost their mojo. Back in the day they were able to use their operating system to prop up all sorts of projects. It’s easy to make your web browser the most popular by making it the most convenient. Hey, it’s already installed on my computer, so why look for an alternative? I’m not sure if they understood that their secret weapon was convenience. Since then they’ve dabbled with GFWL and the Windows 10 Store, two platforms that seem to be designed to be inconvenient as possible.

On the other end of the field, I don’t see how Valve can hope to make any progress either. They’re working on (a derivative of) WINE, which is a project designed to get Windows games to run on Linux without needing to engage in full-blown resource-sucking emulation. Like I said on the podcast this week, building something like WINE requires someone who:

  1. Has a deep knowledge of Windows systems, and yet…
  2. …is a huge fan of Linux that also…
  3. …is a dedicated gamer that is willing to spend their off hours building compatibility systems rather than playing games and who also…
  4. …has the dedication and skill to make meaningful progress.

There just aren’t a lot of people that fall into the center of that particular Venn Diagram.

On top of this, Microsoft has the advantage in this game. Even if we got a dozen or so genius-level programmers together and turned them loose to work on WINE full-time, Microsoft can create problems for them a lot more easily than they can overcome them.

Still, I like the suggestion Paul came up with on the show, where Steam could puts its weight behind a gamedev platform. For example, if we can encourage the next generation of hopeful indies to embrace (say) Unity, then making Linux builds becomes that much easier. Also, something like Unity can lock itself to a particular group of libraries and .NET runtimes, which would make it easier for people working on WINE to focus on those particular runtimes and libraries.

I’m not sure how a partnership like that would work, but I could see how it would make Linux gaming easier to achieve on future titles. Still, the problem of getting the last 10 years of PC games running remains, and I don’t see an easy way to solve that.

 


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84 thoughts on “Experienced Points: The Achilles’ Heel of Steam

  1. Infinitron says:

    Here’s a point of view that’s underrepresented in discussions of this topic:

    This isn’t actually a real problem. Steam will never be locked out of Windows, and Valve are doing this because they’re a bunch of bored techies who are looking to do anything except make games.

    Not saying this is what I actually believe, but it is absolutely something that needs to be addressed.

    1. guy says:

      I think it is reasonable to conclude Valve expects some possible benefit from this. I think it is unlikely Steam will get locked out of Windows, but Microsoft is offering a competing product and will leverage their control of the OS as much as they can get away with. So Valve could get a benefit from letting people play Windows games on Linux; games and programs in general being easier to use on Windows deters lots of people from using Linux. And even given that Windows probably won’t lock them out, Microsoft’s products are at an advantage in responding to new Windows features quickly.

      1. Hector says:

        It’s not that Steam would get locked out of Windows (although MIcrosoft plans disgusting tricks in the future to push people away from functional browsers in favor of a worthless joke called Edge), but that Microsoft tends to do a lot of damage on the way out of a market. Also, Microsoft doesn’t so much “leverage” features as “inflict” them. But it’s unlikely there’s anything they could or would be doing to add value to a game, and they no longer have a strong game development presence.

        What’s interesting about Steam’s Linux angle would be a pretty serious blow to Microsoft and might actually begin a slow move away from Microsoft as an OS. Shamus downplays it – but gaming was a huge factor in why Windows came to dominate desktops instead of Apple. The two major factors in driving computer sales were business uses and gaming – and Apple’s locked-down platform made them inferior for both. If 15% of the Windows market, and particular the leading edge of that begins moving to Linux for gaming, then thhe overall market may begin to tip as well. With the right distro, Linux works about as well for business purposes and is arguably easier to manage at an organizational level. It won’t be an easy or quick move, but it’s hardly a secret that a lot of techy administrators have a secret, burning love of Linux. It’s not universal, of course, but the idea is there. If Steam’s push to Linux begins to succeed, there’s a good chance we’ll see more money going to Linux development for other purposes.

        1. guy says:

          Steam isn’t competing with Microsoft games, it’s competing with the Windows Store. Right now that’s so hilariously one-sided it’s hard to remember the Windows Store has actual games on it, but Microsoft seems to have asperations of changing that, and because the Windows Store devs can potentially read the source code for Windows and preview updates, they have a leg up on making it work smoothly and adapt to any changes to how networking protocols are implemented or other system changes that will affect user experience and make them want to get non-exclusive games on the Windows Store.

          I kinda doubt Microsoft will pull it off, but there is a somewhat more realistic possibility of them trying to drive customers to the Windows Store and instead driving them to Amazon and the Post Office.

    2. Lars says:

      Microsoft doesn’t want to lock out Valve. The opposite is the case. They want to lock Steam tight to Windows, so that any gamer is forced to use that OS.

  2. Philadelphus says:

    There just aren’t a lot of people that fall into the center of that particular Venn Diagram.

    Well, evidently there are at least a few, given that WINE’s been about since 1993. It’s great that Valve’s finally providing some financial backing, though; if anyone has the mountains of cash and motivation needed to support the people who enjoy doing this stuff it’s them.

    Having switched to using Linux at home in 2014 after realizing I was enjoying using my Linux machine at work so much more than my Windows machine back home, I really hope this works so more people aren’t chained to Windows by their game collections. (I gave up access to a couple of games myself when I switched as I’d mostly been taking care to buy things with Linux versions, but that’s not feasible for a lot of people at this point.) But I can’t really say much more without revealing the ravening Linux zealot I’ve become over the past four years, so I’ll just leave it at that.

    1. Olivier FAURE says:

      It’s great that Valve’s finally providing some financial backing, though; if anyone has the mountains of cash and motivation needed to support the people who enjoy doing this stuff it’s them.

      Oh yeah. It’s sad that they’ve kind of given up on making games, but it’s great how much they support open-source gaming technology (Steam OS, Vulkan and LunarG, GameNetworkingSockets, etc).

  3. Asdasd says:

    Is a heel of steam the opposite of a head of steam?

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      No, it’s the opposite of the face of Steam (am I doing my wrestling joke right?)

  4. Geebs says:

    As somebody who spent most of the nineties trying to play games on a (PowerPC) Mac, I don’t have much enthusiasm left for translation layers etc. Wine is amazing, but a) it’s best suited to stuff at least a decade old and b) won’t be much use if UWP gains traction.

    In all other cases, the overhead incurred is never worth the minor convenience of not having to reboot into Windows to play a game.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Agreed. I can use Wine for simpler / older games, but if I try to play anything remotely new, it either fails because of some library function that hasn’t been handled by Wine yet, or it plays with a framerate in the single digits.

    2. Mephane says:

      Games developed for UWP are subject to technical restrictions, including incompatibility with multi-video card setups, difficulties modding the game and using the game with programs such as Fraps, overlays (such as Steam), or key binding managers.[15] During Build 2016, Microsoft Xbox division head Phil Spencer announced that the company was attempting to address issues which would improve the viability of UWP for PC games, stating that Microsoft was “committed to ensuring we meet or exceed the performance expectations of full-screen games as well as the additional features including support for overlays, modding, and more.” Support for AMD FreeSync and Nvidia G-Sync technologies, and disabling V-sync, was later added to UWP.[16][17]

      Source: Wikipedia

      Let’s just say that I hope UWP dies a quick and painless (for us gamers at least) death. It doesn’t really matter to me that they claim to be working on bringing all that compatibility for modding, overlays etc. What matters is that the platform fundamentally interferes with that in the first place. I have no interest whatsoever in Microsoft’s new walled garden pet project where stuff like modding can be subject to the company’s whims.

      1. Bubble181 says:

        Whims? No, no, you misunderstand! Curated mods will lift the general quality on offer, and ensuring inter-mod-compatibility through a seamlessly integrated, unintrusive overlay is a boon to all players and modders alike! Microsoft will ensure high quality products from small entrepreneurs and hobbyists can find a much bigger audience, while unintended or even possibly illegal mods (nude, other IPs,…) will be traced and blocked before ever getting to the end user, thus ensuring a fun and problem free experience!
        Buying games, mods, other apps, and even hardware, through one easy, hassle-free interface maintained by the same people who also provide your OS and security will mean everything Just Works! It’s awesome!

        (I assume I’ll be getting a check in the mail from the Microsoft marketing department next week for this post. If not, the exact opposite of everything I just wrote :-P )

      2. Mephane says:

        P.S.:

        “There’s going to be areas where we cooperate and there’s going to be areas where we compete. The end result is better for gamers.”

        Any end result that includes even the notion of UWP-exclusives is not “better for gamers”. What’s better for gamers is to have all games available on as many different platforms as possible, so that the platforms compete through their features, prices, usability, and not through which games they could strong-arm into becoming an exclusive.

      3. Droid says:

        Unnecessarily Walled-in Programs.

        1. Thomas says:

          To play devil’s advocate, android has had huge success walling everything off and Chrome OS is slowly making inroads into the PC market – particular in areas where restricting and sandboxing programs is desirable.

  5. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    Shamus you seem really focused on the idea that everything Steam does is to get out of Microsoft’s umbrella, but my understanding was that the Steam Machines were meant to invade the console market with a selection of hardware platforms at various prices and the massive Steam library, but didn’t work because the *linux* steam library was too small. If they manage to get Wine to really work they’ll offer a console that can handle not only the controller but also mouse/keyboard, can be as expensive as the player wants it to be, has tens of thousands of games in its library and is absolutely retro compatible.

    1. Joe Informatico says:

      WhyNotBoth.gif

      Favouring a console-based platform has the added benefit of getting out from the MS umbrella in addition to the reasons you state, does it not?

    2. Fizban says:

      And as stupid as the console wars are, that’s probably the only avenue- since no one’s going to seriously suggest an actual competitor to Microsoft and Apple on the OS front will magically appear out of nowhere,

      If you want to keep PC games from turning into consoles, you need to wedge the door open with a console so to speak. Apparently none of the “AAA” (whiny voice) publishers really give a fig about PC sales because consoles are so popular. So even if Valve say, drastically reduced their cut taken from any game that held up a proper Linux port (on every sale, not just the Linux users), that amount of money wouldn’t be enough to make the AAAs stop bending over for Microsoft. So the only shot is to bring in a new console.

      And a “PC based” “console” with a massive backlog of constantly available titles and “exclusives” you can’t get on the other major consoles, should be able to work. Key word being “should,” because the console-itis is so entrenched that it’s more psychology and momentum than anything to do with quality or features. Unfortunately the AAAs are too big to fail (about to fail? just sacrifice some workers instead!) so they won’t crash hard enough to leave the opening needed to wedge a new PC defending console in there.

  6. Karma The Alligator says:

    …is a dedicated gamer that is willing to spend their off hours building compatibility systems rather than playing games and who also…

    Why would they need to spend their off hours? I imagine that’s a full time job already and anyone doing it would get paid accordingly. I don’t expect people to do that as a hobby, considering the scope of it.

    1. Shamus says:

      I was referring specifically to the WINE project, which is an open-source community project. Obviously I expect Valve to pay their staff.

      1. Adam says:

        Steam have paid staff working full-time on WINE as their day job. It’s not all of WINE contributors sure, but I bet if Valve through their money at it, they could dominate the non-Value contributions to WINE.

      2. Alrik Alrikson says:

        Except if you’d actually look at the top contributors to the Wine project, which you can easily, there’s an automatic GitHub mirror, for example, you’d see that the top contributors are people on the payroll of Codeweavers.

        Codeweavers is a company paying people to work on Wine (and on their proprietary addition on top of Wine, but most stuff Codeweavers does goes back to mainline Wine). The release schedule is completely in Codeweavers hand, every community decision has Codeweavers people weighting in.

        Unincidentally, Codeweavers is the company Valve contracted to do all the Proton work (well, plus the dxvk dev, and others, which are projects designed to hook into Wine first and foremost). A lot of the work done for Proton went right into Wine first.

        Wine is actually, interestingly enough, one of the few open source projects were the company-community-symbiosis works, for the most part.

        Please, research the projects you’re talking about first, before writing about them.

        1. Shamus says:

          Like I said on the podcast this week, I DID look at the project, specifically looking for information on who is working on it. I went here:

          https://www.winehq.org/

          I spent a couple of minutes looking for the info. I read the About Page, and the FAQ, and a few other spots. I didn’t click on the Wiki, because I assumed that would be mostly technical info. I really expected to find the “who’s who” on the about page. I couldn’t find what I was looking for, so I assumed it wasn’t publicly available.

          “Please, research the projects you’re talking about first, before writing about them.”

          Newsflash: I am a human being. Sometimes I will get things wrong. I do my best. You don’t need to throw a temper tantrum or get sanctimonious with me. You just need to let me know. Also, posting a link would have been sporting of you. But once I knew the search wasn’t futile, I was able to find it on my own.

          1. Alrik Alrikson says:

            Yeah, the information isn’t stated in bold letters, true, and the various about pages are disjointed and partially out date.

            I also tend to not include links in blog comments, because they trigger spam filters.

            If you look at the git history here: https://source.winehq.org/git/wine.git/log , you’ll see that many committers sport Codeweavers email adresse and that there’s generally a sign-off by a Codeweavers person. You can often gleam a lot by looking at the actual code, the actual commits, more than the documentation.

            The Who’s Who page on the wiki https://wiki.winehq.org/WhosWho has many names you’ll also find on the Codeweavers page: https://www.codeweavers.com/about/people

            And the people working on such projects are very often quite approachable, and happy to talk about their projects. It never hurts firing off an email asking a few questions, rather than just assuming.

            You’re only human, sure, but you do have some reach with a certain crowd. It’s frustrating when your audience, on The Escapist for example, who are often not technical people, then continue running with half-truths they got from your articles, further bending them out of shape. I’ve seen that happen a lot recently, unfortunately.

            Then, a few months down the line, I’ll see someone argue something is utter crap, linking to your article as a source.

            I’m not saying it’s your fault, or your responsibility, I just sometimes wish you’d be more careful (I guess?) with your opinions, because they influence other people.

            1. guy says:

              If you see an objectively wrong statement (as opposed to a subjectively wrong opinion) just post the correct answer in the comment thread in a polite fashion and Shamus will usually edit the article. It is not reasonable to expect Shamus, who does not have a research team, to consult every possible source of information on a subject prior to presenting an opinion about it.

            2. Dreadjaws says:

              I’m not saying it’s your fault, or your responsibility, I just sometimes wish you’d be more careful (I guess?) with your opinions, because they influence other people.

              It’s not a question about whose fault or responsibility is. It’s a question of courtesy. Perhaps you didn’t notice, but first you were rude and then you were condescending, and in neither case you apologized for it.

              You can inform people of their mistakes in a kind, friendly manner, you know? Acting smug and superior, even if you’re right, is not going to get people on your side.

  7. tmtvl says:

    liamdawe is doing a series of interviews around Steam Play (Proton): GamingOnLinux

    Also, Wine isn’t meant solely for games, they’re also looking to support other software, like MS Office, Adobe CS,…

  8. ElementalAlchemist says:

    most people who read this blog are here for “Whatever Shamus is into at the moment”

    I’m sure a good chunk of us are mostly here for multi-thousand word diatribes about the specific ways in which something sucks.

    their secret weapon was convenience

    No, their secret weapon was anti-competitive/monopolistic practices. Nobody used Internet Explorer because it was convenient. They used it because it was forced onto them and alternatives were too difficult due to, for the average slob, user ignorance or, for corporate users, due to enterprise not wanting to deal with the hassle of updating/maintaining additional 3rd party software.

    if we can encourage the next generation of hopeful indies to embrace (say) Unity

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umDr0mPuyQc

    1. Shamus says:

      “They used it because it was forced onto them and alternatives were too difficult due to, for the average slob, user ignorance or, for corporate users, due to enterprise not wanting to deal with the hassle of updating/maintaining additional 3rd party software.”

      That’s exactly what I meant by “convenience”. It was the path of least resistance. Games for Windows LIVE was never the path of least resistance. In fact, it was exactly the opposite.

      1. King Marth says:

        It’s kind of trivial to install a new browser. You just only bother if your existing browser doesn’t work.
        When’s the last time you installed a third-party calculator app?

        1. Shamus says:

          Exactly! I don’t need to install a third-party calculator because I’ve got one and it’s more convenient to keep using what I have already.

          1. ElementalAlchemist says:

            Here’s a very timely article about MS’s modern take on said convenience:

            https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2018/09/next-windows-10-update-triggers-outrage-by-continuing-to-promote-edge/

            1. Mintskittle says:

              What pisses me off about these major updates, one of which occurred earlier this week, is MS’ desire to change startup and privacy options. I did not consent to the re-enabling of fast-start or the re-enabling of various trackers.

              1. Sleeping Dragon says:

                My personal beef is that they just keep obfuscating stuff or moving it around. For reasons I need to keep switching my microphone boost between two different levels about two or three times a week, I used to be able to get into the properties for audio catching devices from the speaker icon, now it’s hidden behind yet another settings screen.

              2. Decius says:

                What pisses me off about these major updates is that one of them popped up “Your computer is now restarting. Close all open programs” on my laptop.

                One of the programs on my laptop is for marine navigation; it interfaces with the ship’s transponder to acquire location data of myself and nearby vessels and is half of the legally required amount of chart to navigate (another laptop next to it could be the other half, but I use water-resistant paper charts instead, even though they’re more expensive, because I don’t like the idea of all of my navigation being vulnerable to salt spray).

                Fortunately, I wasn’t actually using it to navigate at that time, but it pissed me off that it did so even after I took extensive measures to disable the windows automatic update trojans (to the point that I had granted TrustedInstaller all of the Deny permissions, recursively, to all of the system directories, in the hope that such drastic measures would actually work). So I restored to factory settings, resetting the system back to before it installed the trojan and then disabling the automatic update service.

            2. Mephane says:

              As a programmer, what really pisses me off about this is that someone had to actually implement this. Write some basic detection for the relevant installers (checking file details, signatures, publisher etc. probably). Creating this dialog with what may constitute a blatant, obvious lie. And then add this to Windows Explorer* to check every time you start an executable or run an MSI, whether it’s the setup for another browser. What the actual fuck.

              This is what Microsoft waste the time and dignity of their developers for.

              *I bet this is part of Windows Explorer, and doesn’t show up in the command line nor alternative file managers (e.g. TotalCommander), I doubt they’d integrate this shit into core functionality like ShellExecuteEx.

    2. Mintskittle says:

      Unity isn’t a bad development platform, it’s just readily available to any two bit hack that thinks they can make a game with little to no experience.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlQtW4Fzizw

      1. guy says:

        I would not intuitively expect Unity to be capable of producing maximum performance; that usually requires fiddling with things in very precise and targeted ways Unity doesn’t seem to offer. I would expect more targeted platforms, and high-quality in-house ones especially, to provide better performance for a game of the right type.

        That being said, it’s not all that hard to use and is probably a good idea if you’re not planning to push the envelope on performance.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Can you give an example of what Unity can’t do, to get better performance? It’s got hooks in it for things like frustum culling and occlusion culling. I don’t use Unity myself[1], but last time I was looking at their docs / guides, it seemed like it would be pretty performant.

          [1] It seems pretty heavy-weight to me, in terms how many things you need to learn, to do anything that’s not completely standard. Seems like it’s optimized for large companies, where they know they’ll be using this one tool for a long time, between artists and coders. I just use PyGame instead – it’s a lot easier to get up and running with, if I want 90% of my game to be code, rather than 90% being art assets (again, what Unity seems to be optimized for).

          1. guy says:

            It’s not that it doesn’t support any high-level algorithm thing and more that when you’re pushing the envelope it starts to matter what the assembler implementing it looks like and how data is stored in memory. Generally more general and higher-level systems introduce overhead doing stuff that isn’t always necessary. Unity needs to be designed to support all the situations in any Unity game, while a developer’s in-house tools only need to support their games. So if they know they’re going to want 2GB of texture data in memory most of the time, their tool can allocate 2GB of texture data in a contiguous block of memory as part of launching the game. Which is not the right answer if you want 400MB or 7 GB most of the time, and there’s a potentially big performance difference between starting with the right amount and starting with the wrong amount. And probably neither tool can actually calculate how much texture data you’re likely to need at once by analyzing a level; that requires some intuition about how things will move in normal gameplay.

            That said, if you’re an indie Unity is probably fine; you’re unlikely to write something where it’d push you below 60FPS if you use it properly.

            1. Decius says:

              Is allocating a 2gb block of texture memory on adjacent pages superior to allocating it on nonadjacent pages, assuming that it takes up only full pages of RAM?

              1. Richard says:

                assuming that it takes up only full pages of RAM

                That’s the faulty assumption.

                The actual page numbers are irrelevant in a modern OS. You can’t even affect what they are.

                Guy is talking about growing a buffer. I recently found and fixed an out-of-memory crash in one of my (32bit) applications, which was happening despite Task Manager claiming that the application hadn’t come close to exhausting the address space.

                It was happening when decompressing a 150MB datastore into memory.
                Yep – really quite small, and indeed the application had not actually run out of memory.

                It happened because the algorithm in the framework we were using didn’t know that the data was going to be 150MB once decompressed.
                So it decompressed 1 MB, discovered that there was more so copied it to a 2MB buffer and read the next MB, then copied that 2MB to a 4MB buffer to get the next 2MB, copied that to an 8MB buffer, then 16MB, 32MB, 128MB and finally 256MB* and finally reached the end.

                After it did this a few times, the ‘free’ memory had been chopped up into so many small pieces that there wasn’t a contiguous block large enough for the final 256MB and it crashed.

                The fix was simply to pre-allocate the real data size – I knew how to work out the eventual size of the data, even though the framework did not.

                * Not actual numbers, the real algorithm is a little bit smarter.

                1. Decius says:

                  So, the problem is that the OS refuses to allocate non-contiguous blocks of memory? My OS also refuses to allocate RAM, instead forcing unnecessary paging to disk. To the point that my boot time is currently bottlenecked by HD usage for swap files despite having >20GB of RAM empty.

                  Somehow I don’t think that poor OS memory behavior is going to be solved anytime soon, but a compiler not being able to account for crappy OS behavior is not a flaw in the compiler.

                  1. guy says:

                    When an OS is doing something weird and dumb like that, it usually has some sort of reason. Often that reason is because it’s designed to optimize for some other criteria or situation and it’s not practical to detect what the present situation is. Or if it’s having trouble allocating RAM that can mean its representation of memory addresses is not large enough to use all of your RAM; that’s a problem with some older operating systems designed when no one had 20+GB.

                    Also, refusing to account for the defined and existing behaviour of the OS it’s compiling for is a flaw in the compiler. The OS has known and relatively fixed characteristics and the compiler’s job is to produce code that has optimal performance given those characteristics. The compiler can’t make the OS handle non-contiguous memory better, but it can do things to make sure it gets contiguous memory. Within limits; if you’re storing a list of things that user action can increase in size the compiler has no way to know how big it might get.

              2. guy says:

                A bit. Mostly it’s got to do with how the non-contiguous blocks get allocated; if all the pages are back-to back and it’s looking for a thing in the twelth page, it knows where the first page is so it goes twelve pages down. If they’re discontiguous it needs to actually know where the twelth page is. And because the operating system tries to allocate memory in contiguous blocks it’s optimized for that case where you don’t want to have to track each individual address and so looking up the necessary page is slower than it would be if discontiguous were the default. The slowdown isn’t huge and with most programs you won’t notice, but in a game it could cost a frame or two, and combined with various other things of this nature it can be the difference between smooth 60 or choppy 50-60, which edges into the realm where people notice.

                Also, contiguous or not, allocating enough to begin with means you don’t have to suddenly allocate more memory midgame, probably at the worst possible moment.

        2. Nick Powell says:

          I would expect more targeted platforms, and high-quality in-house ones especially, to provide better performance for a game of the right type.

          Of course, but most devs don’t have access to that anyway. Unity is a perfectly fine choice for nearly everyone who isn’t trying to make the next Assassin’s Creed or something highly technical like No Man’s Sky (first example that came to mind, don’t judge me).

          Also, they’re currently in the process of providing major overhauls to Unity’s graphics engine, which should make it more comparable to other major engines

          1. guy says:

            Well, yeah, I’d agree, but the next Assassin’s Creed is going to be bought by a lot of people.

  9. Allen Gould says:

    Proton seems to be off to an OK start – my daughter has decided that (one of) her quirks is going to be having a gaming desktop running Linux, and she’s been busily testing out the house Steam catalog, and it’s surprising what will run. Like everything Wine, older is better and quirks are expected, but it’s impressive how integrated it already is.

    In my mind, the threat to Steam is more related to Windows trying another round of locking down software installation rights (in the name of security) than trying to kill the PC gaming industry outright. Given how hard they had to work to get people off Windows 7, pulling a frame-rate trick would be a good way of ensuring gamers avoid buying that shiny new version.

  10. Distec says:

    I heard about the Proton announcement at roughly the same time I had hit the limits of my patience with Win10’s bullshit; an OS I initially met with “It’s not 7, but it’s also not 8. Seems fine enough if I disable this invasive tracking/advertisement crap” and now resent with fury. It’s like some of the most comment ailments one could suffer with Win10 cropped up and crystallized within the same week:

    -Taking 15 minutes to boot my PC after an update I didn’t consent to.
    -Windows update breaking Start10 and telling me I need admin permission to access ‘Control Panel’ from the Start button. Pending reinstall
    -Getting defaulted to and confused by atrocious, “modern”, Metro-styled interfaces that don’t have half the functionality or readability as their classic counterparts.
    -Searching for a specific file somewhere in the default library locations, and watching Windows Search return every file that could possibly contain a similar string, but not the file itself sitting in perfect visible condition under ‘Documents’.
    -Opera has reloaded all the stock Yelp/Booking/Facebook bookmarks for no reason. I look up the problem and the dev says this was triggered by a Windows update, and they’re looking to fix. Thanks, Microsoft!
    -GOD DAMN IT, HOW MANY TIMES DO I NEED TO TELL YOU, I DO NOT WANT YOUR ‘PERSONALIZED’ CONTENT. Why are there several disparate buttons in different menus for this kind of shit, and why am I always having to check on them to make sure Microsoft didn’t make another unsolicited attempt to do what it thinks is best for me?

    There’s a few more. And while I totally get how some of these things look like minor inconveniences, dealing with round after round of this persistent crap after getting off work is so vexing. Win10 started okay, but I’m finally getting to the point where I’d like to have some semblance of control over my PC again, and not have it fuck off doing and breaking things on its own.

    So I’m no Linux guru, but I have used Ubuntu and its many derivatives for a fair bit, but before Valve’s venture into this territory. As is usually the case, the big thing that kept me from permanently switching was my massive catalogue of Windows games. But now using Solus as my distro, I’ve had surprisingly good luck with getting a lot of those to work with Proton. Yeah, there’s a few that just don’t boot up outright (Quake 2, surprisingly?) but the rest seem to be… well, working fine? They didn’t crash within the first 30 minutes of gameplay, so that looks like a good sign.

    But more amazing to me was WoW. That game required WINE and various workarounds using Lutris to get up and running, as well as some Google-fu. I even had to download a third-party cache somebody else uploaded since the default one installed doesn’t play nice. The setup process was definitely not ideal. But after getting it up and running with all my usual addons, the game takes less than 5 seconds to enter the world after logging in compared to roughly 20 or so on Windows. I have no idea what crazy programming voodoo is responsible this feat, nor will I pretend that I understood everything I was instructed to do in order to get it playable, but that kinda tickled me.

    Now if only my preferred music DAW would see a Linux client…

    1. MadTinkerer says:

      Stories like yours are why I refuse to upgrade from 7. People using 10 tend to forget that there are still a sizable number of us who use 7, and 7 runs absolutely everything that 10 can. Well, not UWP apps, but are there really any good UWP apps that aren’t also available in win32? No, seriously: are there? I still wouldn’t downgrade to 10 from 7 if there were, but it seems like Microsoft have completely neglected to give me even one reason to downgrade.

      I really should learn how to use Linux, though. Maybe when I finally get a Raspberry Pi…

      1. Rolo says:

        Stories like this were also why I refused to upgraded from 7 to 10 for such a long time. Turns out, they are as overblown as they were when they were disparaging 7 or Windows in general.

        Windows is the Call of Duty of operating systems: it’s so fashionable to shit on it that you don’t want to get caught as the one who defended it. And yet, 75% of the complains against Windows I see online are either plain false, or they are user-controllable. And when I say user-controllable, I don’t mean as in you need to do something complicated or download a registry hack or something, but something as easy and mundane as changing your desktop wallpaper.

        Look at the archive and this very blog is guilty of it, even though the author is supposedly very computer savvy and has high professional experience with computers. Always keep in mind that audience expectations play a huge part in an editorial process: a long rant isn’t always supposed to be informative, it’s more importantly meant as a funny and bonding experience between the author and the audience.

        1. Mephane says:

          So can you debunk the story that you can’t even change the Windows update settings unless you buy at least the Pro Edition (or whatever that one is called this time)?

          1. guy says:

            You can definitely change some settings, but I don’t think it lets you set a fine-grained policy and I would be unsurprised if pro had more settings.

            1. Decius says:

              You can change some settings, but you can’t set the setting “Don’t install updates and restart without user or administrator consent”.

          2. Decius says:

            I managed to disable the windows 10 Update Orchastrator.

            First, I tried to identify the file that it was using, take ownership of it, end the handle that a process had on it, and delete it. I’m not sure if I failed or succeeded at disabling the UO trojan, but I did succeed at bricking my system.

            Then I restored the system to it’s factory default setting, a state the update trojans were installed. From there, I just disabled the Windows Update service.

        2. guy says:

          It doesn’t matter if the fix is simple if you don’t know what it is. One of the big reasons so many people use Windows is that they don’t want to have to spend time on making their OS work. If the solution involves the words “Control Panel” then it’s already out of the realm of what people want to regularly do. And even tech-savvy users don’t have the control panel memorized, so they need to figure out what the relevant control is.

          Beyond that, most of the solutions I see proposed to tech-savvy users are somehow unsatisfactory. We want automatic updates without any disruption to our use. So picking between getting automatic updates and being sure we won’t get ill-timed reboots breaking installed software is not a satisfactory resolution.

          1. Richard says:

            And if we’re talking Windows 10:

            Which Control Panel?

            There’s two – Control Panel and Settings.

            And not only are the configuration options spread across both and partially duplicated, there are some settings ‘semi-duplicated’ options available in both where they compete.
            – It won’t “do the thing” unless both Control Panel and Settings are both configured ‘correctly’ – which isn’t even identical.

            (Eg putting the home folders on a different drive since the Creators Update)

            1. guy says:

              Wait, really? I assumed it was a subset on the “Settings” pane.

              Y’know, I’m on Windows for two reasons right now: games and the fact I can install something and expect it to just work as soon as it’s installed. Point 1 is imperiled, so if Microsoft drops the ball on point 2 I’m going to start shopping around for Linux distros. Yes, I know Ubuntu; it’s pretty good but wasn’t quite as smooth as 7 when I used it.

          2. MadTinkerer says:

            It doesn’t matter if the fix is simple if you don’t know what it is.

            Not only that, but the need to fix can be completely avoided by refusing to use an OS where they’ve invented a whole bunch of new UX issues in the name of “simplifying” the interface I use to do my work.

            Plus there was the whole thing where the consumer version of Win10 came (still comes?) with a bunch of spyware conveniently absent from the enterprise version. Seriously: fuck, not just Microsoft, but all the goddamn spooks in Silicon Valley forever. My data, both personal and meta, is none of their business.

  11. MadTinkerer says:

    Not just Unity, but Gamemaker Studio 2, App Game Kit 2, Godot Engine, and even RPG Maker MV (named MV for Mac Version) all have Linux options. Pretty much every remotely competitive engine and IDE has some kind of option to export to Linux even if you have to use the IDE itself in Windows and/or buy the option to export to Linux as DLC.

    Clickteam Fusion doesn’t have a Linux option, but it does have HTML5 by default so there is a workaround.

  12. Jeff says:

    (long long time reader, first time commenter)
    It looks like your article on the Escapist is classified under “Comics & Cosplay” which doesn’t really seem accurate.

  13. Piaw Na says:

    You know what’s amazing to me? It’s that nobody’s tried to get an edge on any of the other portals by cutting prices. Steam charges 30%. So does Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, etc. Why not cut the platform take down to 20%? Or 10%? When you’re the underdog you should do this. Why does everybody settle on 30%?

    1. guy says:

      Presumably the big platforms think they won’t increase traffic by enough to make more money. And anyone who has the start-up capital to support the infastructure for facing off with them probably can get enough games with a 30% take to put them in the same position.

      Plus if they do attract enough more games to offset cutting their take, everyone else cuts their take too and pretty soon they’re in the same relative position but all are a lot less profitable.

      1. Thomas says:

        That’s a sign of a sick market :( The businesses have a sort of hands off unspoken unofficial collusion rather than competing with each other and driving prices down.

        I’ve also heard Valve makes developers/publishers sign agreements not to undercut them on prices. So maybe they’d start a mini-war is someone tried. And publishers are also afraid of undercutting physical stores, even if the fear decreases every year.

        The big publishers have the ability to undercut Valve. They could throw their weight behind Origin or GoG rather than building their own platforms. EA could discount prices on Origin to either buyers or developers.

        But people don’t want to beat Valve, they want to be Valve. The dream of owning a market place where you charge game devs/players a competitive price for your service is a lot less attractive than raking in 30% of the money for 1% of the work.

        1. guy says:

          I doubt that would end up improving things for the publishers, really, because of the dynamics.

          Remember, Valve isn’t being paid by the publishers; they’re taking a cut of what players are spending on Steam. So to hurt Valve they’d have to do something that hurts sales volume on Steam. So if they club behind another store they have two options to promote it: discounts or exclusives.

          Discounts go nowhere useful; if Steam is threatened they reduce their cut enough to match the discount. Probably this moves the publishers from earning $40 out of $60 to earning $40 out of $50 and also Valve is mad at the publishers who started it and probably still the market leader.

          Exclusives could work or just ruin the publishers. When they go exclusive, they lose all the money from Steam. If too few make the move together, Valve shrugs and their competitors still on Steam call to laugh manically as they scoop up people who don’t jump. If too many make the jump, Steam collapses and three years later Origin goes back up to a 30% cut and now the publishers are back where they started.

          If I were a publisher I’d be reluctant to chance it unless the other platform was already better in other ways. Too much risk involved. And it’s not like selling another copy can make the publisher poorer, so loosing two sales on Steam to pick up one at no cut is worse than paying the 30% cut on those two.

          1. guy says:

            As a consumer, I don’t really care one whit how publishers and Steam split the money; I pay the price on the store either way. And $60 is the price of a new AAA game and I don’t really expect that would fall if publishers got more of it. I’ll buy on another platform with a smaller cut if you ask me to and I’d contribute to your kickstarter, but under those conditions I’d also pay an extra 5-10 bucks for a pledge level that includes a Steam key.

  14. Mephane says:

    At this point, only only games keep me on Windows – my library and the overall availability/compatibility of them and future games with Linux. I know there are various things that help here, e.g. WINE, plus the games that have actual Linux version, but it’s still too much of a hassle and I’d probably need a fallback for the many games that just won’t work with any of those. It’s already enough of a downer when something like Horizon Zero Dawn is console exclusive, I’d hate to have to worry about every new PC release whether I will be able to run it on my machine.

    Plus, afaik driver support, especially video drivers, doesn’t always seem to be the best on Linux, though that may have changed since the last time I checked out that topic.

    If it weren’t for gaming, I’d probably have switched to Linux years ago.

    1. Milo Christiansen says:

      I’m another “only on Windows for the games” guy. Now that Steam has first-party WINE support, I won’t be buying a Windows copy ever again.

      1. Jabrwock says:

        Ditto. I have a Mac, and a Linux box (each has their strengths). But Windows? Just for games.

    2. John says:

      If the games you want to play are only on Windows, then, yeah, you’re kind of stuck with Windows. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case for me. I switched to Linux full time when Microsoft finally took Windows XP off life support. I kept an XP partition on my hard drive for a while, but I eventually discovered (a) that there were enough new games with Linux versions that there was always something new for me to play if I wanted something new and (b) that most (though certainly not all) of the games I did own were old enough that Wine could handle them fairly well. Since then my gaming purchases have probably been about 75% Linux-native games and about 25% older games from GOG that I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to get running under Wine. As a rule of thumb, I’ve found that if a game is XP-native and uses DirectX 9 (or older) Wine can probably handle it. (There are always exceptions, however.) Every so often, there’ll be a Windows-only game that I really, really want–Street Fighter V, for example, or the forthcoming Rebel Galaxy: Outlaw–but I am largely content.

  15. Olivier FAURE says:

    while most people who read this blog are here for “Whatever Shamus is into at the moment”.

    I mean… I’m not going to say it’s false, but I’m not going to say it’s true.

    But seriously, I’m mostly here for the literary and business analysis by someone who understands stuff like incentives, moral relativism and confirmation bias.

    1. Dan Efran says:

      And I’m here for the procedural world coding projects, rare though they are these days. I do stick around for the detailed game reviews because they discuss game design and writing in some detail, but industry stuff like this doesn’t interest me much. I wouldn’t want to guess what “most” people are here for. It’s true that Shamus’s writing is generally fun to read regardless of subject matter, but that only goes so far.

  16. Adam says:

    It’s also interesting to look at the breakdown of windows versions – its about 2/3 win10, 1/3 win7. So that means a huge proportion of steam users have not upgraded from a nine-year old operating system – despite MS throwing windows 10 license around like candy. Remember the “compulsory upgrade” shenanigans? (oh, and Win 8 barely gets a look in but still has more than 6x the number of linux responses).

    I bet this is also related to piracy. If it’s easier to pirate an older version of windows to run games than it is to use a legal linux version to run games, then people will do that. As with DRM in games, pirating windows 7 (because you can’t easily get it legaly/cheaply) offers a better experience than buying windows 10. And as with DRM and game piracy, I would not be surprised if it’s not the same individuals doing both – they probably buy their games from Steam now because it’s more convenient than torrents et al, but pirate the OS because it’s also more convenient.

  17. Knul says:

    It’s rather strange that you seemingly want to encourage game developers to use one game engine, while the whole article is about the dangers of depending on a single supplier.

    1. Jabrwock says:

      Even just adhering to some kind of standard everyone can follow would be helpful. There’s only a handful of game engine makers, it wouldn’t be difficult to corner the market.

  18. Jabrwock says:

    Unity behaves differently on each of the 3 platforms, in terms of paths for preferences, save game files, etc. If I use Steam to install on Mac, Windows, and Linux, my save games and configs don’t port. I would love the idea of focusing work on a cross-platform gaming engine, starting with making save games and other things portable. Right now I’m limited in my games library because if my wife is using my Mac, I can’t hop on my TV using Steam Link to connect to my Linux box, because it can’t load my Mac saved games. It’s really frustrating.

  19. Sleeping Dragon says:

    (paraphrasing)

    Shamus:”Microsoft would screw over gamers on Windows without batting an eye”
    Me: “Well, I wouldn’t go that far, at the end of the day it’s still a decent chunk of…”
    Shamus: “They would love nothing more than to push these gamers out of PC onto Xbox”
    Me: “Oh… Ooooh… I’ll be over there prepping for the incoming apocalypse”

    Like, seriously, as someone who only uses the PC and mostly ignores everything console related I actually forget that Xbox is a Microsoft product and they absolutely do have a vested interest in trying to push gamers to that platform.

  20. Sleeping Dragon says:

    On a mostly unrelated I’m happy to see the situation about you linking back to the blog is apparently all settled and you have a green light to do that prominently in the body of the column.

  21. Ivan says:

    “Still, the problem of getting the last 10 years of PC games running remains, and I don’t see an easy way to solve that.”

    And Valve sure are not part of the people who care about that, either. Go buy a game on Steam. Then go to the community hub, and look for the guide titled “what you need to do to get this to play” (or something). That’s just all older games. Valve doesn’t care. They sure care about unshackling themselves from Microsoft, but not really for the sake of the games, or anything like that.

    Having said all this, I realize it’s entirely possible Shamus was not trying to imply Valve does care about that, but still.

    1. Richard says:

      Valve only care if it’s hurting their sales – like most profitable companies.
      In itself that’s not a bad thing – and is often a decent driver of making things better.

      The problem is that they don’t (think they) need to worry about reputation anymore, so customer services get cut – because where are you gonna go?

  22. Cilba Greenbraid says:

    I can’t believe that after years of reading this is my first comment–it definitely doesn’t say anything about what a nitpickety person I amhahaha of course it does who am I kidding–but Shamus, did you know that your tagline at The Escapist describes you as “autor of a book-length analysis of the Mass Effect trilogy”?

    On topic, I’ve always been curious as to whether Microsoft attempted to buy Valve out in the past. It may be beyond even Microsoft’s reach to do so now, but I wonder at just what point in the game they realized what Steam really was or would be.

  23. Dreadjaws says:

    I will never understand how companies just don’t realize that convenience is always the key to stay in business. True, Microsoft’s “convenience” tends to be less of the “We make our stuff easier to use!” and more of the “We make everyone else’s stuff harder to use!”, but it’s still how they maintain a userbase. Things didn’t work with the Xbox One and their PC digital platforms because people already had better alternatives even before theirs were unveiled. It reminds me of this quote from Jurassic Park:

    John Hammond: “All major theme parks have delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked!”
    Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.”

    You can excuse your failings all you like, but if people simply have better alternatives at the ready, they’re going to go for them. It’s the same deal with piracy. Steam has built a massive userbase of former pirates just by making playing games more convenient. Meanwhile, other companies in their attempts to deter piracy they end up causing it, precisely due to their insistence on making things less convenient.

    Granted, you’ll always have fanboys who’ll defend every stupid decision made by these companies, but generally those are just a vocal minority.

  24. Lars says:

    An underestimated point in that discussion is DirectX.
    Microsoft owns the Standard API for nVidea graphic cards. Mantle and Vulcan where ATi attempts to escape that grip, but nVidea takes about 80% of the gaming PC market. Not to mention that Mantle and Vulcan have their flaws itself.

    I think that is a big part (not the only), why the steam machines where a doomed from the beginning. They had nVidea cards – all of them. SteamOS/Linux and nVidea cards aren’t best buddies, so the only games running reasonably well on Steam Machines (Company of Heroes, Metro Last Light, Wolfenstein) were games using Mantle or Vulcan.

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