Will Steam’s Streaming Kill Linux Game Development?

Click-bait article title: check!

While we were recording our weekly podcast, Venn mentioned that given the option to stream games to Linux this would not be as good as people may think. And, to be perfectly honest, I can see his point.

It’s not to say there are no positive aspects to streaming, there obviously are. Having a dedicated streaming server and using a netbook or an HTPC to play the games proper certainly does tickle me the right way. Unfortunately, this could also cause developers to completely ignore development towards the Linux platform.

Why bother porting a game to Linux, or even Mac, when you can just port it to Windows and tell people to stream it? I’m not saying every developer out there will do this, but I assure you having Streaming as a possibility could cause companies, like Bethesda, Rockstar or Actiblizzion, to keep ignoring Linux. They will probably keep making their games Windows only and shirk the other platforms simply due to the fact that you would be able to stream the games.

On the other hand, it is likely that companies who have never ported to Linux will continue to not do so but it is preferable to at least be able to stream those specific games. There’s also the fact that Steam Machine buyers will be a market those companies will want to get in on. Not providing native ports and telling people to just stream will alienate and quite possibly infuriate Steam Machine owners. You know, the kind of people who don’t have a gaming capable PC. They will get a Steam Machine as a proper console and won’t be particularly appreciative of developers pulling a stunt like this.

I sent out an e-mail to quite a few Linux game developers asking them what their thoughts are regarding this issue. Joe Lieberman of VGsmart’s PR had this to say about it:

…At the Steam Dev Days event I asked a few developers standing near me if they felt that the streaming functionality could create a “low cost” living room console, the answer was pretty much universal skepticism for any “performance” based game due to the lag streaming creates. So it could work for some games, like turn based strategy, but the whole point of that low cost streaming functionality is to not have to buy two gaming PCs to play high end games. To that end basically it won’t work well enough. Seems a lot easier to simply run an HDMI cable from your PC to your TV and be done with it. That said on the whole I think SteamOS is going to be a solid product offering for PC game lovers with large catalogs of games they already own. That’s where your early adopters will be, not cost conscious consumers who want a PC gaming experience streamed to their TV.

Personally, I’m torn between the anger of big development companies possibly exploiting this and being able to have a dedicated game server while playing games on my laptop. What do you guys think? Will streaming drive a stake into the heart of the rapidly evolving Linux game development scene or will it simply be a gimmick that, while useful, will be largely ignored by developers and users alike?

To get in touch with the author of this post find him on Twitter, Google+ or e-mail him at pedro[at]linuxgamecast.com.

  1. I dont think it will decrease Linux ports. Although it does work well, its not for everyone. There will still be people asking for Native ports. It also doesn’t make sense to have two devices running which consumes more power, instead of having just one device that is capable of doing it alone. I can see it just being used for the older games that may never see a native port, but as for future games, i see more native ports happening.

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