Gaming on Linux is often overlooked and many people will tell you it’s not possible.
Some even doubt their Linux laptop’s ability to play movies or music!
Although there are now multiple media streaming apps like KODI (previously known as XBMC), OSMC, or OpenELEC, what about gaming?
Strictly speaking, the answer is YES although you won’t be able to play all games on your Linux machine.
While you can get many of the popular games like Counter-Strike or Metro Last Night to run on Linux, some more recent games like Madden 18 or the latest Call of Duty may not be playable on Linux.
Don’t expect this year’s game of the year to automatically run on Linux.
With just over 2% of the market share, Linux is an operating system that most developers simply just don’t bother supporting.
Although there may be plenty of games available on Linux, on Windows-based machines you can multiply the figure tenfold. Fortunately, there are ways you can get many of those games to work on Linux.
Using a Windows client or emulator on your Linux machine can be challenging, so let’s first check out the other, normally more simple ways, to get your favorite games on Linux:
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These are the Linux games that are officially supported in Linux.
Before trying to run a Windows game on your Linux PC, check if it’s available as a native Linux client. They can be installed in Linux in the same way as many other applications and require very little extra effort.
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A good place to start is Steam, a digital distribution system for video games in much the same way as Amazon is for books, or iTunes is for music. With over 3487 games for the Linux platform at the time of writing this article, most feature some form of DRM or Digital Rights Management.
For downloading games from Steam you will either need to install a Steam client on your Linux distribution or even choose to use SteamOS.
Many of the more simple yet addictive games like Bejewelled are now available as browser-based games. The 100s of browser-based games can be played on any platform, Windows, Mac OS X, or even Linux.
Thanks to the Google Chrome Web Store, there are even more games you can play on Linux.
These games from Chrome can be installed as a standalone app and used from the applications menu of your Linux system. Some Chrome games can also be played offline too when installed.
These games tend to be the most simple but can also contain many of your favorite games of yesteryear.
One of the biggest advantages of using Linux is just how easy it is to play games from the command-line terminal.
It may not be an ideal way of playing games, but titles like Snake or Tetris can be a fun way of waiting for that latest package to download. If you would like to find a collection of games available to play in your command terminal, this blog features a comprehensive list.
If all else fails and you can’t find the particular game you want for Linux, going down the Windows route is a viable way of playing all your favorite Windows games in Linux (system dependent of course!)
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The most obvious solution would be to set up your Linux machine as a dual boot with Windows.
Simply use Linux for your main OS or desktop and when you want to play your games boot up as a Windows machine. This is viewed by many as a compromise solution as they chose Linux to avoid using Windows.
The good news is there are now many open source and commercial solutions that allow you to play Windows games or install any other Windows application without the need for Windows.
A clever tool known as WINE allows you to run many apps including Office or Windows games as if they were native Linux apps.
The main problem with WINE for many users is the heavy use of the command-line tool–great if you are a purist and the command-line tool doesn’t phase you at all. But most users prefer a graphical interface that allows them to point and click through their games and apps. Some developers have created graphical “overlays” that sit on top of WINE and make it easier for most to use.
We’ll take a look at WINE and some of the more popular graphical interfaces.
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WINE is one of the more popular ways of running Windows software on Linux but with no physical copy of Windows required.
WINE, an open-source compatibility layer allows you to use Windows applications on various platforms like BSD, OS X, and of course Linux. WINE is not an emulator with the name originally translating as WINEIs Not an Emulator.
Originally developed in the mid-90s and early 2000s the WINE Project provided a freeware solution for allowing Windows applications and programs to run on the Linux platform as if native.
It wasn’t a perfect solution, and the apps supported by it were very limited, great if you like to play Solitaire or use Notepad and Calculator but very little else.
Over time, increasing numbers of applications have become supported and WINE has become a valuable utility for many business and home users including Linux gamers.
There are now thousands of fully supported applications on the WINE platform which you can check out on the application database.
Installing WINE on your Ubuntu or any other Linux platform is very easy as it is often included in many Linux distributions.
If it didn’t come with yours, simply head over to the WINE website and click on the download icon. There may be a package for your distribution already available, but if not, head to the WINE Source Download link then read the instructions in a README file to build your own program.
In Ubuntu or Debian it’s as simple as typing the following command:
sudo apt-get install wine
Once WINE is installed, using it to run a Windows application or game isn’t too challenging.
You start by getting the game onto your system by either mounting the image or downloading and copying the software to your computer. If the software has an installer, you need to find which file loads the installation package.
These will normally be an INSTALL.EXE or SETUP.EXE. Simply locate the file then use the “Open with” command and select “Wine Windows Program Loader”.
Most of the time, the installation program will launch so you can install the game using WINE. Even if the installer doesn’t launch, don’t be too disheartened, installer programs are very basic and the actual game software is something completely different. Programs that you install using WINE are located in:
They may sometimes install a desktop icon which you just click to launch the game or you can go to the directory where the game is located and open it with the “Open with” command and selecting WINE as before.
There are plenty of resources available on the WINEhq website that can guide you through how to use WINE and install programs with it, or you can find many YouTube instructional videos like the one below.
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The main advantage of WINE is that you don’t actually need a copy of Windows to run it.
This does have a downside though, as it means that it won’t run all applications correctly. Older games released a few years ago will normally perform exceptionally well, but newer games may suffer performance issues or encounter bugs.
Some people will use WINE to play World of Warcraft in Linux, so more advanced games can be played. Simply check the Applications Database site. This will inform you of any tweaks that may need to be made or if the application will run in WINE.
PlayOnLinux is also based on the WINE project code but uses a simpler and more intuitive graphical interface.
It is also free to use like WINE and can help you to install popular Windows applications or games. Many consider this a more advanced version of the WINE software with Linux users who write scripts to deal with more complex issues of various programs release the scripts via the PlayonLinux platform.
To install the PlayonLinux software manually simply visit http://www.playonlinux.com/en/ or you could search for it in your software store.
Once installed choose the games you would like to install and follow the on-screen instructions to finish the process. After installing the game, close the Playonlinux software and reopen it. There should then be a green cross to show that the game is available to play.
Many users find the graphical interface of PlayonLinux much more straightforward than the command line prompt you often have to encounter in WINE.
For a complete list of games supported by PlayonLinux, you can visit their site which will also advise you on many supported non-game applications.
Crossover Linux is an improved commercial version of WINE that brings professional and technical support to your WINE software.
It’s available for Chrome, Mac OS X, and most popular Linux distributions including Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, Debian, and more. Being a commercial product you have to pay for it, but there is a free 14 day trial available for Linux users at the Codeweavers website.
Unlike some other commercial Linux/Windows tools, every purchase of Codeweavers contributes to the WINE Project developers and helps to boost the support of more Windows games or applications on Linux. Crossover, once installed, provides a quick and smooth interface that allows for games to run at their native speed and full screen.
One of the best features of Crossover Linux is the many Windows plugins it offers which directly connect Linux to the browser interface. Any plugins that can work on an x86 based Linux system will easily merge with popular web browsers including Firefox, Mozilla, and Opera.
Some of the more recent additions to the WINE library of games (via Crossover) have included masterpieces like World of Warcraft, Half-Life 2, CounterStrike, and even The Elder Scrolls Skyrim.
And finally, we have to mention one of the most convenient ways of running Windows software on your Linux PC.
Creating a virtual Windows machine.
This does require a full working copy of Windows OS and additionally, it needs more powerful hardware to run it alongside your primary distribution.
This solution tends to be more foolproof than WINE-based systems as you are actually running Windows applications on a Windows OS and are less likely to encounter any bugs.
As Linux PCs have become faster, virtual machines have become relatively more lightweight. This method involves you installing a copy of Windows on your Linux system in a virtual machine program like VirtualBox, VMWare, or even one provided with many Linux distributions called KVM or Kernel-Based Virtual Machine.
A virtual machine fools the Windows OS into thinking it is running on real hardware whereas it is really operating in a window on your Linux desktop.
Some of the more modern virtual machines will even break the Windows application from running in the window of the virtual machine and allow them to behave like a normal window on your desktop.
For more graphically demanding games like the latest Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed that need access to your graphics card, the graphics may not function too well. For less demanding games they will offer some of the quickest boot-up times in one step.
It’s quite hard to say which is the best for all games, it really depends on what you are trying to do.
If you only require running a single game that works well in WINE, then WINE, or one of its variants, may be the ideal solution–and it’s free!
If you need to be able to run a larger variety of Windows programs including desktop packages like Photoshop or Office, then a Virtual machine could be the answer as WINE often struggles with some features of the latest versions.
But remember too graphically demanding games will ask too much of your graphics card and may not perform too well.
For ex-Windows gamers who aren’t quite ready to give up on playing the latest Windows releases, dual booting can be a solution that avoids the many compatibility pitfalls of WINE.
Although personally I chose Linux to get away from Windows, and dual booting is a whole other subject we will look at another day.
Marcus has a graduate degree in computer engineering and has many years of experience in cutting-edge technology research and development in both startups and Fortune 500 corporations. In his free time, he enjoys RTS gaming.
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