Steam vastly improves life for Linux gamers

An update to Steam Play, now in beta, uses Vulkan and more to improve Windows game performance and compatibility on Linux.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
2 min read

Nier: Automata is one of the games newly whitelisted for Steam Play's Linux update.

Square Enix

It probably won't obviate the need for Linux gamers to beg for ports of their favorite games. But Steam's update to Steam Play, its buy-once, play-on-any-platform engine, intends to improve its ability to deliver a no-compromise gaming experience when playing Windows games on a Linux box. And it'll make it easier for developers who use the popular Vulkan engine to create compatible games.

In an announcement on its Steam for Linux group on Tuesday, Valve rolled out a beta of the new version, with an initial list of more than 25 games that have been checked for compatibility. It includes a couple of Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War games (Dark Crusade and Soulstorm), Star Wars: Battlefront 2, Tekken 7 and Nier: Automata. Steam seems to be going through the entire catalog checking existing games, creating a whitelist of titles that deliver an "identical (save for an expected moderate performance impact) experience."

Valve has created a custom version of Wine, an open-source emulator for selected POSIX-compliant Unix platforms, dubbed "Proton." The emulators function by translating Windows calls to those of the native operating system, in theory with little to no performance overhead. Proton is also an open-source project.

The improvements it makes:

  • You can install and run Windows games with no Linux port directly, with native Steamworks and OpenVR support
  • Game compatibility and performance enhancements by switching to Vulkan for its DirectX 11 and 12 implementations
  • Fullscreen should display as intended without using a virtual desktop or conflicting with native monitor resolution 
  • Games should automatically recognize all controllers supported by Steam
  • Proton boosts threading performance (over Wine) for games that make extensive use of threads

Though Apple's MacOS operating system is based on Unix, Valve says it has no immediate plans to support the updated Steam Play capabilities on that platform. Valve also warns, "It's likely that some games using complex DRM or anticheat systems will be difficult, or even impossible to support." That means big new and upcoming games that use Denuvo DRM like Far Cry 5, Yakuza 0,  Life is Strange 2 and Assassins Creed: Odyssey may not play well with Linux.

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