Can I play games on Linux?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions by people who are thinking about switching to Linux. After all, gaming on Linux often termed as a distant possibility. In fact, some people even wonder if they can listen to music or watch movies on Linux. Considering that, the question about native Linux games seem genuine.
In this article, I am going to answer most of the Linux gaming questions a Linux beginner may have. For example, if it is possible to play games on Linux, if yes, what are the Linux games available, where can you download Linux games from or how do you get more information about gaming on Linux.
But before I do that, let me make a confession. I am not a PC gamer or rather I should say, I am not desktop Linux gamer. I prefer to play games on my PS4 and I don’t care about PC games or even mobile games (no candy crush request sent to anyone in my friend list). This is the reason you see only a few articles in Linux games section of It’s FOSS.
So why am I covering this topic then?
Because I have been asked questions about playing games on Linux several times and I wanted to come up with a Linux gaming guide that could answer all those questions. And remember, it’s not just gaming on Ubuntu I am talking about here. I am talking about Linux in general.
Can you play games on Linux?
Yes and no!
Yes, you can play games on Linux and no, you cannot play ‘all the games’ in Linux.
Confused? Don’t be. What I meant here is that you can get plenty of popular games on Linux such as Counter Strike, Metro Last Night etc. But you might not get all the latest and popular Windows games on Linux, for e.g., PES 2015.
The reason, in my opinion, is that Linux has less than 2% of desktop market share and these numbers are demotivating enough for most game developers to avoid working on the Linux version of their games.
Which means that there is huge possibility that the most talked about games of the year may not be playable in Linux. Don’t despair, there are ‘other means’ to get these games on Linux and we shall see it in coming sections, but before that let’s talk about what kind of games are available for Linux.
If I have to categorize, I’ll divide them into four categories:
- Native Linux Games
- Windows games in Linux
- Browser Games
- Terminal Games
Let’s start with the most important one, native Linux games, first.
1. Where to find native Linux games?
Native Linux games mean those games which are officially supported in Linux. These games have native Linux client and can be installed like most other applications in Linux without requiring any additional effort (we’ll see about these in next section).
So, as you see, there are games developed for Linux. Next question that arises is where can you find these Linux games and how can you play them. I am going to list some of the resources where you can download Linux games.
“Steam is a digital distribution platform for video games. As Amazon Kindle is digital distribution platform for e-Books, iTunes for music, similarly Steam is for games. It provides you the option to buy and install games, play multiplayer and stay in touch with other games via social networking on its platform. The games are protected with DRM.”
A couple of years ago, when gaming platform Steam announced support for Linux, it was a big news. It was an indication that gaming on Linux is being taken seriously. Though Steam’s decision was more influenced with its own Linux-based gaming console and a separate Linux distribution called Steam OS, it still was a reassuring move that has brought a number of games on Linux.
I have written a detailed article about installing and using Steam. If you are getting started with Steam, do read it.
GOG.com is another platform similar to Steam. Like Steam, you can browse and find hundreds of native Linux games on GOG.com, purchase the games and install them. If the games support several platforms, you can download and use them across various operating systems. Your purchased games are available for you all the time in your account. You can download them anytime you wish.
One main difference between the two is that GOG.com offers only DRM free games and movies. Also, GOG.com is entirely web based. So you don’t need to install a client like Steam. You can simply download the games from browser and install them in your system.
Portable Linux Games
Portable Linux Games is a website that has a collection of a number of Linux games. The unique and best thing about Portable Linux Games is that you can download and store the games for offline installation.
The downloaded files have all the dependencies (at times Wine and Perl installation) and these are also platform independent. All you need to do is to download the files and double click to install them. Store the downloadable file on external hard disk and use them in future. Highly recommend if you don’t have continuous access to high speed internet.
Game Drift Game Store
Game Drift is actually a Linux distribution based on Ubuntu with sole focus on gaming. While you might not want to start using this Linux distribution for the sole purpose of gaming, you can always visit its game store online and see what games are available for Linux and install them.
Linux Game Database
As the name suggests, Linux Game Database is a website with a huge collection of Linux games. You can browse through various category of games and download/install them from the game developer’s website. As a member of Linux Game Database, you can even rate the games. LGDB, kind of, aims to be the IGN or IMDB for Linux games.
Created by a gamer who refused to use Windows for playing games, Penguspy showcases a collection of some of the best Linux games. You can browse games based on category and if you like the game, you’ll have to go to the respective game developer’s website.
Look into the software repositories of your own Linux distribution. There always will be some games in it. If you are using Ubuntu, Ubuntu Software Center itself has an entire section for games. Same is true for other Linux distributions such as Linux Mint etc.
2. How to play Windows games in Linux?
So far we talked about native Linux games. But there are not many Linux games, or to be more precise, most popular games are not available for Linux but they are available for Windows PC. So the question arises, how to play Windows games in Linux?
Good thing is that with the help of tools like Wine, PlayOnLinux and CrossOver, you can play a number of popular Windows games in Linux.
Wine is a compatibility layer which is capable of running Windows applications in systems like Linux, BSD and OS X. With the help of Wine, you can install and use a number of Windows applications in Linux.
Installing Wine in Ubuntu or any other Linux is easy as it is available in most Linux distributions’ repository. There is a huge database of applications and games supported by Wine that you can browse.
CrossOver is an improved version of Wine that brings professional and technical support to Wine. But unlike Wine, CrossOver is not free. You’ll have to purchase the yearly license for it. Good thing about CrossOver is that every purchase contributes to Wine developers and that in fact boosts the development of Wine to support more Windows games and applications. If you can afford $48 a year, you should buy CrossOver for the support they provide.
PlayOnLinux too is based on Wine but implemented differently. It has a different interface and slightly easier to use than Wine. Like Wine, PlayOnLinux too is free to use. You can browse the applications and games supported by PlayOnLinux on its database.
3. Browser Games
Needless to say that there are tons of browser based games that are available to play in any operating system, be it Windows or Linux or Mac OS X. Most of the addictive mobile games, such as GoodGame Empire, also have their web browser counterparts.
Apart from that, thanks to Google Chrome Web Store, you can play some more games in Linux. These Chrome games are installed like a standalone app and they can be accessed from the application menu of your Linux OS. Some of these Chrome games are playable offline as well.
4. Terminal Games
Added advantage of using Linux is that you can use the command line terminal to play games. I know that it’s not the best way to play games but at times, it’s fun to play games like Snake or 2048 in the terminal. There is a good collection of Linux terminal games on this blog. You can browse through it and play the ones you want.
And if you are not in a mood to browse through hundreds of games, check our list of best Linux terminal games.
How to stay updated about Linux games?
When you have learned a lot about what kind of games are available on Linux and how could you use them, next question is how to stay updated about new games on Linux? And for that, I advise you to follow these blogs that provide you with the latest happenings of the Linux gaming world:
- Gaming on Linux: I won’t be wrong if I call it the best Linux gaming news portal. You get all the latest rumblings and news about Linux games. Frequently updated, Gaming on Linux has dedicated fan following which makes it a nice community of Linux game lovers.
- Free Gamer: A blog focusing on free and open source games.
- Linux Game News: A Tumbler blog that updates on various Linux games.
In fact, here are more websites Linux gamers should follow.
I think that’s pretty much what you need to know to get started with gaming on Linux. If you are still not convinced, I would advise you to dual boot Linux with Windows. Use Linux as your main desktop and if you want to play games, boot into Windows. This could be a compromised solution.
It’s time for you to add your inputs. Do you play games on your Linux desktop? What are your favorites? What blogs you follow to stay updated on latest Linux games?