Linux still not a mainstream gaming platform, Carmack says

id Software co-founder John Carmack believes that it isn't worth doing Linux ports of games and that it barely makes his top 10 of priorities, he wrote on Reddit recently.

"Burn the heretic!" he joked on post titled "John Carmack asks why Wine isn't good enough" using his Reddit handle id_aa_carmack.

"I was happy to hear that Rage ran in Wine, but no special effort was made to support it," he wrote of id's first-person shooter running on Wine, a compatibility layer that allows some Windows applications to run on Linux distributions.

"However, I don't think that a good business case can be made for officially supporting Linux for mainstream games today, and Zenimax doesn't have any policy of 'unofficial binaries' like id used to have," he said. "I have argued for their value (mostly in the context of experimental Windows features, but Linux would also benefit), but my forceful internal pushes have been for the continuation of id Software's open source code releases, which I feel have broader benefits than unsupported Linux binaries."

He went on to write that he would be stunned if ZeniMax — the owner of id, Bethesda, Arkane and other companies — were to officially publish and support a Linux title. He noted that although a title could be "up and running" within a fortnight, the ongoing official support would be too much work.

"id Software tested the conventional wisdom twice, with Quake Arena and Quake Live. The conventional wisdom proved correct. Arguments can be made that neither one was an optimal test case, but they were honest tries," Carmack stated.

Linux on the desktop has a few issues it needs to deal with such as fragmentation across distributions like Ubuntu, Slackware and more.

Its driver support is dismal; NVIDIA and AMD have proprietary drivers that don't get as much love as Windows and the open source video drivers don't rate at all. An all in one API to the level of DirectX doesn't exist.

Carmack said those who truly believe in doing Linux ports and try to court a top ten publisher with a business offering of less than six figures will probably be ignored.

"This may sound ridiculous — 'Who would turn away $20,000?' but the reality is that many of the same legal, financial, executive, and support resources need to be brought to bear on every single deal, regardless of size, and taking time away from something that is in the tens of millions of dollars range is often not justifiable," he wrote.

Carmack offered up some positive suggestions and workarounds towards Linux ports however.

"I truly do feel that emulation of some sort is a proper technical direction for gaming on Linux," Carmack posted. "There really isn't much of anything special that a native port does - we still make OpenGL calls, winsock is just BSD sockets, windows threads become pthreads, and the translation of input and audio interfaces don't make much difference (XInput and Xaudio2 are good APIs!)."

"Translating from D3D to OpenGL would involve more inefficiencies, but figuring out exactly what the difficulties are and making some form of 'D3D interop' extension for OpenGL to smooth it out is a lot easier than making dozens of completely refactored, high performance native ports."

"Properly evangelized, with Steam as a monetized distribution platform, this is a plausible path forward," he wrote.

Carmack still has love for Linux and he is tempted to do Linux ports "for technical reasons." He uses Linux boxes at Armadillo Aerospace but he doesn't use it as a daily platform.

"I would like to use Valgrind again, and Nvidia has told me that some experimental GPU features I would like to use for R&D would be easier to prove out on Linux," Carmack wrote. "Working on open source Linux OpenGL drivers again would also be fun if I ever had the time."

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