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Celebrating One Year Of Proton, Valve’s Brilliant Linux Gaming Solution

One year ago, Valve completely changed the conversation we were having about gaming on Linux. One year ago, playing thousands of Windows-exclusive games on Linux by simply hitting that Install button in your Steam client was impossible. Fast forward to today, and there are a whopping 6000 of those games verified playable through Steam thanks to a brilliant little solution called Proton.

Valve

It’s an astounding achievement when you step back and think about it.

This week, Valve’s Proton turns one year old, and it has unarguably propelled the notion of gaming on Linux further than I would have thought possible. It has led to noticeably more mainstream press and YouTube coverage of desktop Linux, including this gem from Linus Tech Tips titled “Linux Gaming Finally Doesn’t Suck.”

Want to play games like Nier: Automata, No Man’s Sky, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Monster Hunter World, The Witcher 3, GTA V, Elder Scrolls Online? Just install Steam on your Linux distribution of choice and click Install. You don’t need to purchase it again. You may not even need to download it again. Already have it installed on your Windows partition? Just point Steam at your game library on Windows, and the client will go out and fetch the compatibility files it needs.

Has Linux gaming finally reached parity with Windows? In terms of total number of games playable, not remotely. ProtonDB — which crowdsources hardware information from Linux gamers and compatibility ratings — has collected reports for roughly 9000 of the more than 30,000 games available on Steam for Windows, and 6000 are deemed playable. A little north of 1000 titles are rated Platinum, meaning they exhibit the same smooth gameplay and performance via Steam Play and Proton as they do on Windows.

Jason Evangelho

A recent, albeit quick and dirty investigation into native Windows vs Proton gaming performance certainly backs that up. There are several games (and the list is growing) that outperform their native Windows counterparts despite needing to translate — on the fly — a Windows graphics API like DirectX into Vulkan, an API that Linux understands.

Put another way, these games are being translated in a sense, requiring extra resources from your PC components. Yet they’re still matching or exceeding the framerates they’ll kick on an identical Windows 10 machine.

Proton is making especially notable strides when it comes to AMD hardware. Valve engineer Pierre-Loup Griffais recently told me that the performance work being done in Proton has reached a point where the CPU overhead of translating DX11 through DXVK (that’s Vulkan, the API that Linux understands) can be lower than the overhead in the native AMD DX11 driver on Windows.

And there’s an entire team of open source developers at major companies like Valve, Red Hat and Google who are working hard to improve the overall graphics performance on Linux, What they’ve achieved in just the last 6 months is remarkable.

You’ll notice I’ve done very little to explain what Proton is from a technical angle. That’s intentional. Linux is no longer reserved for the hardcore techies and code monkeys. It’s a snap to install, easy to use and update, and Proton takes all the guesswork and tweaking out of getting those non-Linux games to run.

(If you’re interested in checking Linux out for yourself, I recommend starting with Ubuntu 19.04 or Pop!_OS.)

So one year later, there are 1000+ games available for Steam on my operating system of choice than there were before. And another 5000+ are playable, perhaps with some bugs or hiccups. If I were approaching my choice of OS like console gamers approach their decision to buy a PlayStation instead of an Xbox, well, that’s a pretty outstanding addition to my playable library in such a short time.

I can’t even imagine what I’ll be writing about Valve’s Proton in August of 2020.

Want to hear a really fun discussion that looks back on one year with Proton and Linux gaming in general? Check out Episode 4 of my podcast Linux For Everyone.


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