“Porting games to Steam on Linux is a waste of time.” “The sales we do get on Linux platforms result in an inordinate amount of technical support and refunds.” These are statements often heard inside the game development community. Well, Constantine Bacioiu, who runs the one-man indie game studio Bearded Giant Games, enthusiastically begs to differ.
To understand Bacioiu’s argument we first need to set the stage a bit. So I reached out to someone who’s been covering the Linux gaming world with authority for years: Liam Dawe of GamingOnLinux.com.
“On Steam, Linux doesn’t currently have a large market share,” Dawe says. “Valve’s own numbers put it at less than 1% currently and that largely aligns with what developers tell me their sales are like. It’s pretty abnormal to have a sales percentage for Linux on Steam of over 2%. I’ve seen it go higher when a developer interacts more with the community.”
It may surprise you to learn, then, that Bearded Giant Games’ latest release on Steam — Space Mercs — has a whopping 35-percent sales share on Linux. Not only is that significantly higher than the norm, but Bacioiu insists his Linux customers make the development process easier.
What’s going on here?
I immediately interviewed Bacioiu (who goes by “Zapa” within his community) on my podcast Linux For Everyone after he told me this unusual statistic. I was fascinated with his story.
Basically, Bacioiu believes there are 2 things the majority of game developers are doing wrong.
“People say ‘OK I know about Linux so I’ll just do an export in Unity and make a Linux build and that’s it,'” Bacioiu says. “But they don’t do any QA [Quality Assurance testing], and it’s a terrible experience. People are going to ask for refunds, and then your average developer is going to say ‘well Linux isn’t worth my time.'”
Bacioiu also argues that developing on a Linux platform ensures that your game will have better cross-platform compatibility than developing on Windows.
“All the middleware that I’m using on Linux is guaranteed to work on Windows, because it’s not relying on DirectX or any Windows-specific things,” he says.
How about that second thing? It certainly backs up Liam Dawe’s statement about developer / community interaction.
“Others want to do Linux so they install Linux on their computers, they do proper QA, but they do not interact with the Linux community,” says Bacioiu. “Their blog posts, their demo versions, everything is based around the Windows community. Then they’re disappointed, but they’re not marketing or engaging with the Linux community!”
It all boils down to supporting the Linux community rather than treating it as an irrelevant data point. Bacioiu is active in various Discord channels. He blogs about other indie developers and ports, and gets down in the trenches. “It’s paid off and it’s amazing,” he says. “I’m getting very close to being able to just do Linux [and have that support me].”
As a result, he has a small army of fans that help him with all that essential QA testing. They get early builds of the game and he gets valuable feedback and bug reports.
Amusingly, Bacioiu says that Linux gamers give him an edge for one very specific reason: “You don’t have to micromanage anyone,” he says. “If there’s a problem, they know where to find the player log. They probably know why the problem is happening in the first place! They’re the most technical users you could ever wish for.”
Space Mercs is now available on Steam with a 96% positive rating, and is coming soon to itch.io. It’s a frantic arcade space shooter with very modest hardware requirements — primarily because Bacioiu built a game he wanted to play, and only has access to low-powered hardware.
You can listen to the entire interview (including his hilarious Linux origin story) on Episode 3 of Linux For Everyone.
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