Last week, I learned that Valve has done two very odd things in Steam when it comes to games with Linux support. The first move is that Valve has switched out the Linux Tux icon with its own Steam OS icon. The second is that it is removing the SteamOS icon from any games that claim Linux support but don’t work out of the box on SteamOS. These are troubling moves for those of us who like to game on Linux.
When Valve first announced support for Linux, it did so with the promise that Ubuntu Linux would be the distribution that it supports chiefly. This meant that it would work on any distribution that branched off of Ubuntu (Lubuntu, Mint, etc). With Ubuntu itself being a branch off of Debian, it meant that even more distributions could be potentially run Steam. While no one expected Valve to do all the leg work in making sure that Steam ran successfully under any distribution that was not Ubuntu, they expected them to at least support that one distribution.
But with the move to remove the general Linux Tux icon and replacing it with their own SteamOS icon, they seemed to have told the Linux gaming community that they need to switch distributions in order to continue to game through Steam. Can you imagine if Valve pulled the same stunt with Windows or Mac users? Can you imagine the uproar that would happen if Valve hinted that those users would have to switch to SteamOS in order to game? Yet, that is the message coming across to Linux gamers.
This message has been all but verified by Valve in its latest move. In the last few weeks, Valve has been removing the SteamOS icon from games that don’t work out of the box on SteamOS, even if those games work perfectly well on Ubuntu. On top of that, Linux gamers cannot purchase games that they know support the Linux OS but don’t specifically support SteamOS. Based on statements from gamers and developers of these games, the problem seems to stem from the use of third party libraries and launchers, such as Adobe Air or Java.
While I see no problem in letting gamers know that they will need third party software to run a game, I do see a problem in telling gamers and developers that Valve won’t even let you try and install the game on a perfectly valid system. Additionally, this move seems to indicate that Valve won’t be supporting Java on SteamOS, something that a fair number of games use in order to run across multiple platforms.
While this move may result in game developers refraining from using third party software libraries and launchers, but should Linux game developers and gamers be locked out of Steam when their Windows and Mac counterparts are not? After all, Steam doesn’t seem to penalize those very same games for requiring third party launchers to operate on Mac or Windows.
I honestly can’t see how any of this actually helps the Linux gaming community in any way. Valve seems intent on making SteamOS the default Linux OS for gaming, but I know of no Linux gamer who feels like abandoning their all purpose machines in favor of a gaming only machine. Nor do any of them feel the need to force SteamOS to contort to their own needs outside of gaming. After all, those of us who use Linux do many of the same non-gaming activities as our Mac and Windows counterparts.
I really can’t stress how frustrated this makes me. I was excited when Valve originally announced Linux support and have even started using Steam on a semi-frequent basis. I even have like 6 Steam friends. But if Steam continues down this path, I don’t think I can support them in the future. Making SteamOS the default Linux distro for Steam gaming is bad form all around. I really hope that I am freaking out about nothing and they are simply removing problem games that people have complained about.