The Guilt of Linux Gamers

(Update: This situation has improved since I last wrote this. Will blog about the updates to Linux Gaming at some point in the future.)

Recently on Shot of Jaq, there's been some discussion about Linux Gaming. I've been thinking about the current state of Linux Gaming, and, to be frank, it's a bit depressing. It's depressing because there's this sense that if I don't participate more than I already am, tehre may not be anything left of Linux Gaming.

A bit of history may be in order for those who are tuning in late. Back around the turn of the century (20th-21st, not 19th - 20th) there was a company that made the best effort at ensuring Linux would have commercial games to play. This company was Loki Software, Inc, and their tale won't be repeated here (Check the Wikipedia article for more information. Suffice to say, Loki Software is no longer with us. The details of what happened aren't clear, whether the problem was with the Linux Game Market itself, or with internal mis-management. Whatever the reason, one still can't say the words "Linux Gaming" without pointing to Loki Software. The two are inextricably intertwined, and few companies have been as ambitious as Loki with bringing commercial games to Linux.

However, not all is bleak in the Linux Games world. There are still some players porting commercial games over to Linux. One of the more successful companies has been Linux Game Publishing, which has a very active and diverse stable of games available for Linux. One of their resellers, Tux Games resells Linux Game Publishing titles for Linux. I'm not sure what their profits are, or even what their sales are, but they've both been active in the Linux games business for a while.

So, all is good, right?

Well, unfortunately, there's still a problem with Linux gaming. Take a look ath the titles available on Linux Game Publishing's site. Now take a look at the titles on Tuxgames. I'll challenge you to recognize any of the titles that are available on that site. What's worse is some of the more recognizable titles on Tuxgames (Alpha Centauri, Tribes II, Civilation: Call to Power, Sin City 3000) were Loki Software releases. So, a company that went defunct in 2002 still has several of the top ten sales on Tuxgames. Even better, Civilization: Call to Power is still available for sale for $27.00. Now, that's pretty much in-line with the current selling price, because the game is now a collector's item (especially the Linux version). Let's take another example: Sacred Gold. A quick search of Google Products for Sacred Gold turns up prices around the $10-15 mark. On Tuxgames, it's $50.

That's right, $50.

Quick math time: the Windows version is $35 less than the Linux version.

And here lies the biggest problem of Linux Gamers everywhere. Because there's so few games available, and because the prices are not subject to the usual reverse auction that retailers do in order to get rid of old stock (ie: game starts at $50, reduced to $39.99, then to $29.99, then $10, with perhaps a discounted re-release at some point) prices are not subject to the usual market fluctiations that a Windows game might have. I'd be willing to bet that one year from now, Sacred Gold will still be $50, with nary a discount in sight.

I'm not faulting Linux Game Publishing or Tuxgames on their pricing scheme (though I will fault Tuxgames on their choice of DRM, but that's another rant). They're well within their rights to charge whatever they want to charge. As long as it keeps the lights on in their respective offices, I'm perfectly OK with what they charge. However, when it's more economically feasable to purchase a copy of a Windows version of a program and use that under emulation or other means, it means the demand for Linux games shrinks. Worse, it could mean that we have two more companies that will be brought up as examples of why Linux Games aren't profitable.

So, with the economic choice out of the way, what's left is a moral choice. Because I am a fan of Linux Gaming, and because I'd like to see more games for Linux, the choice becomes one of guilt. If Linux game Publishing and / or Tux Games go out of business, is it my fault for either not purchasing their games, or for not purchasing enough games? If another publisher publishes a game for Linux, am I obligated to purchase that as well, lest the market forces cause them to stop producing games?

I'd love to have a parity with Windows users where I can concentrate more on the game that I want to play rather than on the long-term longevity of those who are supplying the game, but as long as the Linux Game Market works this way, we'll never have a healthy and sustainable game market for Linux.