Since GOG started having a dedicated person to be the face of their Linux support not too long ago (the so-called linuxvangog on Reddit and Twitter), we thought it would be worth asking checking out what’s happening and if anything had changed regarding their level of Linux support.
There was no dedicated person like linuxvangog until recently at GOG. So who is linuxvangog and why start such an initiative now?
linuxvangog: I work at GOG as a Linux Tech Specialist for almost 4 years. The idea of reaching out to our Mac and Linux user base is my own. After all, these groups of users always had their own needs and wishes, so it feels only natural that they should have their own representative. The goal here is to shorten the gap between us and the community to collect feedback, as well as to clarify any doubts or answer questions.
It is important to emphasize that we have dedicated Mac and Linux teams at GOG.com since 2012 and 2014 respectively - that’s when two aforementioned platforms made their debut on our service. For some time already both teams work together, as Product UNIX Team, which I am a part of. Our daily duties are: game packaging, quality assurance, producing fixes for games, development plus maintenance of in-house solutions (e.g. installer and build scripts) and partly also the Galaxy client integration with games.
It’s also good to know that our friend linuxvangog is a solid gamer. That surely helps to get more games our way! He’s the living proof you can be a Linux gamer even if you use GOG exclusively.
**linuxvangog:**I am a very active gamer myself and there’s a whole lot of great indie titles available in GOG offer that created so many memorable experiences for me, so I will only mention a few! For example, Stardew Valley is such [a] cute and immersive title that I sat till up late at night with, FTL is actually what got me into space sci-fi genre, Steamworld series have that amazingly crafted universe that I absolutely adore, Night In The Woods has this very important story that builds a personal connection with the player, Shadowrun series and Dex got me interested in cyberpunk setting… The list could go on and on!
I also play classic titles without official Linux compatibility that can be run natively with ease thanks to the power of proven open-source tools. Some of them are my personal childhood favorites that I am revisiting, while other are my attempts to fill the gaps in my gaming experience. That way I was able to play Jagged Alliance 2, thanks to Stracciatella project, Morrowind with OpenMW or Driver: Parallel Lines by using Wine.
Back to the mothership. GOG has jumped onto the Linux train not too long after Steam, at least officially. But it seems that they were headed that way for a while already.
linuxvangog: The story of introducing Linux games into GOG offer goes way back. Two years before we actually rolled out the actual support for Ubuntu, the service started selling Mac titles. That move required a lot of preparations, including hiring someone with a non-Windows background, which is pretty rare feat in the games industry. This person, now my friend and boss, was also a fellow Linux user. There were also other, very enthusiastic people who wanted company to make a move towards supporting our beloved platform. Linux always has fans in every technical company, that’s just how it goes. So even before I started working here, the idea of Linux on GOG was already slowly getting traction.
The world is moving forward and Linux gaming is something that has become kind of a standard among indie titles, which create a significant part of our offer. Linux support was frankly a heavily popular request made by our customers and we were glad to finally make it happen.
You know, we always like to see numbers regarding Linux sales and the install base. Maybe it’s to reassure ourselves that “we are not alone in the Universe!”. Typically we see this kind of ratio in the Western world for Windows/Mac/Linux as 90%/7~8%/2% more or less. Of course, GOG is unable to provide precise figures, but they did not mind giving us a few hints. wink wink
linuxvangog: Unfortunately, due to the nature of our business we cannot disclose details behind our sales numbers, but I can say that publicly accessible numbers (such as data published by companies researching web usage shares) are a good hint.
One of the hot topic of dissatisfaction when Linux gamers talk about GOG is the complete lack of a Galaxy Linux client. The Galaxy client was announced after GOG’s Linux support, yet the client was apparently not planned to be cross-platform from the get-go. We are still waiting.
linuxvangog: It might be a little known information, but in fact, Galaxy client was in development even before Linux launch on the service was announced. The availability of the Linux version is not a matter of application design, but a matter of resources. We’re talking about development, maintenance and QA cost of not one, but multiple projects at GOG - Galaxy is not just the client application, but also SDK, services, backend, developer tools etc.
While currently GOG isn’t developing the Linux client, it still remains in the big picture and is planned to be done eventually. We are not working on it at right now and it won’t happen anytime soon. Once we revisit the subject of Linux client, it will surely be developed in-house.
So, I am a GOG user myself, and while I am really all about having less DRM everywhere, there are still cases where I find the Linux games packaging efforts to be lacking on GOG. Like, where dependencies seem no to be properly taken care of. For example, just a few weeks ago, I downloaded Baldur’s Gate 2 Remastered Edition for Linux on GOG and it refused to start. It did not provide any clear error message either. After launching it from the terminal, I found out it was missing libjson0. I had libjson0 installed already, but it wanted the 32 bits version of it - I had to search for that piece of information, because nowhere was it mentioned that it was looking for the 32bits version. This is not always like that for every Linux game, but when it happens it’s far from being a plug and play solution for Linux users.
linuxvangog: We are aware of this issue. Currently, our way to deal with it is informing about library dependencies on the product page. This information is available in the game requirements section. That way, every user is able to know if the game will work for them before making a purchase.
Creating a truly DRM-free experience comes with risks. First of all, we would like to provide service that is easy to use for our Linux users but also doesn’t make them rely too much on GOG-specific tools or workarounds.
Then, we want game developers to have better control over their own product. From one side, we have classic releases, that are worked upon by us. These work out-of-the box on any fresh Ubuntu installation, containing only basic set of dependencies, such as X server, ALSA, PulseAudio etc. That’s our desired user experience. However, for titles produced currently, we minimize our interference with game files delivered by a game developer. Instead, we offer our feedback on Linux builds of games set to launch on GOG after thorough testing. Not uncommon are our requests for developers to ship 64 bit binary and basic dependencies with the game, to make it easily run without any action required from the user. That way we give the game developer better understanding of platform-specific issues on Linux.
Ultimately, there is also a matter of compatibility. GOG officially focuses on supporting Ubuntu and its derivatives or flavors (such as Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Linux Mint, elementaryOS), which includes profound testing of our releases or a proven troubleshooting scheme. However, we wouldn’t like to close off from users running variety of diverse Linux systems. Thanks to the current solution, playing DRM-free titles on other popular distributions (such as Arch, Debian or Fedora) is relatively hassle-free due to compatibility mishap avoidance. Bundling legacy versions of libraries with games makes them segfault more often than not, while regular updating them by us would take in too many resources. We used to do that in the past, but it turned out to be not only too costly in maintenance but also way too problematic.
A library runtime, a flatpak/snap/docker isolation or a system suggesting missing dependencies to the user were some of the considered options. All come with their own pros and cons, without determining one clear winner. That question it’s certainly open for discussion and re-evaluation. We are always interested in hearing what the community thinks about technical solutions used in our products!
When we discussed with Omar the GOG release of Wonderboy III on Linux, we learned that releasing a Linux version on top of a Windows version requires additional work (a longer process) for the developer. What can you do in the future to make the developer experience regarding treating all platforms equally for developers?
linuxvangog: It is true, targeting an additional platform is always an extra effort, no matter how well supported or popular it is. For Linux it is especially relevant, since it’s still relatively little known in the industry, still maturing as a game system and because of that, difficult to develop for.
Currently, the games market is more diverse than in the past. The surge of indies shows how often top sellers are being made by small studios which are now crucial to any successful game store offer. Small developers, while bold, innovating and creative, sometimes cannot afford costly porting services and are struggling to introduce support for minor platforms by themselves. That’s where we are able to step in. We aim to meet the needs of our partners by offering them Linux expertise or additional tests for their Linux builds.
While they could not comment on most of the games where they actually helped for the Linux builds (for contractual reasons), there’s one example that could be mentioned:
linuxvangog: […] I can say that the developer of Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy was quite fond of our input in fixing Linux-specific issues with their game: https://www.gog.com/forum/sphinx_and_the_cursed_mummy/linux_version/post7
The obvious and inconvenient truth about PC market is that it’s dominated by Windows, which results with game industry being accustomed to tools, APIs and runtimes available only for this operating system. The situation changes a bit with big engines, such as Unity or Unreal rolling out Linux support or with the on-going Vulkan adoption, yet there is still a lot to be done.
As you probably know, GOG and CDPR are technically under the same parent company (CD Projekt). Still, it’s always been unclear how “close” these two organizations are, and whether or not one’s stance on Linux actually translate to the other.
linuxvangog: That’s correct, GOG.com and CD Projekt RED are indeed subsidiaries of the same group, and even have their HQs in the same building, however they operate as separate companies, with separate teams, resources, etc. CDPR as the development studio create their own games, while we manage the digital distribution platform, the GOG Galaxy client and release games made by third-party partners.
Both companies are independent in their decisions, but we do exchange knowledge and experience between companies, as we all work for the success of the whole group. In regards to closer cooperation between GOG and CDPR, GWENT: The Witcher Card Game is the first project where both companies share teams and resources - while CDPR is developing the game, GOG is responsible for multiplayer, matchmaking, in-game transactions and more, through GOG Galaxy. And with future releases from CD Projekt RED, which will be using features and services of the GOG Galaxy client, the cooperation between companies will get even tighter.
While there’s still several reasons to use other distribution channels, GOG has been successful in championing DRM-Free distribution. They are still pretty much one of the only channels to specialize in such aspects (sometimes Humble Bundle provides DRM-free options too while it’s become the minority). While it’s great to see such a strong position in the industry, it’s a shame that nobody else has followed suit. Competition for DRM-Free services may help move the needle away from the current state faster.
linuxvangog: DRM-free policy is something GOG has embraced from the very beginning. Back in 2008, when the platform launched, it was pretty much something impossible to even think that you could offer games without any copy protection, especially via digital distribution. Still GOG did it with classic games and then moved to day-1 releases, and as you mentioned is the only true DRM-free platform out there.
If you’re asking why there is so little competition, my answer would be, because it’s still not that easy to convince publishers that this is the right way to go. Despite efforts of everyone believing in DRM-free distribution, a big part of the gaming industry still firmly believes that piracy is a plague majorly impacting sales and has to be fiercely fought with intrusive copy protection, even at cost of customer freedom and service accessibility.
At GOG, we believe that DRM-free is the best way to provide hassle-free, honest way to play video games. DRM is impacting first and foremost legitimate customers, since pirates download already cracked versions of games without the copy protection software. So if you buy your games legally, you should not be treated worse than those who pirate them. We know this is not an easy approach, it requires a lot of dedication, that’s why it might not be a popular business model, but we firmly believe this is the right thing to do.
Now the topic you were all waiting for. The Witcher 2 received a Linux port, while Witcher 3, previously announced for SteamOS several times throughout Steam sales, was apparently canceled in the end (while ambiguous statements were given at several points in time). Witcher 3 is still very much a game that many Linux gamers desire (See our survey, witcher 3 coming on top of the most desired port earlier this year). We’d really like to know what is happening. Even if Witcher 3 is dead and buried.
linuxvangog: This question should be directed to CDPR, since we are separate companies.
OK. We tried. Maybe it’s worth checking with CDPR again.
Anyway… when a game is technically available for Linux on other platforms like Steam, but not on GOG (even though the Windows client may be available), we understand it is ultimately the responsibility of the publisher to act on this. Recently Steam has rolled out a “platform specific wishlist system” to indicate how much interest there is for a particular game to be released on a specific platform. Is GOG thinking around the same line to help promote the idea of Linux ports?
linuxvangog: It’s a difficult question without a simple answer. That’s correct, first and foremost it’s [the] publisher’s decision. We know that the community is regularly asking publishers about the availability of Linux version of their games on GOG.com. We appreciate that effort.
Platform-specific website features is something that is up for consideration in the future. I am open for suggestions from the community.
By default when discussing with publishers, it seems like Mac and Linux are also part of the default contract - while the liberty to act on it is left to the other parties.
linuxvangog: Technically, most of our new partnership contracts are open to Windows, macOS and Linux options by default. It’s practically our standard by now. In majority of cases it is up to our partner to deliver platform-specific builds, unless stated otherwise.
Maybe it would be worth including some hints on how to get a Linux port done (list of porting companies, etc…), right there in the default contract…
linuxvangog: That’s an interesting idea. But once again I have to emphasize that it is a developer’s decision to pick targeted platform for their product and it should be respected. Such services are specific to a publisher partnership, while GOG.com is a distributor. Also I don’t think we have ever got such request from our partners.
For old titles, the technical part of a lot of releases is being done nearly entirely by GOG, which makes adding official Mac and Linux versions possible. From this point, it’s a matter of allocating our resources.
GOG.com does a lot of heavy-lifting in case of our classic releases, literally reviving beloved oldies. But besides that, we do our part with new games as well.
As our customers already know, we bring games to Mac and Linux thanks to the power of opensource tools such as DOSBox, Boxer, ScummVM, Wine and Wineskin. We remain in touch with some key developers of these projects as partners, offering them feedback or bug reports. Some even visited our offices!
I know that a part of Linux community is very hesitant to call such releases “ports”. The truth is that in most cases it’s the only way to bring classic titles officially to both these platfoms. GOG provides game-specific fixes, like: thoroughly adjusted emulator configurations, workarounds applied to the source or binary. Then, the game is being extensively tested to make sure it is fully playable on a targeted system. Reported bugs are usually being fixed in-house.
One or more of products available in our offer was brought to Linux thanks to GOG providing compatible binaries of Adventure Game Studio engine.
There has also been a lot of other, unnamed, but “purely native” cases (not using an opensource emulator or compatibility layer) where GOG assisted with Mac/Linux expertise and tests discovering day-one issues that could be fixed right before game release, or addressed in the first patch post-launch. We try to help whenever it is possible.
GOG’s strategy is certainly not relying only on the Linux market as key stepping stone, but they seem to be nevertheless serious and passionate about it. It can, hopefully, only go up.
linuxvangog: I think that it’s a small but important niche, especially for indie studios. It will grow slowly, but it is important to remember that Linux gaming can be only as successful as the entire Linux desktop is.
There will always be more enticing platforms to release games for, yet Linux community will always have a special place in the hearts of gaming industry.
Sweet words to let you ponder while I take my leave.
EDIT: Corrected the case of linuxvangog throughout the article. EDIT2: Changed the top logo to match the most recent version from GOG.com