Remember that survey I encouraged you guys to join back in the second quarter of 2015 ? Well the results are out now! I was supposed to finish the analysis by July, but I was delayed like good Old’ Gandalf, so you get it in September instead. The initial objective was to get some actual numbers about some aspects of the Linux Community I wanted to know more about, and eventually find some interesting facts/insights to share back with you. I hope you will find at least some of the below results interesting. Maybe some of them will lead to new questions in the near future.
Before we move to the meat of the subject, let’s consider the limitations of the survey, because nothing is perfect.
- This is not a perfect sample of worldwide Linux users, and was not weighted to be representative in that sense.
- The survey was conducted in English and therefore introduces a bias towards English native speakers.
- Another element of bias is that the main communities participating in the survey were coming from r/linux_gaming and r/linux, which limits the reach to these particular communities. r/linux in particular has probably an effect on the distro of choice, since it seems that Arch was over-represented versus its probable market share.
- A sample is always just that, a sample. Obtaining a representative sample is a very difficult task, so the following results may apply to a certain population of Linux gamers but maybe not as a whole. Please view these results with a critical eye, and don’t hesitate to comment and ask questions if you feel something seems strange.
- While I try to refer to “respondents” as much as I can, I will sometimes refer to “Linux Gamers” as a whole, to make it easier to understand.
- I refer to “Linux Gamers” for simplification, but please know that I mean “GNU/Linux Gamers”. Let’s not forget to give credit to RMS without whom nothing would be where we are now.
- I will probably keep adding more observations on a weekly/bi-weekly basis, so I would recommend you bookmark this page and come and check it once in a while.
Before anything else, let’s get the gender aspects out of the way. No surprise here, there were very few women answering this survey, but kind of more than I expected (n=860, since the gender question was optional):
- Male: 97%
- Female: 1.8%
- Other: 0.8%
I am pretty sure that on consoles, the ratio of females playing games is higher than that. While I am not sure about Windows Gaming, Linux as a Community is very male-centric, but as Linux expands, this should reach more and more people from all genders. Anyway, following the base size of non-male genders, do not expect a sub-analysis there, it would be utterly meaningless.
Next, let’s look at respondents and where they come from.
There are three large groups we can keep for further analysis, Western Europe, North America and Eastern Europe (Russia excluded – there were only 5 respondents from Russia unfortunately). Most of the other groups were too small in numbers to be analysed separated, and it did not make sense either to put them in a “Rest of the World” bucket, seeing that Koreans and South-Americans may have very little in common. This being said, while the sample may be biased for the reasons I mentioned before, I would still assume that Linux’s penetration as an OS is very much a thing in the developed world and a number of selected countries, but not as much in other less developed parts. It’s easy to find large online communities in English, French, German… other language-speaking Linux communities seem to be smaller. Among the funny answers, I had one person claiming they were from Sealand. Har Har. Sadly, while there is a large number of English speakers in Africa, there were only 3 respondents from there. There are still long ways to go to make Linux well known everywhere.
I was not aware that there were so many young Linux Gamers. There a large bunch of respondents below 25, with a peak in the early twenties. The youngest respondents were apparently in their 13-14s. On the opposite side, it seems that there were very few gamers above 50, with a notable exception at 88 years old!
Overall, while I am certainly surprised to see so many young Linux Gamers, the distribution itself makes sense: in one’s life, the amount of free time for gaming is usually at the highest during the teenage years and University years, and then progressively decreases as you get a job, a gf/wife, and kids on your own. I guess I was more surprised by the fact that so many young folks were already using Linux. In my time, the exposure to Linux was around University.
Since we have enough respondents we can also take a look at the distribution in terms of Age in between the Key Geographies.
Eastern European Linux Gamers seem to be younger overall, with a distribution span much smaller than the one in Western Europe or North America. In Western Europe and North America you were considered an outlier around 48-49 years old, and it looks like our 88 years old gamer is in Eastern Europe (and might have been joking about their age? We will never know). I don’t have a good hypothesis as why we see this trend towards younger Linux Gamers in Eastern Europe, since there does not seem to be a massive difference in the proportion of younger folks between these geographies. So my best guess would be that, somehow, the exposure to Linux happened earlier there, but I am at loss to explain why it would be so.
Linux Distributions for Gaming
Let’s have a look first at which distributions are used by Linux Gamers. As you can see below, Ubuntu clearly comes on top.
The surprising bit was the share of Arch Linux as mentioned previously. Close to 30% are using Arch for their Gaming Distro of choice, which was way higher than I expected. After that come the usual suspects, such as Debian and Linux Mint at around 7-8% each. Fedora is the last distro with some kind of following (5%) before we fall into more obscure choices. In any case, the key conclusion is that a majority of Gamers actually use a Debian or Debian derivative (such as Ubuntu, Mint and SteamOS). SteamOS’ use for gaming is still very minor (less than 2%).
If we look at the same data by Key Geographies, we see a couple of patterns emerge:
Ubuntu seems to way more popular in North America than in Europe. We are talking of a 10% difference in share, which is pretty big. On the other hand, Arch Linux is much less popular in North America while it’s very close in share with Ubuntu in Europe. Does it mean European Linux Gamers are more hardcore?! The other largest difference is the use of Fedora: it seems to be a very minor distro among European Linux users, but a much larger one for North Americans (in the top 3 distro for North American respondents). Again I am not sure what is causing such differences for Fedora, but Linus Torvalds himself is using Fedora on all his machines.
As you can see from the following question, it seems like most Linux users do not switch distro so often. There’s about 15% who have never changed distro, and another 60% who declare themselves to be pretty stable – so about 3 Linux users out of 4 are somewhat faithful to a single distro, at least from this survey’s results. Distro hoppers seem to be a minority.
Hardware and Territoriality
Now, when it comes to what makes their Linux Gaming Rig run, we can see that most of the time, nVidia has a significant advantage, close to 70%:
If you are familiar with the situation of AMD drivers on Linux, this is hardly surprising. AMD’s proprietary Catalyst driver is notoriously worse than its Windows’ counterpart in performance and OpenGL compatibility, and the open-source radeonsi driver, while constantly improving, is not a recommended if you care about having the best FPS with your GPU. Intel is a good choice for laptops but hardly in the competition for high performance and high quality graphics. So, nVidia is clearly a natural choice, unless you really want to have decent open-source drivers support, in which case AMD is the better option (since Nouveau’s nVidia open source driver is still struggling to progress and nVidia is making things hard for them).
Now if you split the results between Laptop and Desktop gamers, the proportions vary widely:
It’s very natural to see more of Intel’s processors in Laptops, and way less of them in desktops (running games only on an Intel processor in a desktop environment kind of defeats the ability to have extension cards). However I was very surprised to see still around 50% of nVidia GPUs among Laptop gamers. Are there really so many of them buying laptops with nVidia mobile GPU hardware and running games on Linux in that environment? If the figures are accurate, it’s certainly much higher than I expected.
As a side note, I could find that the following recent nVidia cards were used in such proportions (n=485 for all GPU models, since not everyone answered):
- GTX970: 12.4%
- GTX770: 7.2%
- GTX980: 4.1%
- GTX960: 3.9%
- GTX750Ti: 2.9%
- GTX Titan: 0.4%
Very little surprise here to see the 970 and 770 at the top of the recent nVidia cards: those are both powerful, and very cost effective cards in their respective categories (high-end and mid-end).
As there were fewer AMD users, the percentages for recent AMD cards are obviously lower (n=485 again, same base size):
- AMD R9 290: 2.5%
- AMD R9 270: 2.3%
- AMD R9 280: 2.1%
- AMD R9 295: 0.2%
I’m always wondering if people who have gaming rigs actually share their hardware with other people around, just like they would for a console, for example. Well if you look at the overall results for that question, it seems like the big picture answers is “NO, don’t touch my Linux Gaming Rig and go play with something else”.
But that picture would be incomplete if you did not check the differences between folks living alone, and folks with families:
It seems like the less “alone” you are, the more likely people share their gaming hardware: there’s a huge “family effect” among respondents, no matter where they are from, whether it’s sharing with your partner, or with your kids. Overall, that’s a good thing, because it exposes what Linux can do to more eyes.
Looking towards the end of 2015, we can see that there’s not a lot of folks who intend to upgrade their hardware, only about 35%:
But once again let’s not make the mistake to assume this is an homogeneous group. If you consider whether one user is an active gamer (Top 2 answers in one question regarding their involvement as a gamer) or a casual one (defined as Bottom 3 for the same question), you get a different upgrade path picture, with a much higher difference of upgrade intention between both groups:
Why the need to upgrade, among these active gamers considering spending some hard earned cash by end 2015?
- Witcher 3 (once ported) – this game keeps coming back in the comments.
- Batman: Arkham Knight (once ported)
- XCOM2 (sadly pushed back to 2016 recently)
- Star Citizen
- Dying Light
Well I can certainly say that Witcher 3 is well worth an hardware upgrade !
As one would expect on Linux, Steam is the main distribution channel for Linux games, and most respondents in the survey have indeed used Steam in the past. The usage percentage is impressive, you would be pressed to find any service out there which is used for more than 90% of a category. Humble Bundles has also been used by 3 users out of 4, which is probably because of their famous “pay what you want bundles” which used to include Linux versions of games in the past. They still have such “canonical” bundles but now their main business is for Windows bundles. Still, I was expecting a higher percentage of usage, close to that of Steam’s, but I guess Steam has had a much broader appeal among Linux gamers despite the fact that Humble Bundle started supporting Linux earlier.
GOG is still far behind, as their Linux support is fairly recent, and honestly far from optimal. They do have more than 100 of games for Linux now, but it’s still a far cry from what other stores offer, and their prices are usually not that attractive either (Steam sales are much better in terms of value). GOG offers only DRM-free titles and it may be a reason to pay more sometimes, but let’s not forget that most the DRM-free titles on GOG are also DRM-free on Steam, even if most users do not realize it.
Most respondents have used Steam in the past month (more than 80%) to purchase a game, while the usage of other stores is much, much lower. Humble Bundles’ purchases is usually triggered by attractive bundles, and they don’t have such every single month for Linux users. GOG has not yet become a “habit”, and the fact that it does not have a client like Steam’s probably creates another barrier.
So Steam is widely used, and often used it seems, but is that simply because they have more games, or because it’s also a better service in general ? Well, if we look at how satisfied are folks with each service, both Steam and Humble Bundle get very high ratings:
To be honest GOG is not doing that bad: a total of 73% of folks either satisfied or very satisfied with GOG is actually pretty good, but comparatively they still have leagues to go. Some comments about GOG from a few respondents:
GOG seems a bit half-hearted about Linux
GoG’s linux support is basically non-existent.
GOG has started to offer some games to Linux gamers but their support (installation instructions, GOG-Galaxy client) have made it clear that Linux gaming is not a priority for them.
GOG is very slow to get updates and treats Linux as a second class citizen.
GOG and Humble are lacking game options that interest me.
GOG makes it hard to purchase Linux games, to the point that even if I see a good deal, i’m not sure if I’ll get updates (and timely) so I never use it.
GOG is slow to move, unexplicable delays in releasing DOSbox based games. Galaxy seems to be unobtainum.
GOG is EXTREMELY SLOW to deliver the Linux versions of games that already have Linux versions on other store fronts. Includes but not limited to: Megabyte Punch, Age of Wonders III, Aliens vs Predator, Strike Suit Zero\n- Trine Enchanted Edition. And many many more.
Comments about the lack of client:
Awaiting a native GOG galaxy client before I can use GOG more extensively, it is too much trouble right now as compared to Steam
GOG needs a linux client. It’s painful to install stuff.
GOG’s official stance seems to be that they support Linux, especially with regards to freedoms as it aligns with their DRM-free philosophy, but even still they have yet to port The Witcher or The Witcher 3 to Linux, The Witcher 2’s port could have bee much better, Galaxy still has yet to arrive on Linux, and their store lacks many OSX and Linux ports even though competitors like Steam and Humble Bundle do offer the ports. I would love to switch to their absolutely DRM-free platform but without the Linux support this is not possible as an option for me.
I’d really love to transition to GOG (especially when the galaxy client comes over to Linux) though most games are not on it, the few that are might be missing linux clients and even when we get those they’re extremely outdated (same with windows versions).Since most linux ports are extremely buggy at launch that’s a very critical factor for me and seeing how GOG’s deals aren’t that good anyway and cdpr dealing with us as third class citizens I can’t see much reason for transitioning to GOG other than DRM freedom and a possibly fair galaxy client and network.
The question about the stance of respondents towards DRM proved to be interesting. There is a vocal minority who is for DRM-free games, that we already knew it, but how many they are was something left to speculation.
It seems that the large majority of respondents don’t really like DRMs but tolerate them nonetheless, while only about 10% folks would not buy any game that is DRM’ed. I had a “other” choice in that question so that other answers could be selected as well, and a number of folks mentioned they don’t like DRM but find Steam’s way of doing it acceptable:
Steam “DRM” I’ll live with, else no. It’s a terrible idea.
I generally prefer not to use DRM, but STEAM does a good job of providing convenience to counter-balance the DRM and it rarely if ever gets in the way. Otherwise, I’m very cautious about DRM.
I can live with Steams DRM – nothing more intrusive
I’m against DRM, but I can live with it assuming it’s not an inconvenience and/or shady. If I don’t like the way the DRM looks, I’ll likely ignore the product or outright pirate it instead.
Opponents of DRM had such comments too:
I don’t like DRM and I make sure that I never purchase any DRM’ed game.
I hate DRM but I’m stuck with it, I hate morons, fuck anyone who tolerates DRM.
I hope DRM-devs get punched in the face.
DRM factors heavily (negatively) into any purchasing decision I make, I will only tolerate it for a few games.
No matter on which side you stand, the fact that this kind of question elicited so many “other” comments is a sign that it’s a highly emotional topic for many gamers. Where do I stand myself? In the “don’t like, but tolerate”. If tomorrow GOG gets all titles at the same time as Steam, and at similar pricing, I would probably drop Steam fairly quickly, just to avoid any risk in the longer term (such as games disappearing, DRM restrictions getting worse over time, Steam shutting down…). At the same time, I’m torn with the desire to support Steam because of all they do for Linux as a Gaming Platform. If they could become a proponent of the DRM-free movement, that would be the best of both worlds.
What was the most surprising to me, however, is that there was not a big change about GOG usage between the ones who tolerate DRM and the ones who avoid DRM at all cost. I was expecting the ones who avoid DRM to “run for the GOG hills”, but it looks like it’s not the case. There may be a problem of GOG awareness as well.
This being said, there was a very clear difference in terms of Steam usage. Almost 100% of the ones who tolerate DRM use Steam for Linux, but among the ones who avoid DRM, Steam usage is only at about 70%.
When we look at the recent usage of Steam, however, we can see that there seem to be a larger drop for those who avoid DRMs:
But still, there’s almost half of them still using Steam, so I am not sure how consistent they are with their beliefs – or else, they may be buying only DRM-free titles on Steam, if they are aware of which ones are actually DRM-free on that platform. We do see, however, a larger recent GOG usage for those who avoid DRM:
Which is consistent with what you might expect there, while Steam is still the leading platform even for DRM-haters.
Playing Games on Linux
There are still a bunch of folks who keep several systems for Gaming, whether it’s a Windows partition or a couple of consoles next to their TV. But what’s the overall picture for most Linux gamers in the survey ?
Most of them (close to 70%) play more on Linux than anything else, which is a very positive indication that there are enough games around on the platform to keep them busy.
Since this survey is also supposed to become a tracker, I was also interested to see if most respondents spend more time playing on Linux than they did compared to 3 months back. The answer seems kind of a mixed bag. About 37% are playing more on Linux than before, but the majority (55%) is not increasing their playtime on Linux.
While slightly disappointing, I was looking for what kind of folks were actually playing more or much more than before. I took a look at many different variables, with not so interesting differences, until I came to this variable that showed some clearer differences:
It seems like gamers who have been newly gaming on Linux (less than one year to 2 years) are spending more and more time gaming on Linux than more experienced Linux gamers. Since we don’t know whether it’s a causation or a consequence, it could be going both ways: either New Gamers have recently switched to Linux and therefore are spending more time gaming on Linux since they spent most of their gaming time on Windows before… or it could be that New Gamers were not gaming much until Steam arrived and exploded, while they were long term Linux users. I can’t give a definitive answer to this, but from another question asking about their Linux experience in years, we can find out that these New Gamers are split as follows:
- 35% are New Linux users (Less than 2 years)
- 36% are Experienced Linux users (Between 2 and 5 years on Linux)
- 29% are Veteran Linux users (More than 5 years)
So, the phenomena I described may be happening both ways: newcomers to Linux as well as old timers on Linux discovering the fact that they can now game more than they thought, while they were not gaming on Linux at all before.
A quick ratio of New Linux users (less than 2 years) by the number of total respondents also indicate that there’s basically 15% of respondents who are new to Linux and new to Gaming as well. That’s a pretty good potential for growth there.
There was also a question regarding the respondent’s expectation to spend more or less time playing on Linux in the future. The results were quite clear:
Practically no one thought they would spend LESS time gaming on Linux, so it seems there can only be an upside. I was wondering if that would be the case, or if some respondents were disappointed by some aspects of Linux Gaming (not enough games, poor performance, etc…), but so far it seems that there’s nothing really pushing people to withdraw from Linux Gaming. But the really interesting bit comes from this sub-segment analysis.
It seems that the current Linux gamers who are not exclusively playing on Linux have a much higher intention to play on Linux in the future (almost 85% will increase their playtime on Linux), which shows once again a focused interest in the platform, despite the competition for attention of other machines or OS.
Steam Machines and Whatever Valve is Doing
When it comes to what Valve intends to do in the future with its Steam platform, the least that we can say is their communication is working:
There is close to 100% awareness about SteamOS, Steam Machines and the Steam Controller. Among Linux gamers those are recurring topics that one can hardly avoid. Nevertheless, Steam Link is far from being as well known, with only about 75% awareness. I’m not sure why that is, since it has received a far amount of coverage when it was disclosed… while the coverage has died down since then, which could explain why people who have missed it at the time did not hear much about it since then. I remember seeing a question “What’s the Steam Link ?” a couple of days ago in r/linux_gaming, so this seems to be very consistent with the survey’s results : there are still folks who don’t know about it!
But so far, even for the solutions which are already available from Steam, most respondents have not tried them:
Sure, SteamOS is in beta but it’s already available, and while it suffers some quirks, it’s usable. But the need for switching when you already have a Linux distro may not be obvious, unless you build a new machine. Only 3.3% of respondents are actually still using it after trial, which is not great.
Steam IHS (in-home streaming) has been the most popular option so far – yet while the trial rate is relatively high, the current usage rate is low (8.8% only).
As for the Steam Controller, it’s hardly surprising to see such a low trial rate, since the final version is not for sale yet. but the beta model was distributed to a selected few and I have had the chance to try one, but I am obviously an exception.
And what about Steam Machines ? How do Linux Gamers feel about it ? First, concept-wise, it seems to be pretty positive:
That is a little surprising, because most of the times, when Linux Gamers talk about it on Reddit, while some folks are positive, some others are really negative as well, but that kind of split does not appear in this survey. However, there are signs that do not lie:
Yeah, respondents are positive about Steam machines, but when it comes to buying one for themselves… “maybe not” is the most common answer, and there is certainly a lack of enthusiasm here.Or are they going to build one themselves ?
Some will, obviously, but once again it’s far from being in everyone’s mind, apparently. Yet most respondents expect that the Steam Machines will expand Linux Gaming:
Here’s a tip from me: when folks tell you that they like something, but that it’s not for them but that there are surely tons of people out there who are going to be interested in it and buy it in droves… well you better review your business plan very, very hard and prepare for failure, just in case. And this is coming from someone who likes the idea of Steam Machines, who has built one and considered it a pretty good experience overall. Yet, when I see the results of the survey, this gets me really worried, because I have seen the behaviour of “not for me, but the next guy will surely buy it” over and over, and it does not sound too good.
Thanks for reading this far! Feel free to leave a comment below, and submit ideas / hypotheses if you have some insights to share. If you liked the article I’d appreciate if you could share it as well (social networks for example) – it’s meant to be read.
This analysis could be completed thanks to:
- 915 awesome Linux Gamers who took the time to answer the survey!
- The fantastic R + RStudio and a bunch of packages (dplyr, ggplot2, sjPlot, etc…)
- A large amount of time to go through every little thing. And coffee.
I take this opportunity to remind you that I am looking for guest/permanent writers on Boiling Steam, so if you like this article and others, and feel that you can contribute, you can knock on the door anytime!
At BoilingSteam, we want you to browse our content free from ads and trackers. But keeping this website alive is a constant investment. Why don't you support what we do with donations on LiberaPay? Everything you contribute is re-invested in infrastructure and ongoing content to better serve the Linux Gaming community now and for future, bringing the good news to existing and upcoming Linux users. You can follow what we do via our newsletter, our RSS feed, our Mastodon profile or our Twitter feed