The Downslide of "No Tux No Bux"


Since Proton came out, all of us have been enjoying more games, more compatibility and more freedom when it comes to picking up new games to play. Did I say “All of us”? I need to rephrase that. This is not accurate. There is still a certain group who is certainly not happy with this kind of trend. The “No Tux No Bux” zealots.

I have never been a fan of their message, but I have to admit, they got several things right. First, having a short catchline helps make things memorable. Especially if they rhyme. “One Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away!”. People are conditioned to react more positively to things that rhyme - for no rational reason. So I will give them that: they coined it well.

Then, their heart is in the right place. After all, having a wealth of “native” Linux clients for every game out there is desirable, and nobody disputes that. We all want our favorite games to run directly on Linux. Where we differ is mostly in strategy and tactics. Not many developers are going to care about missing 1-5% of potential sales, and this is already what we have seen on the market so far. Even Mac as a gaming platform is largely ignored and it’s several times bigger than the Linux install base on desktop. The effectiveness of a appeal to financial gain is close to zero, and “No tux No Bux” is typically used as a one-liner, to pretend that nothing else matters and there is no other discussion worth having (which is why I refer to them as zealots). I am not going to explain again at length why it does not work, I am more interested today by the fact that No-Tux-No-Buxers are increasingly a thing of the past, while they used to be a very noisy minority until 2017-2018. In 2019, it was increasingly obvious that they did not pop up as much as before, and I suspect in 2020 their share of voice will be even smaller.

A few things have changed since then and made a dent into their “spiritual” movement.

First, Proton. Proton has had a massive impact to make running WINE and associated frameworks (DXVK, Esync, etc…) completely painless and transparent to end users. For games that run with it, it’s as simple as an single click. Frictionless. Almost like magic. I am pretty sure that some of the “No Tux No Bux” clan have fallen under the spell of Proton. Not the most fanatic ones, but anyone who was more or less on the edge, that’s a different story. How many? Who knows? But such stories are out there. I have heard a few times folks who described themselves as “all about No Tux no Bux before Proton, but I changed my mind…”. These stories are few in number because nobody likes to admit they changed their mind on something in the first place. But direction-wise, if I were to bet, I am pretty confident that there are less pure NTNB activists than before. The whole Proton initiative has reduced them into a smaller, shrinking minority.

Then there is the other face of Proton, seen by pragmatic Linux gamers. There is a wealth of reports that Proton has been a massively popular option among existing Linux gamers, and whenever the subject of Proton comes up in any online thread it’s fairly easy to spot that the overall opinion is very positive and most users love it. So where in a discussion before, you typically had mostly NTNB leading the topic, nowadays it’s a lot more diverse, with numerous “positive advocates” who are likely to voice out their opinion and defend Proton whenever it comes up. This is what brings balance to the Force.

Third is the topic of newcomers. Let’s say lil’ Ryan has known nothing but Windows until now, and discovers Linux can also play games. Is he going to care about any silly argument on how “native” the game that runs on Steam is? No! Not at all! All he is going to see is whether it runs and if it runs well. Any point beyond that will be irrelevant, just like FOSS concerns are completely irrelevant for most Windows users. Maybe lil’ Ryan will change his mind later on, but that will take time and a long self journey to understand the in and outs of such stories. The same holds true for Mac users, who tend to be very pragmatic as well when it comes to gaming (many Mac gamers have no problem using Bootcamp as a solution to their gaming needs). Whoever transitions to Linux is more likely than not to become very pragmatic about it and a “positive advocate” for Proton.

More recently, streaming services completely do away with the concept of running native applications on your machine (Google Stadia being the most notorious). This makes the question “is it still a Linux client?” almost irrelevant since you don’t really know what and how it runs on the remote server. If you use such services, the proper answer is… “Who cares?”.

I may be completely wrong, but… as Proton keeps pushing the boundaries of Windows games being able to run on Linux and “official ports” seem to stagnate or slow down in numbers, and platform abstraction continues to develop as an alternative, I expect further appeals to No Tux No Bux! to be met with indifference… or derision.