The Three Kinds of Linux Gamers


Following the tracker we started back in Q2 2015, here’s the latest analysed data of the survey that ran back in November-December 2015 [ Most answers have come from r/linux and r/linux_gaming, so this will certainly not be representative of the Linux community as a whole - previous warnings regarding the data quality are still valid ]. This time we will explore the data a little further and look for some particular profiles of Linux gamers that emerge from this dataset. But before we go there, let’s go through a number of general observations.


Age-wise, the overall respondents age is fairly consistent with the last survey. The majority of respondents are between the 23-33 bracket, with a median age at about 27 years old. This time we only have one outlier at 61 years old, while we had several more in the previous quarter - but that’s normal since the base size is lower this time. Overall, it’s hard to conclude if most Linux gamers are in this age bracket, or if this rather the Reddit demographics at work - Reddit being clearly a site visited by younger folks in the first place, while older communities are formed around Slashdot or other older networks.


However, once we look at the differences by the three main territories, we see some clear trends in age:


We can see that, just like in the previous survey, the respondents in Eastern Europe tend to be somewhat younger than the ones in other geographies. That difference is most likely significant (I checked with the notch function in R and there is no overlap of the notches indicating the difference is likely very real). Just like last time, I do not have a clear explanation as to why this may be happening. Maybe Reddit is a more recent trend in Eastern Europe and therefore folks who use Reddit tend to be younger there? Or is there something that makes folks use Linux earlier in Eastern Europe compared to the other geographies ? If you have some kind of theory, feel free to let us know in the comments.

Location of Respondents

This time we had less respondents (473 vs 915), but anyway still a good enough base size to do some sizable analysis. The respondents were predominantly located in Western Europe this time around, while in the last survey it was about even in terms of proportion between North Americans and West Europeans. The other notable changes is that there were more Russians in this survey, while they were a much more minor minority last time. This is great to have more diversity, so I would encourage you guys to pass the next survey around to your friends all over the world as much as possible. LocationRespondents

Based on the base size available, we will keep the first three segments for comparison later on.

Gaming Distro

What is is main distro used for gaming ? Last time Ubuntu was a little ahead of the lot, and now Arch Linux is about at the same level, with close to 30% each. This is probably due to more folks coming from r/linux than last time, where I believe Arch Linux is usually more popular.


Looking by geography, we can see some differences vs last time. Ubuntu seems to be less represented in Eastern Europe in Q4 (it was the least popular in Eastern Europe but the gap was not that wide before). More interestingly, the SteamOS penetration as a distro used for gaming seems to be more prevalent in Eastern Europe and North America than Western Europe.


In Western Europe the leading distro among respondents was Arch Linux, but even if Eastern Europe appears to use that distro less than the others, Antergos and Manjaro as mostly used in Eastern Europe as well and are derivatives or Arch Linux, too. And just like before, we find again that Fedora is really something that’s more popular in North America than anywhere else.

All in all, the percentages are probably not very accurate, but at least the trends are very similar to what we saw in Q2 2015.

Change in Gaming Frequency

A brief look at this measure shows that this is almost identical to the distribution we have seen in the previous survey ! Overall this should signal a positive trend if that is indeed the case, as it shows more progress than regression, with more than 35% of respondents increasing their time on time playing on Linux in the past three months.


Sharing of Gaming Rig

This is the kind of measure where I would expect some change to occur over time when a SteamOS-based device becomes the main rig for gaming at home. There is not much change versus last time.


If we look at sub-segments, we see that folks who have kids or are in couple are much more likely to share their gaming machine than the rest. On a side note, that makes me wonder how many of them actually use the Family Sharing function of Steam as well.


Funny detail, folks living with their parents (new category I added based on the feedback on the previous survey) pretty much behave like folks living alone in that regard. Probably because their parents are non-gamers, or have their own gaming machines in the first place. We can easily imagine what’s happening there :)

Future Gaming Frequency

Overall this data shows a positive trend again, with 38% showing no change in their future time spent on Linux games, but the majority (60%) planning to spend more time (and who knows, potentially buy more games, too).


This is clearly the sign of a market in-demand. Once again the results are pretty similar to what we saw in Q2 2015, so I won’t delve in this aspect much further.

Resellers of Linux Games

This is another metric where we should see some changes over time as the different competitors device to invest (or disvest) in their Linux games offering.


Compared to last time, the results are fairly consistent here as well. Steam is of course way ahead, with very close to 100% usage. What’s interesting is that Humble Bundle has apparently jumped up a bit, with close to 80% ever-usage. GOG has improved as well, since they were below 50% before and are now slightly higher. Third parties have jumped up 5% too, which is not surprising since there are now more and more of them which offer pretty good deals on a regular basis.


Past month usage looks almost identical as the previous survey for Steam and Humble Bundle. However, the usage of GOG is slightly lower this time around (3-4% lower) while third parties have gained about 5% here too.

Looking at satisfaction ratings with each platform, we see once again Steam getting high satisfaction ratings (Top2 box: 87.3% !) and is doing even better than the previous survey (Top2 box was then 86.3%, which is similar, but ratings for “very good” were at 45% while they are now at 52%).


So, in summary:

  • Steam is still the most frequently platform used for Linux gamers.
  • Humble Bundle is still more popular than GOG.
  • Satisfaction with GOG is pretty low compared to Steam and Humble Bundle.
  • Third parties resellers are increasingly getting traction.

DRM Stance

Most respondents fall in the “Don’t like DRM but tolerate it” bucket, with fairly consistent figures vs the survey in Q2 2015. What has now changed is that the “avoid at all cost” ratio has dropped a little. It could be a variation due to sampling, since I don’t expect folks who are dead against DRM to change their opinion over time. Another explanation could be the segment of folks holding that mindset may be growing less fast than the others, therefore resulting in a lower percentage a new gamers come on Linux.


We won’t be able to confirm that point until we do more surveys in this year.

GPU Brand share

Just like last time, nVidia is way ahead of the pack in terms of market share for Linux gamers. Not sure if our sample is completely representative, but the trend is probably accurate since AMD drivers performance is still behind what you can get with a nVidia equivalent card.


Looking at desktops vs laptops, nVidia is still in the lead no matter what, and the proportion of Intel-based gamers is stronger among Laptops as one can expect.  This being said the split this time is very inconsistent vs the previous survey in Q2 2015. In Q2, the share of Intel on laptop was reaching 30%, and here it’s closer to 20%.


Several potential explanations:

  • Sample variation
  • Folks may have moved from gaming only on a laptop to a desktop rig. This is actually possible since the folks using a laptop as a main gaming rig were 23% in Q2 compared to 15% only in Q4.
  • We have no way of verifying that, but laptop gamers upgrading their older Intel-only laptop to a newer one with a discrete card is also a possibility.

With the advent of Skylake laptops from 2016, we may see a slight resurgence of gamers on Laptops using Intel only.

I tried to look as well if there were some differences among Desktop gamers between geographies - would a gamer in Western Europe be more likely to get a nVidia than a gamer in North America ? Actually, there was no noticeable difference, so it’s fair to assume that the behaviour in that regard is fairly consistent no matter where you live.

The Steam Universe

The Steam Controller

The Steam Controller is clearly a resounding success for Valve. Not only did it manage to secure full awareness (apparently about everyone has heard about it), but the numbers indicate that close to 25% respondents already have one, and another 10+ % are expecting to receive theirs soon. For hardware that was only advertised through Steam, it’s kind of amazing.


If you look at the split by Geography, you get a sense of what’s happening in terms of distribution.


Penetration is really high in North America, at 35% already, but you can see the market is going to tap out as there are only now few who are waiting for their unit.  In Western Europe penetration is at 25% but there’s still 5% of folks waiting for their unit to arrive. In Eastern Europe the demand is pretty high as well as most folks are waiting for their unit. But all in all, the availability across territories is moving pretty fast as this survey was done just within of month of the official release.


For those who don’t have one yet, the purchase intent/consideration was pretty high as you can see in the chart above. That’s not something that can be said for the other initiatives…

The Steam Link follows a different story. It’s affordable, it has pretty high awareness as well, but I am guessing there is not so much interest, at least among Linux Gamers, in such a device. Less than 5% have one or are getting one soon.


The purchase intent split also confirms that trend, with a lot of indecision among respondents.


The Steam Link is mostly useful if you have a Windows machine lying around in the other room, but in the Linux community this may not be what most folks are looking for nowadays, as dual-booting and such solutions are becoming less and less required.

Steam Machines

Unfortunately, the Steam Machines are doing even worse than the Steam Link. Awareness is very high, yet very few of us actually decided to buy one as the following chart shows.


Well, that is measuring the current situation (back in Q4 2015), how about the future? Looking at the purchase intent of the Steam Machines, it’s pretty clear there is no wide enthusiasm about the commercial offering - only 17% of respondents are considering a future purchase. What is especially telling is that for 34% of respondents, they would rather make their own machine and use SteamOS. This is not unexpected, since Linux users are probably among the folks the most likely to be able to assemble a PC and install something from scratch on it. To really understand the appeal of Steam Machines, we would need to look at folks who are non-Linux users and see if Steam Machines make more sense for them.


I chose to ask about the three different brands we have now on the market for Steam Machines. As expected back in November/December, the penetration of commercial Steam Machines is extremely low, so there’s only a couple of folks who have actually purchased them so far. However there are clear differences in awareness.

Alienware clearly did a good job since most respondents know about it, and in general more than 50% know about it in details (specs).


Syber and Zotac are way behind in terms of awareness (22% and 25% respectively have never heard about their Steam Machines), and only a minority of folks (37% and 34% respectively) know about their proposed specs. Such numbers obviously lead to a very weak market penetration.



It will be interesting to see if such numbers evolve in the next survey. I would expect a slightly increased awareness and user base, but that’s not entirely given since there was no clear marketing push either in the pasts couple of months. The Steam Machines launch was rather quiet and without surprises, and this shows in the respondents’ opinions as well, with a third (34%) who found the launch plainly bad, and only 28% who found it rather positive. And let’s not hide that 8% did not even hear about the Steam Launch (almost one respondent out of ten!).


I am actually a little surprised to see so many folks who were OK with the Steam Machines’ launch as it was. I’m rather on the negative side, but I can kind of understand why some can rationalize that, if Valve is in it for the long term, there was no need for fireworks at the beginning. Still, Valve may not need it, but its hardware partners do, and Steam Machines cannot exist without anyone manufacturing something. They need to be convinced sooner or later that it’s not a waste of an investment and that this has real market value.

Feelings About WINE

Even though the Reddit community for Linux Gaming sometimes gives the impression to be run by folks who keep asking for native ports and nothing else, there’s actually a large amount of people who still use WINE in one way or another for gaming - almost 40% seem to be somewhat regular users (combination of “sometimes” and “frequently”).


WINE can of course be used through many of its incarnations: either WINE by itself, or PlayonLinux, or CrossOver as well. PlayonLinux seems to be one of the most popular options.


CrossOver is still apparently unusued (75% never use it) and somewhat still unknown to some people (8%). It’s a little bit of a shame since most of the improvements provided to WINE actually come from the work of the Codeweavers team and CrossOver. But at the same time, it means they have a clear opportunity to grow further.


Overall WINE is considered as relatively positive in terms of a technical solution for gaming by about half of respondents (who answered about WINE). For the other half it was somewhat a mixed bag.


The question on one’s stance on WINE showed that for about 47% of respondents, it was considered as very positive, helping to bridge the gap for Linux gaming. There is also a large portion (about a third) who thought it was good but could slow down porting efforts. It was only a small minority (5%) who thought that WINE was to blame for the lack of Linux games.


I was interested to know where folks would draw the line in terms of gaming on Linux - is Dual-Booting acceptable ? Is WINE acceptable?. Among all respondents, only 25% were die-hard “native” supporters (i.e. would only accept native ports), while most respondents (more than 50%) were either OK with WINE use or Dual Booting (20%). This shows that there may be a vocal minority who has very strong opinions about native ports, while the mass of Linux gamers seem to think that other solutions are about as valid.


Source of Information

This was a new question as well, to check what kind of sources are used for Gaming related news on Linux. There’s no surprise to see the reddit linux_gaming a the very top, since the survey was mostly recruited through that channel. The second entry, Gaming on Linux, makes perfect sense however, since it’s one of the historical websites covering Linux gaming news. BoilingSteam is probably showing up with a percentage likely biased, since the survey was conducted for BoilingSteam.


By geography we can see some additional trends. For some reason the North American respondents seem to be less active on the major websites compared to respondents from other geographies. The same trend is observed on Gaming on Linux and BoilingSteam, while the difference is less clear on the Reddit platform. For the top 3 sites/sources, Eastern Europeans are ahead by quite some margin. It could be that they have more disposable time since they tend to be younger on average? The base size is probably a little too small to do some sub-analysis this time.


MCA Analysis: The Three Types of Linux Gamers

This time I went a little further to look at what kind of clusters we have among our Linux Gamers in this survey. For this purpose I used MCA (Multiple Correspondence Analysis) since most of the variables are categorical by nature. The MCA makes it easy to understand what variables are actually separating the users (in terms of behaviour/perception). Only behaviour-related variables were selected for the MCA model, while other variables (for example, the type of rig used, the user’s location, the brand of GPU, etc) were fed in as additional qualitative variables. I had to filter the initial dataset to remove some of folks who answered by choosing “others” for a few of their answers (in order to ensure the model has a restricted set of choices for each variable), so the final base size for this analysis is 393.

The model is based on 28 dimensions, and the first two axes represent the largest variance in the data.

  • The First axis is driven by how users reacted to SteamOS / Steam In-Home Streaming / Steam Machines / Steam Controller and Steam Link. All these variables account for very significant differences between folks on the left and right of that axis.
  • The Second axis is a little bit less clear to interpret, but we see that Satisfaction with GOG, and Confidence in Linux Gaming Future are important components of that axis.

I then used the HCPC method (hierarchical) to define the clusters - this method starts by defining a separate cluster for each individual, and then looks for similarities between each single cluster to define a distance among all the variables considered. The individuals who answered similarly in terms of behaviour end up being grouped together, and the model continues until it finds larger groups that make sense to represent the whole dataset.

There were three clusters that came out - the algorithm defines them as being the best cut in terms of inertia gain, vs lets’s say, going deeper in the tree and having a lot more clusters.


As you can already see, the three clusters are about equal in size. One of them is actually a little larger (the red one) but it’s still pretty close. So we have 3 clearly defined groups.Note that they do not appear to be extremely separated in the below graph, because this below graph is a projection of numerous dimensions onto a 2D space only. If you could visualize all dimensions at once, you would be able to see that these groups are clearly separated.


You are now probably interested to find out what makes them stand out from each other? After observing what they are made up, I came up with some tentative names on how to describe them. You may find better names on your own - feel free to suggest some improvements in the comments if you have some better ideas.

  • ** Cluster 1**: “The Valvists”. (n=124)

  • Cluster 2: “The Pragmatic Desktop Gamers”. (n=142)

  • Cluster 3: “Principled Linux Gamers”. (n=127)

The Valvists are a very unique group.

Well, I call them the Valvists because they seem the adhere to most of Valve’s intiatives - we see a high ratio of folks who use all of what Valve has to offer: SteamOS, Steam In Home Streaming, Steam Machines… and the Steam Controller of course. On top of being Valve supporters, I’d wager these folks are also among the usual early adopters in terms of tech.  Here’s what stands out in the data:

  • They have a high satisfaction with the Steam service (99% good/very good)
  • A majority already have (or ordered) a Steam Controller (41% of them have a Steam Controller already (!), 52% if you count the ones who already ordered)
  • A majority of them have tried SteamOS (61%) and 28% are using it currently on one of their machines.
  • About a third of them (29%) are using Steam In-Home Streaming currently between two of their machines.
  • More than one out of ten have a SteamLink already (13%) while the average among all segments is 5%.
  • They feature a large percentage of Steam Machines users as their main gaming rig (13% of them use a Self-built Steam Machine and 3% a commercial Steam Machine - so 16% total).

Now what do they look like in terms of profile ?

  • In terms of location, this group is very much in the Western world, with 42% of folks located in North America, and 35% in Western Europe.
  • They feature a large ratio of self-proclaimed hard core gamers (65% TOP 2).
  • A majority of them is composed of long term Linux users (62% more than 5 years), yet almost half (42%) are recent Linux gamers (less than 2 years). This seems very much tied to the fact that they started playing on Linux when Valve got involved in the game.
  • A majority intend to play much more on Linux in the future (63%).
  • They have no issue to tolerate DRM (99.9% either “Don’t like DRM but tolerate it” or think “it’s needed for creators”).
  • They are VERY FREQUENT game purchasers. 74% of them purchase Linux games at least once a month or more.
  • About a third of them are exclusive Linux gamers. (34%), and 69% play mostly on Linux overall.
  • Only one out of five find it unacceptable to run anything for native games on Linux (19%).

Now let’s go to cluster 2. The “Pragmatic Desktop gamers”. They have a good image of Steam, play on desktop for the most, but don’t really get involved any further with Valve’s initiatives. Maybe they are simply more interested in games than any of the hardware projects - or maybe it’s because they are not really as hard core gamers as the others. Here’s in more details:

  • They also have a high satisfaction with the Steam Service (94% good/very good). But the similarities with cluster 1 kind of stop there. Apart from Linux games, they are not very much interested in other services provided by Valve.
  • The Steam Controller penetration is way lower with only 23% of owners in that cluster.
  • Only 4% are using Steam In Home Streaming currently.
  • Only 2% are using SteamOS on one of their machines.
  • Only 2% use a self built Steam Machine, and there is no representation of any commercial Steam Machine here.
  • Only about one in four find it appropriate to run ONLY native games on Linux (23%).

Here’s more details about the Pragmatic Desktop gamers’ profile:

  • Location-wise, they are located mainly in Europe, with 41% in Western Europe, 9% in Northern Europe (the only segment where Northen European show up like that), and Eastern Europe (9%). North Americans account for 20% only here.
  • Again here a majority is composed of long time Linux users (61% more than 5 years), with only about a third of recent Linux gamers (34%, less than 2 years).
  • They are frequent purchasers of games as well, with 67% of them purchasing at least one game per month.
  • About half of them are exclusive Linux gamers (50%), but if you count the ones who are “mostly gaming on Linux” the proportion goes to 82%. This is the highest percentage among all segments.
  • They tolerate DRM at 98% (89% don’t like them but tolerate them, and another 9% consider it essential for creators).
  • There are less self declared hard core gamers in that group (35% only).

Finally, cluster 3, the “Principled Gamers”. Somehow similar to cluster 2, yet with significant differences - they don’t really like Steam that much, they are more inclined to refuse DRMs (and therefore more inclined to use GOG), and at the same time they tend to be against the use of WINE for ports. They seem to be less hard core gamers too, potentially because of these restrictions they may impose to themselves.

  • They still have a relatively good image of Steam, but it’s way lower than other segments (79% good/very good).
  • Steam Controller penetration is the lowest (10%)
  • Only 2 % are using Steam In Home Streaming currently.
  • None of them are using SteamOS currently, and 85% have never even tried it!
  • None of them are using any kind of Steam Machine as their main gaming rig.

In terms of profile, respondents from cluster 3 showed the following characteristics:

  • We see a higher representation of Western Europe here (49%), North Americans being in retreat (24% only), and quite a few Eastern Europeans (12%).
  • They tend to characterize themselves as less hard core gamers (40% only TOP2).
  • More than half (54%) describe themselves as EXCLUSIVE Linux gamers. Including those who play mostly on Linux, we reach 78%.
  • While almost half are long term Linux users (48% more than 5 years), about half are also new to Linux Gaming (47%, less than 2 years).
  • They do not purchase games as frequently as the others (48% at least once a month).
  • Only in this cluster we find so many respondents who refuse to buy DRM’ed games (11%). Almost nil in others.
  • Only in that cluster we find folks who use GOG as their main games reseller (10% of them). This makes sense if the same folks are pretty much opposed to DRM.
  • That cluster has few self-declared hard core gamers (40%) as well.
  • One out of three find it unacceptable to run anything for native games on Linux (33%).
  • They purchase games much less often than the other two segments, with 48% only purchasing at least one game per month. This could be linked to the tendency of being rather DRM-free friendly, and therefore avoiding more often than not new releases until they hit GOG, for example.

Was anything surprising about these segments for you ?

For me, the cluster 3 (“Principled Gamers”) was always clearly out there, and it’s nice to see that it comes out straight from a segmentation analysis. I was however surprised to find about the second cluster, the one in between - the Pragmatic Gamers - where Steam remains a popular option but they refrain from following Valve in their other endeavours.

Finally, while we should not take it as a hard fact, we finally get a sense of what kind of size each of those gamers represent on the Linux market. The Valvists are about a third (31%), The Pragmatics a little more (36%), and the Principled Linux Gamers another third (32%). I have seen many segmentations done with MCA and it’s not always like that - sometimes you end up with disproportionate segments as well.

If GOG were to focus a little more on Linux, maybe they would realize there’s a bunch of gamers in the Linux world who are not super happy with Valve and therefore are for grabs in terms of market.

Next Steps

That’s it for this time. We will soon launch the Q1 2016 survey before the end of March. Hopefully you won’t have to wait that long to get the results next time, since we are trying to streamline the analysis a little. Stay tuned, and don’t hesitate to drop us a few comments if you have any follow-ups you’d like to include in the upcoming survey.

Many thanks to all who participated in the survey!