The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. I see it in the ProtonDB data. Yes, my dear friends, this is another round of data visualization coming at you, this time in the form of the choice of distributions for gaming. I have waited a little to write this piece, as I don’t really like to jump the gun until a trend remains valid for several months. But now is a good time, more than ever, to show you what has been happening over the past year.
While this is pretty self explanatory, allow me a couple of comments:
- First, a caveat for all nitpickers out there (and I count myself as one of those): this may well be a biased, imperfect sample. Who knows if ProtonDB gamers represent the world of Linux gamers at large? I certainly don’t. But it’s probably representative of a fringe of very active, forward thinking gamers. Or not. Make of it what you will.
- Ubuntu is not the hot pancake it once was. It’s been losing popularity and share progressively. Like Joe Biden, it’s still first on the ticket, but give it a little more time and it will slide down the line.
- Who’s benefiting from the weakness of the old leader? Well, two very clear challengers emerge: Manjaro and Arch. So, basically Arch, since Manjaro is a close derivative. If you were to add them together, they would be bigger than Ubuntu now. Pretty impressive, that was not the case 6 months ago.
- Mint is also losing mind share: it’s slowly eroding but the trend is clear.
- Debian is Debian. Stable. Stable as a distro, and stable in share. Like a rock. Or Excalibur in a rock. Nobody’s moving it when Arthur’s not around.
- Finally, the other relevant change is the the sudden emergence of PopOS. Which also happens to be a Ubuntu derivative, but with sane defaults for gamers.
What to make of this?
It is hardly unexpected if you frequent the social web of Linux users. I’m a long timer in such networks and the rise of Manjaro could be seen across people sharing their desktops everywhere. I definitely see a lot more people showing off Manjaro now than a year ago. The fact that Antergos drowned in its own vomit (self-breaking installer, no unit tests…) certainly helped them. Another factor, very relevant for gamers, has been the need of recent graphics libraries. Mesa, Nvidia drivers… Of course, it’s always possible to do it in Ubuntu too by adding a bazillion of PPAs, but once you’ve tasted a rolling distro where everything is close to the edge by default (and things don’t break as much as what people who never used rolling distros claimed), it’s hard to look back. PopOS is kind of filling the gap there for folks who like it the Ubuntu way but don’t want to configure everything from scratch. Personally, all my machines are now on rolling distros, and split between Arch, Manjaro and Solus. I have been on them long enough (on Intel/Nvidia at least) to find them pleasant and problem-free (touch wood). Of course, YMMV. That’s why I always recommend Linux users to try new things and decide for themselves.
Looks like quite a few of us are converging towards similar solutions.
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