Should you switch to Linux gaming?
Linux gaming has progressed over the past few years to become, in some respects, a viable competitor to Windows for gaming. But should you swap to Linux? The answer to this question is: it depends. What matters is whether the games you care about work, and whether you are willing to commit the time to get everything working.
You should really see how you like Linux as a general desktop experience first, and then try gaming on it. Windows is often significantly easier to game on, so the Linux desktop experience is what would make Linux gaming worth it for you.
Gaming on Linux is more complicated than gaming on Windows. If you want a computer that just works, then Linux is not the system you want to use. You should not be expecting a drop in replacement, Linux is different in a lot of ways. You should also not expect a flawless experience. Linux can be flawless, but it might be necessary to resolve some issues first. You will have to spend time learning it, and you will have to spend time troubleshooting. However, this experience is very rewarding, and you will end up getting a system that does exactly what you want.
Expect that nothing works as you expect, and that you will have to research every little thing that you want to do. Linux is not Windows, and it doesn't want to be. And that's a good thing. But this also means that your knowledge about Windows doesn't help you. And it means that you will do things wrong. These things that you do wrong, may even break your system, and you will have to reinstall it. This will probably happen multiple times, until you adapted to Linux.
Some games do not work, no matter what you do. The primary reason for this is that some anti cheat software will just kick you. As of 08-08-23 this will happen in about 43% of games with anti cheat. However, if the game doesn't kick you, your chances to run it are almost 100%. Keep in mind that the experience might not be flawless, you might need to troubleshoot, there might be missing cut scenes, and there may be crashes. As of 08-08-23, about 80% of the top 1000 games on Steam run without issues, and only 3% don't run at all.
Running Windows-native games on Linux affects the amount of frames per second (FPS) and general performance that you get in the game. You usually can get up to 15% better or worse FPS compared to Windows, depending on the game and your computer. On most distributions, the of-the-box performance is a lot worse than on Windows, though you can lessen this performance penalty in a lot of ways, to the point where your performance might even be a lot better, especially if you have an AMD GPU.
By using FSR, you might get significantly better performance than on Windows, but this comes at the cost of image quality. However, depending on your setup (your GPU is bad, but supports Vulkan), this might be worth it for you. Note that the image degradation is noticeable. Full HD + ultra high graphics + FSR might not be worth it. However FHD + low settings + FSR with 60 FPS might be significantly better than having 30 FPS with the same settings and no FSR. The image degradation is not as noticeable with high resolution, so 4k ultra high + FSR might fit your needs.
|Why you shouldn't switch to Linux||Why you should switch to Linux|
|Linux is not necessary for better privacy. You can also tweak Windows so that it doesn't spy as much on you. If you use Windows 10 Education or Enterprise, the spying can even be completely disabled. At least if you trust Microsoft that they don't lie.||Most Linux distributions don't spy on you. By design, and not just by some obscure setting that Windows might change at any point in time. To avoid the bad Linux distributions, either stay with the quick start guide, or look at the recommendations.|
|Customizing your Linux system might break it.||Customization options are endless. You can make your system look and behave exactly like you want.|
|Linux works different than Windows. Learning how to use it consumes much time, and you need technical knowledge to understand what is going on.||You learn valuable things that can make using your computer much easier. You get technical knowledge, and it might even give you a job. Your get a very reliable system, and you will be able to fix almost any problem. "That's not possible" is something you don't say. Everything is possible. You just need to find a way how to do it. And at the end you might even realize that using Windows is much harder and you just got used to it's horrible design decisions.|
|You get worse performance in some games.||You get better performance in some games. Some people say, you can even get less input lag. This can give you a competitive advantage.|
|Some hardware doesn't work, and you need to buy new stuff.||Old hardware stays usable. You can still use your 20 years old laptop. No need to throw it away. Also, a lot of controllers that don't work on Windows work well, and some printers work better.|
|Linux is not necessary to get a secure system. You're also not likely to get malware on Windows if you harden it, and you don't download/click random stuff.||Security. Getting malware on Linux is something that practically doesn't happen.|
|A lot of games just don't work on Linux. No matter what you do. On Windows, you can just click "install", and they work.||A lot of games don't work on Windows, either. Especially old titles. These games often work on Linux without issues.|
|Installing games on Linux is often hard, and time consuming. In many cases you need to search the internet for a solution on how to run them, try different settings, and so on. This can take many hours. Especially if you like to play many different games.||Many games can be installed without problems. You install it, and it just works. If something doesn't work, chances are that someone else figured out how to run it. In many cases it's something from a very short list of things that you need to try. Usually, problems can be fixed within a couple minutes.|
|You might have to reinstall your system a couple times until you got used to it.||You don't need to reinstall your system every couple months because it gets slow (like Windows does).|
If you play mostly indie games, single-player games, older games, do game emulation, etc., you'll likely have a satisfactory gaming experience on Linux.
If you care the most about these parts of gaming, you're more likely to run into some issues on Linux. These issues range from something you can troubleshoot and fix, to something you can't:
Competitive First Person Shooters (FPS)
Many competitive shooters have anti-cheat software which currently lock out Linux. It depends on the game, though - CS:GO, Overwatch 2, Splitgate, Apex Legends, and more are playable on Linux. See https://areweanticheatyet.com/ to get detailed information about specific games.
Again, it depends on the game. If it's a single-player AAA game, it's a lot more likely to work in the first few days of release. But if you're looking to play the new AAA multiplayer game on day one, Linux may not be the best platform for that. Again, it mostly depends on anti-cheat and DRM. Elden Ring for example, worked on day one. See https://areweanticheatyet.com/ to get detailed information about specific games.
Virtual reality is doable on Linux, mainly through the Valve Index headset. But it currently lacks many quality of life features, and isn't really worth recommending as of right now.
Much racing sim equipment isn't well-supported on Linux.
Game modding is a hit or miss on Linux. Some games support it, especially through the Steam Workshop, but it really depends on the individual tools the modding community uses. It's often not as easy, and sometimes you have to put some extra work into it to make it work.
Now, if everything is so complicated, why should you even want to switch?
Linux has multiple advantages:
- Privacy. It will not spy on you.
- It doesn't nag you to use Edge, Skype, or Teams, and it doesn't show ads in the file explorer, or Bing results in the start menu.
- It basically has no system requirements. Linux can run on anything, ranging from a micro controller to a supercomputer. It doesn't need a TPM, and it will not show watermarks or threaten you to stop updates if your CPU is "unsupported" by Windows 11. 4GB of RAM is plenty for normal tasks like office and browsing, even 1GB is usable (not for serious gaming of course). And your old 15 years old CPU might suddenly feel snappy again. It won't magically turn your old PC into a performance monster, though. But it has significantly less overhead than Windows, so if that's the problem it will definitely help. For example, it might revive your old Laptop.
- It's free. You don't have to pay anything to use it.
- It's also free as in freedom. It respects your choices. If you don't want to do updates now, it will not force you. If you want to change your browser, it will let you do it. If you want to uninstall your bootloader, it will let you do it (you shouldn't do the last one, though—you won't be able to boot anymore).
- It's customizable. You want to change how your taskbar looks? Sure. You want other icons, or the close button for windows to be on the left side? No problem. You want a dock instead of a taskbar? Go on. You want all windows to be tiled, you don't want a task bar, a dock, or window decorations, or you want to use your system entirely with hotkeys? It's possible. You can choose between many different file managers, thousands of themes, task bars, start menus, docks, and all kind of other things. There are multiple collections of these things, called "Desktop Environments" which all look and feel vastly different. The looks range from something like Windows to something like MacOS to something like Android to weird things you may have seen in some movies. And this is not even close to everything, there is basically nothing that is not customizable. If you want your system to look or feel in a specific way, your chances are good that it's possible. You can even change and customize the kernel, which is the heart of the system, and replace it with something that is optimized for a specific task. For example, you can build your own customized kernel where you can decide the maximum amount of input lag that you tolerate. Some examples of what Linux can look like:
- Game compatibility. No joke, old Windows games might run better. They also have no issues with incompatible dependencies (when two games want to install the same thing but two different versions of it, for example c++ redistributable), because all games live in their own personal Windows filesystem. Of course this doesn't apply to all games, so your mileage may vary.
- Performance. If you tweak your system accordingly, you might have significantly better performance in some games. You might also have worse performance in other games, though, so (again) your mileage may vary.
- Security. It's significantly less likely to get malware (viruses and others) on Linux, but beware that Wine can execute malware with success though!
- Software. Almost all software is completely free, comes without ads, and without trial versions. Installing software is much easier, you don't need to search shady websites for downloads, you just open your software center, and download whatever you want, pretty much like on Android or iOS. You have the option to install software in other ways, too, but that's typically not the best option.
- You can separate your games from each other, so you don't get dependency problems. And you can even have several versions of the same game.
With the further development of Linux as a gaming platform, these hurdles can be overcome! Things to watch for:
- The release of Valve's Steam Deck (Linux gaming device) has already lead to Linux Easy Anti-Cheat and BattleEye support, which is already used by many games like Apex Legends and Elden Ring (which had support from day one). Many other games are currently testing support.
- Amazon putting funding and development into Proton (from December 2021 onwards) for their Amazon Luna cloud gaming platform.
- Rumors of an upcoming Valve Linux-powered VR headset, which would, if it comes out, improve Linux compatibility with VR games
- And more...
Valve is constantly investing in the development of Linux gaming software such as Proton, so circumstances significantly improve year by year.
Lastly, heavily depending on the amount of work invested into it, Linux has some potential of becoming the best gaming platform in the future. Compared to Windows, Linux is much more lightweight, and gets better performance in Vulkan games, and in many cases even in DirectX games. Linux can also be modified and optimized at its core a lot more easily than Windows thanks to to its open source nature, which opens up a wide door for impactful gaming optimizations. Further development and more Linux-native games could mean better performance in games compared to Windows.