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Humble Indie Bundle is the single greatest thing to happen to Linux in years

Friday, 15 June 2012 games ubuntu

I’ve been a full-time Ubuntu user for about five years and I don’t own any consoles. If you approached me three or four years ago and asked which games I played, you might have received a rather defensive reply. High quality games were few and far between, that is, until May 2010 when things changed forever…

An introduction for cave-dwellers: In May 2010, a tiny company called Wolfire — then only famous for a ninja rabbit simulator — convinced the devs of World of Goo, Aquaria, Gish and Penumbra that they should let gamers decide how much they should pay for a collection of games for a limited time. All had to be DRM-free and available for Windows, Mac and Linux. Wolfire added their own Lugaru to the offerings and launched the first Humble Indie Bundle.

The rest, as they say, is history. The first Bundle raised over a million dollars and they kept doing them. The fifth major Bundle (there have been smaller intermediate ones as well) just finished with over five million dollars.

Three years ago I would have struggled to name a handful of good native games but after two years of Bundling, here’s what’s available on Ubuntu:

Obviously the pay-what-you-want and DRM-free features of the Bundles are what most people think of first but Ubuntu (and other Linux) users know the vast majority of these games would never have had native Linux versions. Ubuntu gamers have a lot to be thankful for.

We’re gamers too!

The games industry has long written off desktop Linux as a platform that isn’t worth the time, but one of the strongest auxiliary benefits from the each Bundle has been to show the opposite. Linux users are gamers and that we have money we’re willing and able to part with for games.

Not only that, the average Linux Bundler gives ~30-40% more than their cheapskate Windows counterpart. And while there are many theories for why this is the case, the argument that “there’s no money in Linux” is rubbished.

And the industry is starting to listen

The reason I can write this post now (compared to a year ago) is that Linux gaming appears to be reaching the tipping point. I didn’t (and still don’t) want to hex it but there are all sorts of developments showing strong growth for the future:

Humble Bundle Inc is very well financed. Not only do they make ~15% from each bundle (a huge amount in itself, given they’re still only 10 people), they have external VC backing to make sure these things keep happening. Given their performance in the past two years, I can barely dare to imagine what the next two hold.

Valve has long been rumoured to be bringing their Steam client and Source-engine games to Linux and this year saw confirmation of that. It’s actually happening. This brings a ton of triple-A games (albeit slightly old now) but also some healthy competition for Desura.

OnLive and Gaikai are two online game “streaming” companies. They run the games on their servers and stream you the output. It sounds like crazy-future-nonsense but it does work quite well. OnLive is yet to release a desktop Linux client (they have an Android client) but Gaikai just works if you have Sun Java installed. They’re by no means better than good local gaming but if it’s that or missing a decent game, I’ll take it.

Oh and let’s not forget Kickstarter! If you’ve been following the up and coming games, it’s hard to ignore how omnipresent Linux is there. Many of the more successful projects there have pledged Linux support (some on release, some post-release) but even on the projects that aren’t supporting it, people are talking about Linux as a platform. I don’t think that would have been the case two or three years ago.

Even multinational beasts like EA are dipping their toes in the water. They very recently bundled up two launchers for web-only free-to-play games. Some people see this as them milking the cow without doing any work but others are optimistic. Baby steps, we’ll see…

And all this stems from the continued hard work of one person…

Wolfire were instrumental in organising the first Bundle and none of this would have happened if it weren’t for the other companies trusting in them, but they and many other companies (both in Bundles and outside) have relied on one person to make this cross-platform gaming dream a reality: Ryan C. Gordon.

Ryan has worked professionally at porting games for well over a decade and I personally owe a lot of the fun I’ve had in the past few to him. Lugaru, Braid, Super Meat Boy, Prey, Avadon TBF, Shank and Psychonauts are all titles that have had Ryan’s magic touch, and that’s by no means a definitive list!

The only question left: how do we go about cloning him? I need somebody to fix a couple of bugs in the Psychonauts port.