Much of the technology is already in place to make Ubuntu an excellent gaming distribution, but it’s not optimized for gamers out-of-the-box.
Ubuntu might be on its way to becoming a Linux distribution that’s more suitable for Linux gamers by default. Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, has posted a job listing on it’s website for a “Linux desktop gaming product manager.”
Since its first release in 2004, Ubuntu has been one of the most used desktop Linux distributions (the most used if you factor in all of the “official” Ubuntu spins — Ubuntu clones integrating desktop environments other than Ubuntu’s default Gnome).
The distro gets quite a bit of use by Linux gamers too, but not as much as you might think given its popularity. The fact is, its popularity among everyday desktop users probably accounts for much of the use it gets from gamers, since Linux users enter the gaming realm on whatever distro they’ve been using, then move own to something that can better deliver the oomph that gaming requires.
It also helps that it works and plays well with Steam, the game developer and distributor Valve’s game distribution platform, where Ubuntu is consistently the most used Linux distro on the platform.
The State of Gaming on Ubuntu
Canonical would obviously like to get more respect in the gaming arena than it’s been getting. That it thinks the distro has more gaming specific technical moxie than users realize was made obvious in the gaming product manager job listing.
“We work with partners in the silicon world to ensure the latest graphics drivers and tweaks are built-in for optimal frame rates and latency, as well as with partners in the gaming industry to ensure that mechanisms such as anti-cheat capabilities are available to ensure fairness and product availability,” the company said.
All that might be true, but gamers say that the distro doesn’t come to the table in a way that makes it easy for users to optimize for its gaming capabilities. Jordan Palmer pointed to this over the summer when he penned a top five list of Linux gaming distros for Tom’s Guide.
Although Palmer topped his list with Ubuntu-based Pop!_OS, saying it’s “easy to use right out of the box,” he put Ubuntu at the bottom and damned it with faint praise by calling it, “An excellent starting point.”
“While it’s not the best gaming distro out of the box, it is the most widely-used distro and therefore has some of the best support,” he said. “The community is also pretty strong, though not quite on the level of Arch and Manjaro. Still, if you have a problem with Ubuntu or setting something up, you can easily find support. Getting going with gaming can be a hassle, what with Steam, Lutris, Proton, DXVK, WINE, Winetricks, GameMode, etc., but it’s definitely a great place to start if you’re new to Linux.”
A similar and perhaps better researched top five list that TechRadar published in October doesn’t include Ubuntu at all, although the list is topped by Drauger OS and Ubuntu GamePack (and also includes Pop!_OS), which are both Ubuntu-based distros that are specifically developed for gaming.
The Road Ahead for Gaming Cred
This means that when hired, Canonical’s new gaming product manager will be mostly good-to-go on the technology front, but lacking in the all important ease-of-use department when it comes to gaming — meaning job one will be making it easy for gamers to optimize the distro for gaming without having to futz around with complicated configurations from a terminal.
Since this is open source, doing that will mean working closely with the open source gaming community, both to discover the current pain points of gaming on Ubuntu, as well as for real world testing as improvements are put in place.
After that, the job will basically be to get the word out that gamers might be pleasantly surprised if they take Ubuntu for a spin.
Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux