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Linux Gaming Gains Easy Anti-Cheat Support, Clears a Major Hurdle (Emphasis on "a")

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Written by   28
3 months ago

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Introduction: Anti-Cheat Support Finally Arrives to Linux

Over the last 3 years, Linux gaming has made a lot of progress thanks to Valve's Proton compatibility layer and the translation layers of DXVK and VKD3D. If you look at ProtonDB, 76% of the Top 1000 games on Steam are playable. As a result, the Linux marketshare on Steam rose over time, albeit very slowly. In July 2021, it finally reached that 1% milestone and even improved on that number in August by clawing a 1.02% marketshare. With the first batch of the Steam Deck launching this December (my thoughts about it here), it appears the positive momentum will continue.

However, despite all of this progress, the elephant in the room still remains: anti-cheat incompatibility. If you look at the Top 10 games on ProtonDB, you'll notice that only 50% of them are playable. The majority of the unplayable games are multiplayer games that either use Easy Anti-Cheat or BattlEye (PUBG actually uses both).

This is due to the nature of how WINE/Proton and anti-cheat software work. WINE and Proton convert Windows API calls to Linux API calls. In contrast, anti-cheat software works at the kernel level. When a game sends a kernel level syscall to the Linux kernel, there's nothing much WINE or Proton can do and so, the game will simply not launch.Anti-cheat support is arguably Linux gaming's biggest hurdle as providing Linux compatibility (including WINE/Proton) will effectively add a substantial number of games to the playable list. 

Source: Brett Gardner

Well, the long wait is seemingly over. On September 23, Epic Games announced full Easy Anti-Cheat support for Linux, including WINE and Proton. This announcement garnered a lot of attention among the Linux gaming community like the subreddit, Phoronix, and GamingOnLinux. And the good news did not just stop there. The day after Epic Game's announcement, BattlEye confirmed that support will also come to the Steam Deck and Proton (I would assume WINE will also benefit since Proton is a WINE fork).


This is Just One Hurdle

While many Linux gamers are rejoicing, there is a reason why I emphasized the qualifier in the title. Yes, technically EAC now supports native Linux and WINE/Proton and BattlEye will follow suit in the short future. However, multiplayer games will not just spontaneously become playable on Linux as much as I wish it to be that simple. Activation for anti-cheat on Linux falls under the developers' discretion. In other words, developers will have to voluntarily opt-in in order for their games to support Linux.

Logistics-wise, this may not be an issue. Epic Games characterized the activation process of EAC for Linux as "just a few clicks" and the software is available for free. Assuming that it literally just takes a few clicks, then the overall cost of bring EAC support to WINE/Proton should be negligible. So what's the problem if the process is easy?

It all comes down to whether the developers give enough of a damn to actually add support to WINE/Proton as it's on an opt-in basis. As the saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink". Even if bringing anti-cheat support to Linux is simple, if the developers don't care, then they will simply not do it. There are a variety of potential reasons why they won't bring support like "the Linux userbase is too small" or negative stereotypes (e.g. "Linux gamers are cheaters").

Whether popular multiplayer games like Fortnite, Destiny 2, PUBG, and Rainbow Six Siege will be playable on Linux falls on the shoulders of a certain piece of hardware: the Steam Deck.

The Steam Deck Needs to be Successful

The reason why EAC and BattlEye support are coming to Linux in the first place is because Valve will launch the Steam Deck in just a few months. As the hardware arrives pre-installed with SteamOS 3.0, it is in Valve's interest to maximize game compatibility as much as possible. If the Deck falls way short of its potential, then we'll be seeing another Steam Machines debacle.

Yes, the Linux marketshare on Steam has been rising, hovering above 1% for the first time in years. The current landscape is night-and-day from what it used to be back in 2015. Even so, I highly doubt the big fish publishers like Activision and Ubisoft will care unless that number is bigger. Fortunately, it looks like the Steam Deck is on track to grow the Linux userbase substantially based on preliminary data. I mentioned in my previous Linux gaming article that the Steam Deck can easily more than double that:

"Within the first 90 minutes of preordering, the Deck exceeded 110,000 preorders before Valve fixed the data leak. And that was in spite of the website frequently crashing. Assuming the Deck maintained that rate for the next 22.5 hours, then the the portable system would've gotten 1.76 million preorders. In 2020, Steam averaged out at 120 million monthly active users. Assuming that the MAU is similar for this year, then the 1.22 million Linux userbase on Steam will more than double when you include Steam Deck users (assuming they don't replace the preinstalled SteamOS for Windows). And the sales numbers may not just stop at 1.76 million. If you try to preorder one now, you won't be able to get it until [after] Q2 2022 at the earliest."

One may argue that it's a big stretch to assume that people will not replace SteamOS with Windows. There will obviously be those people, but I believe that percentage will be small. One of the biggest reasons why people don't install Linux in their computers is because they are not willing to (1) make a bootable USB, (2) change the boot hierarchy in the BIOS, and (3) install whatever Linux distro. They just want their devices to "just work" and since the vast, vast majority of PCs come preinstalled with Windows, that's what they stick with. The same logic applies here on the Steam Deck, but with the OSes reversed. On top of that, even pro-Windows sites like Windows Central discourage against installing Windows on the Steam Deck.

As a result, anti-cheat support on Linux is contingent on the Steam Deck's success. Valve needs to nail the first impressions when the first batch ships this December because that will set the tone for years to come.

Closing Thoughts: Almost, Almost There...

This article is more to temper hype rather than raining on the parade. While adding anti-cheat support to Linux appears to require almost no effort, it is still contingent on the developers actually caring. Heck, Fortnite is still not playable on Linux even though it is owned by the same company that made Easy Anti-Cheat. It is why all eyes are on the Steam Deck as it will be the deciding factor on whether Linux gaming will take off or not. The truth of the matter is, whether you like it or not, is developers will not care if the userbase is too small.

On a positive note, the situation could not be set up any better for Valve. Preorders numbers are high and reception towards Windows 11 is lackluster (more on that here). Now, it's a matter of execution. We shall see when December rolls around.

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Written by   28
3 months ago
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I read about Linux gaming when i was in college. We had a computer and communication book. I read there. Then i searched it on YouTube and got details idea.

$ 0.00
3 months ago

Thanks for this article, I understand the situation better after reading it.

I switched to Linux after the news of Steam Deck, (I was thinking of doing so for a long time before that,) and playing games on PopOS is a pain, but it's actually smoother than I thought it would be. Some games that are confirmed(?) to run on Linux in ProtonDB don't work for me, and I don't want to try every WINE configuration until I find one that works.

I wonder why Valve is so confident that everything will run on Steam Deck with their Steam OS, unless they have a big trick under their sleeve they're not showing to us currently, Linux is far from their claims. But I'm willing to have hope~

$ 0.05
3 months ago

The games that don't work from my library tend to be games that have DRM or Japanese games that run on proprietary codecs for their videos (e.g. the OP's before the main menu). The former is why I tend to go for GOG and run those games on Lutris and Glorious Eggroll WINE. The latter is less so a technical issue and more so a legal one (which is a major pain in the ass).

I think there will be a major Proton update right before the Steam Deck launches. It has been on version 6.3 for a long time now whereas WINE is now on 6.18. If you want to get a certain game running now, Glorious Eggroll releases its own versions of Proton that implement fixes for specific games. So if vanilla Proton doesn't work, maybe Proton-GE will.

$ 0.05
3 months ago

I'll look up "Glorious Eggroll." Thanks~

$ 0.00
3 months ago