Ryan C. Gordon and Michael Simms

Michael Simms

Could you please introduce yourself and Linux Game Publishing?

Michael Simms, CEO and founder of Linux Game Publishing (LGP).

LGP was founded in 2001 when Loki was about to go under, and I was just running Tux Games, a Loki reseller. We saw that if Loki died, we would have nothing left to sell, so we started making games as well as selling them. Right now we have 3 devteams of 3-4 people, and additional support staff like customer service people, part time artists, proofreaders, shipping staff, accounts people.

I've recently asked developers behind Darwinia (Introversion) and Penumbra (Frictional Games) some questions, in which I discovered that the Linux-port of their games only stood for about 2-3% of the total sales... Surviving solely on Linux-games, hows business?

Business is always tough in the Linux games market. We get by, but nobody is driving a Ferrari. The fact is that right now, we're in it for the long term, not the short term. The devteam gets paid, and we make a loss each year that I cover with personal funds. The losses were getting smaller before people started looking at their wallets in the last 12 months, but now its not looking as good. Thats understandable though, in a crunch the first thing that goes is entertainment products, however, we are perfectly able to weather the storm for a good while, and while this happens, we keep on making games.

Has the sales of Linux-games increased over the years, and do you think they will continue to do so?

Actually when Loki collapsed, sales went down. Loki was producing high profile titles, but without a sustainable business model. Their sales were higher, but their costs were too high. The titles produced by LGP, while all extremely high quality, tend to have lower turnover because less people have heard of them. This has lead to an overall shrinkage in the market. We do not feel this is because of the Linux desktop userbase shrinking, it is simply a matter of marketing and brand awareness for the products.

So LGP port games to Linux as well as selling them. How does this work? Do you personally contact the developer or is it the other way around. What challenges do you face when porting a game to Linux?

It varies, sometimes we are approached, sometimes we approach others.

The biggest challenges, technically, are 3D graphics and Networking. Network interoperability between Linux and Windows will rarely happen, because companies often use the proprietary Directplay library which cannot be ported over to Linux. We have created a multiplatform alternative, called Grapple, and we hope that over time, some Windows developers may pick this up to use in their titles, allowing cross platform multiplayer.

Graphics is always a challenge, especially 3D graphics. DirectX and OpenGL have pretty much the same feature set, but when converting to OpenGL, the conversion is rarely straightforwards.

According to Ryan C. Gordon. a game port is not all that difficult and a single developer can spend anywhere from 24 hours to 3 months making a port. Could you confirm this? What then is it that takes such a long time getting a Linux-port out of the door?

Ryans estimate is based on the fact that a) a lot of the games he ports are already using OpenGL so the hardest part of a port doesn't exist, b) most of the games he ports have a custom or non-existent network stack, and so the second hardest part of a port is a whole lot simpler, and c) he is a coding machine, better than most at what he does, and he has 10 years experience doing it. Not everyone has his skill level.

Why would someone make Linux clients of their games today? Do they even make profit from these clients, considering the porting costs?

If they come to us, we do all of the work and take all of the risk. They have no financial exposure. Making the client themselves is always risky. However you cannot look at it in terms of money only. When a game is ported to a second platform, it almost always exposes bugs and problems that would otherwise have been missed, as the developers have to re-work portions of the game. This will mean that creating a Linux version will increase the stability of the Windows version, and increase the quality of their core product, a fact that in itself may justify the cost of a Linux port.

Some developers, like CCP (developer of Eve Online), use Transgamings Cider to make a Linux-client. What do you think of making Linux-clients through use of Wine or Cider?

CCP made the decision to port EVE using an emulation layer against our advice. We are strongly against emulation. There are many reasons for this, but the core ones are:

1. When you use an emulation layer you double the number of bugs in your application. You have to deal with the emulation layer which imperfectly copies an undocumented system (windows) and actually has to have the same bugs in it that the original does, to ensure it behaves in the same way.

2. Emulation will only last as long as Microsoft lets it. All emulation layers, Wine, Cedega, etc, are implementing Microsoft's patented technology. If they chose, Microsoft can stamp very hard on them, and then, every product that relies on this emulation will be gone.

3. It is a case of pride in our platform. Linux is a mature, stable, and powerful operating system. Why on earth do we want to use the crutch of emulating a less stable operating system. We can stand on our own two feet!

In your knowledge, are there more developers making Linux-clients of their games today compared to some years back? Do you think more games will be Linux compatible in the future?

That is a hard question, I think that right now, a lot of companies are just focusing on the bottom line, and are focusing on survival rather than expanding their platforms.

I think in time it will be inevitable that Linux is a must-have platform, but that time has not come yet.

Do you have any interesting games in development at the moment?

Yes we do. In fact, by the time you release this article we will just have announced that we are preparing a version of 'Shadowgrounds: Survivor' for Linux. This is a top notch game produced by Finland's Igios LTD.

We thank Michael for his time and patience, and wish him and Linux Game Publishing the best of luck on future endeavors.

Looking for Linux games? Check out the demoes at Linux Game Publishing!

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