Valve took quite a risk with its Steam Machines which, for the most part, are meant to run the Linux-based SteamOS. While highly praised by Linux gamers, the dearth of notable titles on the platform was almost like a death sentence to the PC-turned-console product. Valve, however, refused to throw in the towel and assured believers that it is still working on improving the situation. It turns out that its solution might involve finding a way to run Windows games on Linux Steam Machines.
Like a hydra, this news isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. Users on Reddit have discovered an unannounced “Steam Play” feature that, in a nutshell, would emulate games that weren’t built for SteamOS. That pretty much means emulating Windows games on SteamOS, a.k.a. Linux.
Now, this isn’t exactly new technology for Linux users. For years, the platform has had ways to run Windows software, with WINE (Wine Is Not an Emulator) being the most popular and the least resource-intensive. It isn’t perfect, though, and not everything works perfect, especially 3D games. It is, however, the first time we’ve heard of Valve having its own compatibility tools, which may be based on WINE as well, just like how CodeWeavers’ CrossOver is based on the open source framework.
This could be Valve’s stopgap solution for the biggest complaints about Steam Machines, the lack of titles, especially AAA games. Valve’s push for supporting SteamOS and using OpenGL over DirectX has indeed seen the arrival of some high-profile titles to SteamOS and Linux in general. It has helped improve the state of Linux gaming, though not by much.
On the other hand, this Steam Play strategy could also backfire and harm both Steam Machines and Linux in the end. Unless the emulation is satisfactory, it could put the platform under an even worse light, leaving gamers even less convinced about Valve’s investment in Linux and, more recently, the Vulkan graphics API over Windows and DirectX.