The company is previewing an alternate way of packaging the popular PC gaming platform as part of a broader effort to improve Linux gaming.
Canonical, the maker of the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution, has announced the early availability of a Snap package for the PC game store Steam. The new version comes as Canonical and Steam developer Valve are making a major push into Linux gaming.
Ubuntu Aims to Streamline Linux Gaming With Steam Snap
The Snap version of Steam is part of a major push by the Ubuntu desktop team to improve gaming on Ubuntu. Canonical product manager Oliver Smith announced the Steam Snap in an official Ubuntu blog post:
At Canonical we’ve been anticipating “the Year of Linux Gaming” for about as long as we’ve been waiting for Half-Life 3, but it’s never seemed as close before as it does now in 2022.
While Ubuntu has made Steam available through its package manager before, the Snap version is a major change to how Steam is distributed. Snap is a newer package management system developed by Canonical for Ubuntu. Snaps are self-contained, isolated from the underlying OS, and include all of the dependencies an app needs to run. The existing APT system fetches dependencies as separate components.
Ubuntu users can download the early access version from the Snap store.
Ubuntu’s Steam Move Comes Amid Snap Controversy
While Snap allows developers to ship applications for Ubuntu more easily, it’s attracted criticism from users for performance issues. This appears to be due to the size of the Snaps causing programs to load more slowly. The latest release of Ubuntu, 22.04, “Jammy Jellyfish,” was criticized for changing the Mozilla Firefox package to a Snap.
Given that performance is often on top of gamers’ concerns, there might be a similar controversy if Canonical decides to fully switch Steam from an APT package to Snap.
Canonical, Valve Target Linux Gaming With Steam
Canonical’s move seems to indicate a growing interest in Linux gaming. Smith said that Canonical was hiring more developers to improve Ubuntu for gamers. The company is also soliciting comments for improvements to the system from gamers. Canonical is focusing on changes to the system’s drivers and kernel.
According to Valve’s Steam User Survey from March 2022, the vast majority, 96 percent, of Steam’s customers run some version of Windows. Linux users account for only one percent of Steam users, but of those users, Ubuntu 20.04 was the most popular at around 13 percent. Other entries like Linux Mint or Pop!_OS are Ubuntu derivatives, showing how much Ubuntu dominates desktop Linux. This means that it makes sense to target Ubuntu for gaming improvements.
Valve has long been an advocate of Linux gaming, releasing the handheld Steam Deck, which is available in multiple configurations. The Steam Deck runs a custom version of Arch Linux dubbed “SteamOS 3.0,” while previous versions of SteamOS are built on Debian. The Linux version of Steam includes Proton, a compatibility layer that runs native Windows games that haven’t been ported to Linux.
While the number of native Linux games is much smaller than those for Windows, developer acceptance of Linux seems to be increasing, as there are over 6,000 games available on Steam for Linux, according to GamingOnLinux. This is likely aided by the wider availability of cross-platform development tools that support Linux like Unity.
Will Steam and Ubuntu Make It in the Gaming Market?
With Windows dominating the PC gaming scene, it’s not clear how much Ubuntu and Steam’s investment in Linux gaming will pay off. The Linux desktop market is already fragmented with different distributions. These include distros that are optimized for gaming.