I’m sure some people are familiar with this image that’s been shared on the internet for more than a decade now. It speaks truth – pirates who get their media from other sources often don’t have to deal with all the hoops that paying users must jump through. Quite often, in fact, things are just packaged better and it’s easier to play content when you don’t have a dozen different hardware handshakes that need to happen before the protected portal opens. That’s what is happening for gamers on Linux, and I’m rather amused at how well it’s done.
Popping up on the internet are games that have been downloaded from Good Old Games (GOG) which have had their DRM removed, and ship on Windows systems. GOG’s whole ethos is that games sold through their store should be DRM-free, respecting the rights of the gamers who want to play their games anywhere without restriction. The lack of DRM makes them easy to pirate, but the rate is lower than you’d expect.
When it comes to gaming on Linux, Wine helps a lot with compatibility and getting Windows software to run. Sometimes it works out of the box for some games and sometimes it needs a few tweaks. The contributors to the Wine database help the project identify and fix problems with their translation software, and a lot of DirectX 10 and earlier games work without a hitch. While projects like Play On Linux help a lot in making this an easy process to go through when setting up your games, users just starting out might see issues with their configuration. That’s where pirates have started to step in.
On sites like The Pirate Bay and others, uploaders have started packaging games distributed on GOG using Flatpak, a standard for packaging software in Linux that includes the software and everything needed to run it. Think of them as portable apps, if you will. Applications run from Flatpak installs are self-contained, run in their own process to protect the system from crashing, and are sandboxed to avoid software nasties from infecting you.
Installing them is very nearly a one-click process, and they don’t end up putting system files all over the place. Better yet, apps packaged using Flatpak will work on any distribution, so there’s no fragmentation.
What the pirates are doing is packaging these games as Flatpaks and also including the scripts, software, tweaks and fixes that are needed to make the game run out of the box. You’ll install the correct Wine version, the relevant Wine-prefix for Play On Linux, maybe some software updates from GOG’s servers, and it’ll even check to see if you have Play On Linux installed. If it isn’t, it’ll prompt you to do so.
The script even restricts where it can install games to because the pirates who wrote it don’t want the game being copied to a location that doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t ask for admin permissions. Game pirates are actually respecting the user’s privacy and security! That’s a funny thing to think about.
If this takes off, I think developers should really look into packaging their games for Linux in this way if they’re not making a native version. All you have to do is make sure it runs in Wine and doesn’t need additional configuration, and this kind of fan service would go a long way to making people support your game on other platforms.
Better yet, if you’re a Linux gamer, asking your favourite developers to start doing this for you gives them an incentive to look into making Linux ports of their games in the future. Windows can’t be the dominant platform forever and having the game developers, or software stores like GOG, do this for their customers would go a long way to increasing Linux adoption.