How John Carmack Has Missed The Boat He Is Already Riding In


id’s Legacy

John Carmack is the face of some of the most iconic games in PC and console history.  Not only has he spearheaded AAA titles like Doom and Quake, he is also the motor that drives id Software, who as a team are solely responsible for the first-person-shooter niche that lives on the Linux platform.

id Software‘s decision to successively deliver each of the company’s game engines into the realm of open source has enabled small, passionate teams to develop their own visions atop the foundation of these engines.  In addition to being a great enabler of free software, it has also allowed titles like Quake and Doom and their subsequent installments to exist on Linux.  In fact, if you were to check the pulse of Linux gaming before the announcement of Steam for Linux, you might come to a startling realization; id Software is responsible for the majority of the AAA titles available for Linux.

Why is this startling you ask?  The answer is simple; id Software is simply not responsible for many games.  Consider the games that id Software has official ported to Linux, all of which exist in the post-Wolfenstein 3D era.  You’ve got the Doom series, the Quake series, and one Wolfenstein client.  Including  expansion packs, you’re looking at 14 titles that span nearly 2 decades.

Each game that arrives on Linux from the blessed hands of id Software is a gift.  It is a Linux user’s opportunity to play the latest and greatest on a brand-new game engine that is designed to exploit your hardware and showcase its features.  But even after all these years, not many have followed suit, leaving the Linux gaming landscape desolate and without prayer.

Tainted Words From A Gaming God

John Carmack’s recent keynote speech at Quakecon paints a bleak forecast, full of storm clouds and rainy days for Valve who recently announced Steam for Linux.  Carmack goes on to say the following;

Linux is an issue that’s taken a lot more currency with Valve announcing Steam for Linux and that does change things a bit, …but we’ve made two forays into the Linux commercial market, most recently with the QuakeLive client, and that platform just hasn’t carried its weight compared to the mac on there. It’s great that people are enthusiastic about it, but there’s just not nearly as many people that are interested in paying for a game on the platform.  And that just seems to be the reality.

These remarks are not surprising.  Anyone who has been itching for a port of Rage should already know not to expect it on Linux.  The absense of Rage for Linux has already raised a number of questions across the Internet about the future of id’s Tech 6 engine for Linux, and whether or not id will be abandoning the platform.  At the same time, Carmack is completely justified in making these remarks, though it seems that his statement is borderline crabs-in-a-bucket.  Let’s analyze it for a moment.

On commercial efforts:

…most recently with the QuakeLive client, and that platform just hasn’t carried its weight compared to the mac on there.

It is not entirely realistic to measure market relevance on the performance of a 13 year-old game that has been relegated to the web browser.  How does the user-base of Quake Live–which is measured with web analytics–compare to the install base of Quake 3 using a modernized engine installed to hard disk.  Who knows?  There is simply no way to measure it considering the variance of modernized engines, whether or not packages exist for different distributions, user preference and the lack of a centralized server to track CD-Key entry and registration.

Crabs In A Bucket

It’s great that people are enthusiastic about it, but there’s just not nearly as many people that are interested in paying for a game on the platform.  And that just seems to be the reality.

This is a fair statement, but from the tainted vantage point of Carmack.  I use the term tainted because it’s only fair.  All of id’s ports to Linux have been commercial failures, and regardless of that, they have pressed on for years, releasing binaries for installing game content to Linux machines.  Like I said, it has been a gift.  So, Carmack’s perspective must be more like this; We are id, we have debuted ground-breaking software technology time and time again.  We have delivered some of the best first-person-shooter experiences that can ever be had.  We inadvertently created a hardware industry designed around supporting the experiences and technology we’ve developed.  If we can’t sell a game on Linux, how the hell are you going to do it?

Don’t you think that might taint your vision of the future a little bit?  I though you might think so…

About Dean Howell

Aside from being a huge Sega fan, Dean is an LPIC certified Linux professional with over a decade experience. In addition to spending his free time burning through the classics from Sega and evangelizing open source, he's also the editor-in-cheif of The Powerbase.
  • madjr

    Am happy for the engines.

    But meh, am moving on where the games are: Humble bundles and kickstarter (and soon Steam).

    those 2 alone are bringing in tons of quality games.

    and also great game engines like Unity and now also source/steam.

    in my mind is also about keeping the source engine relevant, else Unity is going to eat up many potential projects that could be using Source.

    And then with that (and the windows 8 disaster ahead), they thought heck “why don’t we also bring in Steam too”.

    now lets see if Epic/unreal engine comes along and joins the party !

  • GrueMaster

    It is also worth pointing out that few of Id’s games supported Linux immediately at shipping time, and those that did, still needed Windows to extract the data files. I have bought a copy of every Id title starting with Wolfenstein 3D. When Quake III Arena came out, I had to wait several months for the Linux port, which was marketed by Loki (remember them?). With that one, I now have two licensed copies; 1 for Windows & 1 for Linux. Doom 3 & Quake 4 both supported Linux, but only weeks after the game hit the shelves, and even then only with a trip into a Windows VM or using wine to install the data.

    As to Linux Distributions, Redhat has all but abandoned the consumer desktop. Fedora is still very rough around the edges. OpenSuse is better, but still has issues. Mandriva is the best RPM based distro I have seen, but they have been shaky the last few years as the parent company has destabilized. I use Ubuntu/Kubuntu, and for the most part, it works well out of the box. It is sometimes difficult to fine tune, but the base install for their LTS releases have been a great experience. I haven’t tried Mint yet, but a friend swears by it. It is essentially Ubuntu with more spit & polish (a great idea). Ubuntu is the main driver of the Linux desktop at this time, as they continue to push for more hardware support from the vendors, and are pushing some vendors to ship with their desktop.

    The Linux desktop isn’t perfect yet, but it is improving a lot after going stagnate for the first part of the millennium. Id helped Linux gaming get through that, as did some of the other porting houses & wine derivatives. Now that there is once again focus on the desktop development, things are starting to pick up. It would be a bad idea to throw in the towel at this point.

  • fasd

    Give him a break. He was pro-Linux for decades, in times where regular user didn’t even heard what it is, in time before Google, in times before smartphones, when only geeks use it on desktop. Cause of those words is simple: right now id is not in very good shape, they shutting all minor projects and focus all forces on one AAA title – which is Doom 4. id need to hit some good and profitable game (hopefully Doom4) because Rage wasn’t success, I don’t know if it even payed off the production costs. If Steam turns out success (even mediocre) id will be there – for one because they’re OpenGL- low additional effort and also they got many titles ported already.

    • Dean Howell

      You not have have read the article. The article merely challenges his perspective while praising him the whole time.

      • fasd

        You’re right, I didn’t – to much fud about this out there. But my reponse wasn’t about article as it was aimed to other readers.

  • Charlie Whitman

    I don’t think any of Id’s forays into Linux gaming reflect on the current state of it very much at all.

    The most valid test of the Linux game market Id had was [i]Quake III: Arena[/i] (which I incidentally bought a copy of), and how long ago was that? Not only that, but even that game was released a while after the Windows version.

    As time went by and other games came out from Id, they weren’t released in a way that put them on even footing with Windows games. First, you had to buy the Windows version of the game anyway. Then, you had to find the Linux binary on Id’s website, extract the files with Windows (or some other odd way), and put the whole thing together correctly on your machine. Since these games were OpenGL based, the Windows versions tended to work well with Wine, and they were easier to install in Wine than as native games. How is that a test of the Linux game market?

    Finally we have [i]QuakeLive[/i]. I have never even given this a second glance, and I’m a Linux gamer. Why? Well, by the accounts I have heard, it’s troublesome to run in Linux compared to other platforms. Also, it’s not really a new game and I was already able to play it on Linux. Finally, if there’s one genre of game that is saturated on Linux, it’s that genre. Why would I bother with a troublesome [i]QuakeLive[/i] when I can play [i]Xonotic[/i], [i]Warsow[/i], etc. easily at no charge?

    These things, however, don’t stop me from having a Desura and a Gameolith account, or from owning [i]Oil Rush[/i], [i]Amnesia[/i], some less well know independent titles, and a plethora of Humble Indie Bundle titles for which I always paid more than the average donation (even more than the average Linux donation). In fact, I no longer feel the need to maintain a Windows partition for Windows games. I have plenty of Linux games to play (more than I seem to be able to get to).

  • S. Christian Collins

    “…now when it is finally picking up Steam. No pun intended.” You lie; that pun was totally intended 😉

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  • Miguel Mayol

    Linux is growing, as MS WOS is being worse each time, Libre Office and Google Docs plus Chrome and Firefox at any Linux desktop OS are faster compared with any MS WOS, including XP.

    Old laptops as P4 with 256 Mb of RAM still works well with Xubuntu Manjaro or Sabayon, and are really slow with MS WOS XP and out of upgrades.

    And the Internet works faster with Linux and we are all now always connected.

    Video drivers are almost as fast as MS WOS ones when not faster, and XFCE or even KDE Unity Mate or Gnome shell are faster than MS WOS metro or Aero, and you have more settings.

    As installing with wubi, or YUMi from any USB or testing in a Virtual Box is very easy a lot of home users, the geekers ones switch to Linux.

    2% is a great deal – a lot of stats said that was only 1% – and I am waiting for ·3D benchmarks as Futuremark to test at the same machine Ubuntu vs MS WOS 8 with AMD, Nvidia and Intel GPUs with AAA Steam games.

    The moment gamers will see Ubuntu and Arch – I love Manjaro – beats MS WOS 8 in performance at the same machine – better network benchmarks sure – that 2% will increase a lot, perhaps to the 10% but that day has not been yet posted.

  • Harald Glatt

    Good article. I think it’s a bit early though to get euphoric about a 2% on Linux. Macs had a much higher share in the beginning too and Steam simply lost almost all customers because of the advent of the Mac App Store. Linux Steam is still in beta now and they have the advantage of using the same hardware as Windows, however I think Carmack will ultimately be right. The Linux community has a ‘don’t pay for software’ mentality that will reflect on sales on the platform. The early adopters are certainly a few that don’t share that mentality, but let’s wait and see where Steam on Linux is two years after the official launch and look at the numbers again then. I think Carmack is right; some Windows users will try to migrate and come back in droves, and Linux users themselves will mostly stick to paying little to nothing for software which means that besides some Indie games we won’t be seeing Triple A titles taking off on the platform.

    • tenleftfingers

      AAA title gamers won’t settle for free offerings. The only question is; how many of them are using or will use linux.