On 21th August 2018, Valve announced that they are soon start to distribute a new compatibility layer. It’s exclusive for Linux and is called Proton. Proton can be compared to WINE but it comes with support from Valve. That means that if a game is official listed as “supported by Proton” (the real name of the feature is Steam Link) it will work with your Linux gaming machine. This is unlike WINE where you don’t get support for games you want to play. After some days of testing and reading through opinions on the internet about this compatibilty layer, I want to make a statement how I think and feel about Proton.

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About Proton

Proton is developed by Valve in cooperation with Codeweavers. Codeweavers is a long time WINE supporter and offers the software Crossover for MAC and Linux. Crossover is WINE bundled with a easy to use GUI and some additional features like guided setup. Codeweavers does support dozens of programs and games which are guaranteed to work with Crossover. Therefore it just makes sense that Valve created Proton with the help of the professionals from Codeweavers.

Why not simply use WINE?

This might be something a lot of people are questioning themselves. Why not simply use WINE? Well, Proton has some great advantages in direct comparison to WINE. In my short period of testing, I can say that selected DirectX 11 and DirectX 12 games are working with Proton while they fail to start with WINE. A popular example here is The Witcher 3. Also the integration of a wireless XBox 360 controller is flawlessly. You simply plug in your controller and use it. You don’t have to remap buttons or tell the driver to mimic as an x-pad or something get it working. But these two things are just small parts of a whole bigger picture of exciting features in direct comparison to WINE.

It really feels like a native application

Ever game I’ve tested so far (including Blood Bowl 2, Warhammer 40k Dawn of War: Soulstorm and Dead by Daylight) was simply installed like a “normal” Steam game. Click install, wait for the download and click “Play” afterwards. Dependencies (like DirectX or Microsofts Visual C++ Runtime) are automatically installed and prepared. This is totally different from installing every single game in a different WINE Prefix in order to install the needed DLLs clean and separated. With that being said, you could see Proton as a modified WINE which also maintains and controls each prefix on it’s own. For me, this is fantastic. I really abhorred that I had to create a new WINE prefix for every Steam game I wanted to install. I know that I could have installed all games in just one WINE prefix as well. But sometimes the different needed DLLs for each game came in each others way which resulted in a game crashing or simply being unplayable.

Performance, performance, performance …

The performance with Proton is really good keeping in mind that this is a compatibility layer. Is it better than with WINE? I would say Yes at least for the games I’ve tested so far. Is it equals to  Windows? I doubt it. But for somebody who uses WINE for a long time, I was happy to get at least up to 60% of the performance in direct comparison to Windows. With Proton however, I would say we are near 80-85% of the performance. That’s impressive and I’m excited to see the further development.

Is this the end for native ports?

This is something which came up in my mind several times. A lot of Linux enthusiasts are calling this argument as their number one reason against Proton. Is such a implementation really the end for future native game ports under Linux? In my humble opinion the following three scenarios could happen:

  1. If Microsoft doesn’t fully lock up their operating system (something Valve was afraid of when they started to work on Steam OS), Proton could be the future for a lot of Linux games, because the developers don’t want to put in that much effort in a port for the 1% of Linux users. With Proton these developers are at least “ready” to support Linux that way.
  2. Proton is the entry point for developers to create native Linux ports in the future. Every game bought with a Linux client and played with Proton is counted as a Linux sale (according to a question from GamingOnLinux to Valve). With the increasing number of sales, developers start to provide native ports because it’s “worth it”.
  3. Proton will be terminated due to the lack of interest by the users or game developers.

If I would have to pick one of these scenarios, I would say that it’s most likely that the first one will happen. And I would be totally fine with that.

When is Proton finally released?

Proton is in the latest Steam Beta client. Everyone can participate in this beta be enabling it in the settings section of the Steam client:

Setting to enable Valve Proton

Afterwards you will be able to install and play the official supported games which are at the time of writing:

  • Beat Saber
  • Bejeweled 2 Deluxe
  • Doki Doki Literature Club!
  • DOOM
  • DOOM II: Hell on Earth
  • DOOM VFR
  • Fallout Shelter
  • FATE
  • FINAL FANTASY VI
  • Geometry Dash
  • Google Earth VR
  • Into The Breach
  • Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012
  • Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013
  • Mount & Blade
  • Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword
  • NieR: Automata
  • PAYDAY: The Heist
  • QUAKE
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
  • Star Wars: Battlefront 2
  • Tekken 7
  • The Last Remnant
  • Tropico 4
  • Ultimate Doom
  • Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War – Dark Crusade
  • Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War – Soulstorm

If you want to start all Windows games with Proton, you have to check the additional checkbox in the Steam settings:

Settings to enable Valve Proton for all games

What about “non-steam” games?

I also tried to add a “non-steam” Windows executable. In this case it was Guild Wars 2. Right now it seems like this isn’t working. Steam tries to start the Guild Wars 2 executable as a Linux executable which results in an error of course. However, Valve is providing a build instruction on their official GitHub repository. After this build is done, you should be able to use Proton on the command line just like WINE.

Is Steam Link / Streaming supported?

I’ve tested Blood Bowl 2 on Linux with Proton on a Steam Link in my local network. It worked and was handled like starting a native Linux game. I didn’t found a note in the official release statement from Valve, but it seems like Valve considered Proton to work over Steam Link / Streaming in the first place. This is great and just one more reason to feel that Valve means it serious with Proton in the future.

The Windows game XYZ runs with Proton. How to get it white listed?

Valve is actively asking users for their help with testing and reporting games. If you tested a game with Proton (that isn’t official supported right now) and it works, you can go to the GitHub repository of Proton and report a white list request under the issues section. However, there are a lot of people actually reporting bugs and white list request. Thus it can take some time until your request is processed.

Conclusion

Will Proton push developers to use the compatibility layer instead of providing native ports? A lot of them might actually go this route. But is this bad for Linux gaming in general? In my humble opinion: No!

I can remember of statements made by Bethesda that native Linux ports aren’t worth it (right now) and therefore they will not support it. Jon Carmack (former developer at ID software) stated similar things and recommended to improve WINE instead of native ports back in 2013. With Proton we might see games by such developers coming to Linux as well. Think about it, a company could reach an additional ~1% of the whole Steam user base with an additional time effort of round about 10 hours or so. A native port would be way more time consuming and thus expensive. Therefore they are not providing a native port but they are welcoming such a solution like Proton. You see where this is going, right? Hopefully we will see a lot of developers welcoming this solution and therefore supporting Linux. However, we will also see a lot of developers saying “Why a native port when we can use Proton?”. To be honest, I really don’t care anymore, as long as Proton is giving me a overall good to ok performance and the game runs as excepted (especially multiplayer games with anti cheat systems like “Easy Anti Cheat” could be a obstacle here). Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see more native Linux ports. However, I simply waited too long for companies to support Linux. My patience has been reduced to a minimum now. Even companies like SI Games which are developing the Football Manager and Football Manger Touch series are dropping Linux support. With the 2019 release of Football Manager and the Touch variant they will provide no more Linux version. The reason? The low sales didn’t covered the additional dev costs.

Further links

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