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What is Proton for Steam and how does it affect gaming on Linux?

Remember the days when it was hard to imagine gaming on Linux? Thanks to the compatibility layer from Proton and companies that focus on Linux, gaming on Linux has improved a lot in recent years. But what exactly is Proton and why is it important for Linux gaming?

What is the proton compatibility layer?

To understand what Proton is, we must first understand two technologies: DirectX and Vulkan.

Think of them as controller apps for games.
Are
application programming interfaces (APIs) that help your computer communicate with graphics cards.

While DirectX is a closed source API developed by Microsoft and specific to Windows, Linux uses the open source Vulkan API. There are many other APIs like OpenGL, but let’s just focus on Vulkan and DirectX.

Since DirectX is a unique Windows API and Windows is one of the most popular operating systems worldwide, game developers focus on optimizing their games in DirectX. Since Windows games cannot be played on Linux, this is where Proton comes in.

In simple terms, the Proton made by Valve is a bifurcation of Wine which uses libraries like DXVK (DirectX over Vulkan) to translate DirectX games to Vulkan. Think of it this way. Games communicate with your graphics card using DirectX. DirectX collects resources and allocates them to games. DirectX contains Direct3D (which is responsible for rendering 3D graphics in applications). Proton converts these Direct3D calls into understandable calls for Vulkan using the libraries.

The end result is a Windows-only game that runs on a Linux PC.

What can you play with Proton?

When Proton launched in 2018, it could only play 27 games. However, in three years, the list of supported games has grown to about 16,000.

ProtonDB Statistics

However, Proton is limited in that it cannot play games with built-in anti-cheat mechanisms. As the name suggests, anti-cheat mechanisms in games prevent players from cheating. With the rise of cheats, gaming companies have partnered with providers of anti-cheat mechanisms to improve the gaming experience. Some of the popular anti-cheat providers are BattlEye and Easy by Epic Games .

To find out which games are currently supported, go to ProtonDB official website . As of this writing, over 77% of the top 1000 games are playable with Proton, with over 21% running natively (no Proton required), 21% being platinum rated ( runs out of the box), 56% Gold (runs after tweaks), 66% Silver (runs with minor issues and tweaks), and 71% Bronze (runs but crashes frequently).

How to use Proton

To enable Proton, head to Steam Settings> Steam Play> Enable Steam Play.

Steam settings

If you are looking for a detailed guide on how to run Windows games on Linux using Proton , we have you covered.

The Future of Linux Gaming with Proton

There is no denying that Desktop Linux has improved over the last decade. However, one area in which GNU / Linux was very deficient was games, until Proton appeared.

Proton holds the key to revolutionizing Linux gaming to the point where Linux could compete with Windows. One development that could also help boost gaming on Linux is
Steam Deck, which was announced in July 2021.

For starters, Steam Deck is a handheld game console from Valve that runs Arch Linux (SteamOS with KDE Plasma, to be precise) and uses Proton to run Windows games. What’s exciting is that Valve knows that games with anti-cheat features won’t work on the console. As a result, it is working with the Easy and BattlEye developers to make it possible to run Windows games that use the same anti-cheat mechanisms.

The fact that Linux is open source means that if Valve manages to get Easy and BattlEye support on SteamOS, the same could potentially be ported to other Linux distributions. That would eventually strengthen the overall desktop Linux gaming experience.

It’s too early to predict exactly how things will turn out, but for now, the future of Linux gaming looks bright.

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