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  • 10/15/07 08:08 PM
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    Linux Game Development Part 5

    General and Gameplay Programming

    Myopic Rhino


    After discussing Testing, We've come at last to the final installment in this series, and perhaps the most important one: once you have produced a commercial Linux game, how do you market it?

    Marketing a Linux game is probably one of the hardest things to do. Part of the problem is that there are currently no dedicated Linux gaming portals or definitive web sites for commercial Linux games like there are for Windows and Mac.

    Another problem is that the primary distribution channel for Linux software is the package manager for the Linux distribution being used, such as Ubuntu's apt-get or SUSE's YAST. This is how most Linux users obtain their software. Because of this, not many Linux users download and install software from the Internet. As a long-time Windows user, it took me awhile to get used to this. The Internet is the first place I go to find an application I need, but it's difficult to find generic Linux binaries for various applications on the Internet. I think part of the reason for this is because there has been so little information about how to do it (until I recently published this series of articles). And most Linux users don't want to bother downloading source code and building their own binary (a growing number of Linux users wouldn't even know how to do it). As a result, I think that's why the distribution-specific package manager has become the dominant channel for Linux software.

    The good news, however, is that there is a growing number of Windows users migrating to Linux, and they all think the same way I did. They're initially looking for software via the Internet. So we just need to anticipate where they are going to go when they type "Linux games" into their favorite search engine.

    But we also want to reach the people who have already been using Linux for a while, who are hungry for new games. So here are some things you can do to market your commercial Linux game.

    Getting the Word Out

    Here are some Linux gaming sites where you can post announcements about your newly released commercial game. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it does contain some of the more popular hangouts for Linux gamers.

    These next news sites are not specific to Linux games, but any commercial game release for Linux is still big news, so it may be worth submitting your press release to them. It helped Dirk Dashing distribution a lot. Linux.com actually published an article that featured Dirk Dashing! Lastly, these sites provide links to lots of open source and commercial software for Linux. You should definitely submit your game and get linked in their game listings!

    Selling Your Game

    Getting the word out about your fabulous new Linux game is a start, but not everyone visits news sites and reads press releases. You need to get your application in front of users, either by publishing it or figuring out where Linux users go to find games.

    Unfortunately, this isn't easy. As I have already said, there aren't a lot of access points for acquiring commercial software for Linux yet. Most retail stores don't carry any, and there are not many web sites that provide commercial Linux software either. But this may change as more Linux users begin demanding games for Linux. I believe this is inevitable because of the growing number of Windows users migrating to Linux.

    In the meantime, this next list of sites can help you get started selling your game on Linux.

    CNR Warehouse

    Developed by Linspire as a software channel for their Linspire and Freespire Linux distributions, CNR was designed to solve the complexity of finding and installing Linux software. CNR stands for Click and Run, and it provides users with a way to install and manage both free and commercial Linux software.

    Linspire has recently announced their plan to open the CNR service to support other popular Linux distributions, including Debian, Fedora, OpenSUSE, and Ubuntu. This means that CNR has the potential to become one of the major software distribution channels for Linux users in the coming years. The new CNR web site will be located here, though it was still being constructed at the time this article was written.

    To submit your commercial software for inclusion in the CNR Warehouse, sign up for the Linspire Publisher Program.

    Linux Game Publishing

    This is currently the only game publisher for commercial Linux games. They provide a reseller channel for Linux games, and they're always looking for top quality games.

    Tux Games

    Tux Games advertises itself as "The Online Store for Linux Games". Despite its poor appearance, it remains one of the more popular outlets for commercial Linux games.

    Other Ideas

    As I mentioned before, not many users download and install software from the Internet. The primary distribution channel for Linux software is the package manager for the Linux distribution being used, such as Ubuntu's apt-get or SUSE's YAST. This is how most Linux users obtain their software. It's convenient, it's easy, and most open source software is directly available through the package manager. There's also a perception of security, because even though the user doesn't know who built the binary, they are getting it directly from the company or organization that provides the Linux distribution, so there is a sense of trust to it.

    If we, as commercial game developers, could plug into that distribution channel, we would get a pretty good audience for our Linux games. Unfortunately, Linux distributions typically don't distribute closed source binaries with their package managers - the only exceptions are a few binary drivers (like NVidia drivers) that many users consider essential. Therefore, I've been wondering if opening the source code for a commercial game might bring with it the possibility of inclusion in distribution-specific package managers. If so, this would open some good doors for distribution and exposure among Linux users. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the companies behind the Linux distributions would be willing to include trial versions of commercial software in their software repositories, even if the source code is open. Also, there is the issue of licensing for the game content (artwork, audio, etc) - the companies behind the Linux distributions aren't going to include a binary of your game unless there is clear licensing and rights in place for what they can and can't do with the game content. And even then, they may not want to deal with it.

    I've wanted to test this idea, but as a part-time indie developer, I don't have the time. Opening the source to my game engine, which I am building on and reusing for additional games, means that I would have to setup a system to manage an official code base, review code contributions, put licensing in place to govern the copyrights of contributed code, answer questions from possible contributors, etc. It's a lot of work. Erik Hermansen from Caravel Games talked about this in great detail in an interview with the Indie Game Developer's Podcast. So I haven't approached any Linux companies with this idea yet to see if it has any merit.

    I've also been considering starting or sponsoring a web site dedicated to Linux games. This would not be like the Linux gaming sites I referred you to earlier, but rather it would be more like a traditional portal. I think it is important for the growth of Linux games to establish a definitive gaming portal specifically for Linux. Because no such site exists, it is an opportunity to create what could eventually be THE place to go for commercial Linux games. My problem, again, is the lack of time available to me to set up something like this.

    Final Thoughts

    Finding information about how to develop and publish games for Linux is difficult, and I hope this series of articles has been helpful to you. I've enjoyed writing them, and it's been rewarding to see the discussions that they've started in the GameDev.net forums. Hopefully, other game developers will use this information to port their games to Linux. I look forward to seeing and playing some great commercial games on Linux in the near future. Good luck to you!

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