Linux gaming surges in popularity – is this the Steam Deck effect?

Steam Deck in desktop mode
(Image credit: Future)

Linux gaming has witnessed an impressive uptick in popularity among Steam gamers, going by the latest hardware survey from Valve’s gaming platform.

The hardware survey for April 2022 shows that the amount of gamers using Linux has increased to 1.14%, which is still a modest percentage, but it’s up quite strongly on the previous month when Linux sat at exactly 1.0%.

While an increase of 0.14% means very little for Windows, it’s actually a big leap for Linux, and in fact represents the second-highest level of adoption the alternative platform has witnessed in recent times, going by Valve’s figures.

What was the best month ever for Linux, you may well wonder? That’d be November 2021 when Steam’s hardware survey reported an adoption level of 1.16%, as Gaming on Linux, which reported on this, pointed out. Interestingly, that adoption percentage had climbed to that peak quite speedily since July 2021, when the Steam Deck was first announced, but since hitting that high, the percentage has drifted slowly downward to 1% in March 2022.

So what’s quite remarkable here is that we’ve seen a large spike, relatively speaking, with a jump from 1% to 1.14% – the biggest leap in recent times in the space of just a month.

Analysis: Deck driving adoption – one way or another

As mentioned, while these are relatively small percentages of the overall Steam gaming landscape, this still looks like a promisingly large leap for Linux in April 2022. Is this a reflection of the popularity of the Steam Deck, then, helping to drive gamers to test the waters of Linux?

We believe so, although it doesn’t mean that a load of Steam Deck owners are suddenly showing up in Valve’s survey. There are a lot of Steam Decks out there now, of course – as many as Valve can possibly make and ship, though it’s not clear what that actual number might be.

What you may not realize is that it’s apparently the case that Steam Deck users only get invited to participate in the Steam hardware survey while in Desktop Mode (with the Steam client running), and most folks will spend almost all their time in Gaming Mode. So this likely means a lot of Steam Deck owners are not even getting a chance to be part of the survey.

What this current spike in adoption for last month is probably showing is simply the extra interest in Linux gaming which is being drummed up around the Steam Deck, and specifically Valve pushing forward with work on Proton to make it work better and be compatible with more Windows games.

In reality, if Steam Deck owners were fully included in the monthly hardware report, the Linux gaming percentage would likely be a fair bit higher still. And when Valve addresses how the survey is implemented on Steam Deck so it comes to everyone (not just those hanging in Desktop Mode at the right time), we could see a much bigger uptick coming through (in relative terms – let’s temper expectations appropriately, of course).

We can expect last year’s high of an adoption percentage to be beaten, and possibly left behind by quite some margin, in the near future then – not just as more Deck owners are included in the survey, but as more and more units of the handheld ship, and Proton is continually refined to drive the additional interest (outside of the Deck) which is already causing upticks like the one seen for April. And while Linux is hardly going to be challenging Windows, maybe it will be looking to overtake macOS (currently on 2.55%) sooner than you might think…

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).