PUBG going free could be bad news for Steam Deck and Linux

PUBG screenshot
(Image credit: PUBG Corp)

PUBG is getting new anti-cheat measures along with its move to become free-to-play, and there are fears that this could pretty much scupper the chances of the shooter working with the Steam Deck handheld (or any Linux OS trying to run it via Proton, of course).

PUBG announced its move to become free at the close of last week (albeit with Ranked mode still needing you to stump up some cash), and it makes the transition on January 12 (for both PC and consoles).

The devs observed that with this switch to free-to-play, the specter of cheaters looms ever larger, as the “need for an effective anti-cheat system is more important than ever as banned accounts can easily and infinitely be replaced”, which is of course a fair point.

Now, back at the start of 2021, PUBG introduced Zakynthos, a proprietary anti-cheat solution, and one which the devs claims has helped them dump 28% more cheaters than the previous year.

What’s happening now is that Zakynthos is being tightened up in various ways, one of which is the implementation of kernel drivers, and as Gaming on Linux, which spotted this, observes, that’s bad news. Or it could be.

Mainly because said kernel drivers are implemented for Windows, and are something that’s likely to prove a serious spanner in the works for Proton, the compatibility layer which the Steam Deck will employ to run Windows games on its Linux operating system (SteamOS 3.0).

Analysis: Let’s hope PUBG cheats – who must be dealt with – don’t cause collateral damage

Why the fuss over this, you might be thinking? It’s just one game, after all. However, it’s a seriously popular game on Steam – it’s the third most played game on the platform as we type this, behind CS: GO and Dota 2 – and with the move to free, we can expect its popularity to boom as folks who’ve never played before get on board.

When the Steam Deck starts shipping the month after PUBG goes free, owners may well expect to be able to try out the battle royale on their shiny new hardware.

But before we get carried away, that could still happen. PUBG’s fresh anti-cheat drive might cause thorny issues, but Valve may be able to work around them, perhaps – the company has made big promises around supporting anti-cheat tech on the compatibility front, as you may remember.

Or, as the fear is here, these particular kernel drivers could leave Steam Deck owners, and all Linux gamers, out in the compatibility cold; but we don’t know that for sure yet. There are other fears around kernel drivers (in general) possibly leaving users open to exploits or other collateral damage, too, but with a sound implementation, that shouldn’t happen.

Of course, if the large influx of free players find themselves absolutely owned by clearly cheating opponents, that won’t leave a good taste in the mouth. So you can see where the devs are coming from on trying to shore things up ahead of the launch of the free game, as it will only get one chance to make a good impression on newbies.

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).