Steam Play now lets you play some Windows games on Linux

Valve has announced Steam Play, a service that allows users to play games that were once only available on Windows on machines running Linux.

Valve had recently teased this feature, and now, in a post on the Steam community forums, Valve representative Pierre-Loup Griffais has announced an update to Steam Play that allows Windows games to be played on Linux via a modified version of WINE, known as Proton.

WINE (Wine Is Not an Emulator) is a tool for running Windows applications in Linux, and it looks like Proton is a specialized version that’s aimed at allowing Windows games to run in Linux without too much overhead.

What we mean by this is that when a game can be played natively in Linux, most of your machine’s resources are put towards running the game and giving you a good gaming experience. 

However, if your machine has to dedicate some of its resources to running a compatibility wrapper to make a non-native game run in Linux, then the game’s performance will suffer.

Valve claims that Proton is based on Vulkan, a popular open-source graphics API which is multiplatform, which means it runs on Windows, Linux and macOS (and other operating systems), unlike APIs such as DirectX, which is Windows-only.

The new version should include better full-screen performance, controller support and improvements for multi-threaded games.

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The new Steam Play is good news not just for Linux gamers, but potentially all PC gamers. If you’re a PC gamer, then it’s all but essential to have Windows in some form installed, as only a fraction of released games get ported over to Linux (or macOS).

This is frustrating for people who don’t want to use Microsoft’s operating system. It also means that if you’re buying or building a new gaming PC you have to factor in the cost of a Windows license, which is money many people would rather spend on games, or upgrading their hardware.

Valve has tried to wean PC gamers off their Windows dependence before. A growing number of games on Steam are now Linux-compatible, and Valve also designed its own gaming-focused Linux distro with SteamOS.

However, if Steam Play and Proton really can bring Windows games to Linux without to many issues, then this could be a game-changer, as people would be able to ditch Windows without missing out.

At the moment this is an early version of the software, and not all games are supported (the games that are include Doom, Tekken 7, Mount & Blade and NieR: Automata). It also doesn’t support games that aren’t on Steam, like EA’s modern games. And while WINE and Proton work on macOS, there are currently no plans to bring the new Steam Play functionality to Apple devices.

Still, this is an exciting development for gamers who are sick of having to use Microsoft’s Windows operating system when all they want to do is play games.

Matt Hanson
Managing Editor, Core Tech

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.