Want to start gaming on Linux? With utilities like Steam’s Proton tool, it’s not a pipe dream anymore, even if your game is officially supported on Windows only. Here’s our complete guide to gaming on Linux using Proton.
Table of Contents
What Is Proton?
In the past, if you wanted to play Steam games on Linux, you had to install and run Steam through a Windows compatibility layer called Wine. You had to know how to configure Wine yourself to make any particular game work.
These days, you can install a native version of Steam on Linux, and there are many games with native Linux support as well. On top of that, Steam allows you to download their forked version of Wine called Proton, which is preconfigured to run your favorite Windows games. It will be an important part of Valve’s Steam Deck.
When Proton was first announced as a part of the Steam Play project, there were a humble 27 games with official Proton support. Since then, that number has grown exponentially, with Valve continually developing and refining Proton to fit a larger swath of games.
So is gaming on Linux easy now? Well, sometimes. Depending on a few variables, your game might work perfectly the first time you run it. However, other games might require some tweaking.
If that sounds frustrating or intimidating, there are ways to predict how you’ll fare with a particular game.
When you get started with Proton, your best friend is going to be the website ProtonDB. Here, you’ll find a database of Steam games with reports on how well they run on Linux, with or without Proton.
Search for a game, and you’ll find it with a rating ranging from “Platinum” to “Borked.” These ratings are derived from user reports on their experiences running the game. You can scroll through these reports to see what players say, and you can filter for specific hardware and distros to narrow down the results to people with setups similar to yours.
Don’t be overwhelmed by all the stats, parameters, and version numbers. Those will only be worth looking at if you encounter issues with your game, as we’ll explain later.
Most important at first is the game’s rating. If your game is rated Native, that means that you don’t necessarily need Proton to run it. If it’s rated Gold or Platinum, there’s a high likelihood that, with Proton, it will work for you with no or minimal tweaking. If it gets Bronze or Silver, you’ll likely have to do some tweaking to make it work. If it’s rated Borked, there’s not much hope for you, although you can still give it a try. Valve is continually improving Proton for better support, so it’s possible that a Borked rating can change.
Another way to find game recommendations is through curated lists on Steam, like the Proton Compatible curator. You’ll find hundreds of games, each with a brief report on the game’s stability with Proton. You might prefer this method if you don’t want to scroll through a lot of stats and user reports.
Open Steam, and, after logging in, find the game that you want to play in your library.
Make sure that the Penguin icon at the top of your library list isn’t activated. This sorts out games that aren’t native to Linux.
The Install button on the game page will probably be grayed out and unclickable.
Don’t worry. We’re about to turn that into a nice, clickable blue button.
On the right-hand side of the game page, click the “Settings” button (a gear icon). In the drop-down menu that appears, select “Properties.”
In the Properties window, click the Compatability tab. You should find a single option available: “Force the Use of a Specific Steam Play Compatability Tool.” Check the box next to it.
Make sure that the drop-down menu that appears is set to the highest available version of Proton. Then, go ahead and exit out of the Properties window.
The “Available for Windows” message should be gone, and the “Install” button on the game page should be blue and clickable now. Click it to open the installation window.
Here, choose your preferences for shortcuts. You’ll get an estimate of the disk space and download time required. Leave the install location as it is, and then click the “Next >” button.
The game will begin downloading, along with the version of Proton that you selected. Once both are downloaded and installed, you can launch the game by clicking “Play.”
The first time that you launch, Steam might need to spend a few minutes in pre-game setup. Be patient here.
Once your game launches, don’t be discouraged if it has issues at first. Games don’t always work out of the box on Windows either, so you might just need to make some adjustments to in-game settings. If that doesn’t work, or you can’t access in-game settings, consider using a recommended launch parameter or a different version of Proton, as we’ll explain below.
Some reports that you read on ProtonDB will tell you to use specific launch parameters (also called launch options). They’ll be strings of words and characters that look something like this:
Parameters like these tell Steam that you want specific settings activated, deactivated, or adjusted at launch. Sometimes, they’ll fix your issues or improve performance. Be careful, though, as these always have the potential to cause more issues.
To begin, open the Properties window for your game on Steam again.
In the first tab that opens, the General tab, look for the “Launch Options” section. There, you’ll find a text box where you can type in or copy and paste specific launch parameters.
After entering your parameters, exit out of the Properties window and try running your game.
If you still have issues (or you have new issues), simply open Properties again and remove the launch parameters. Try looking for other parameter recommendations on ProtonDB. If you want to self-diagnose, Steam Support provides a guide to commonly used parameters.
Using Alternative Versions of Proton
When looking up a game on ProtonDB, you might notice users reporting playing the game on different versions of Proton.
These different versions use different configurations and features that cause certain games to work better, but they can also cause issues for other games. Users might state in their reports that a specific version works best for them. When you see this, and the game isn’t working well on the version you’re using, consider switching to that version of Proton. It’s easy.
Simply go back to the Compatability settings described above, and in the drop-down menu, select the version of Proton that you want.
Exit out of the Properties window and launch your game. Steam might need time to download and install the version of Proton that you chose.
What Is Proton Experimental?
This option gives you the bleeding edge of Proton development. It isn’t guaranteed to be stable, but it might have new features and fixes that you need to run your game. Treat it as a last resort if other recommended versions fail you.
Customized Versions of Proton
On ProtonDB, you’ll see either a “Steam Play” badge or a “Tinker” badge next to the version number of Proton that they’re using. The Steam Play badge simply means that it’s a version available directly through Steam.
The Tinker badge, however, denotes that they’re using a custom build of Proton, not a build officially supported by Valve. We don’t recommend using those unless you know what you’re doing.
Proton vs. Steam Linux Runtime
Sometimes, you’ll see something called “Steam Linux Runtime” among your Proton options. This isn’t another version of Proton. It’s an option that allows you to run a version of the game that was built for Linux inside a container meant to ensure it operates on your particular distro. You can select Steam Linux Runtime if you want to install and run that instead of Proton and the Windows version.
If you do, you might get a message at launch stating that your Linux operating system isn’t compatible. If this happens, you can still proceed and try. In our testing, the game sometimes works perfectly anyway.
You shouldn’t always trust the Linux runtime, however. Sometimes, game developers aren’t able to dedicate much time to ensuring that the Linux version works well. It’s possible that you’ll be better off with the Windows version accompanied by Proton. Do some experimenting to find out.
Now that you’re playing Windows games on Linux, you might be curious to know what other popular apps you can get on your system.