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Playing Windows Games on Linux


Author: Buddhika Siddhisena

The state of gaming on Linux has improved vastly over the years with many games being developed on top of Open Source Doom / Quake and Cube game engines. But when it comes to playing commercial game titles, Windows has remained the de facto option with only a handful of publishers opting for a native Linux port.

Fortunately thanks to the tireless hard work of smart Open Source hackers, it is now possible to run Windows applications on top of Linux, thus opening up many popular commercial game titles to citizens of the Linux OS platform.

WINE is the project that helps one get over a hangover from moving from Windows by letting you run many Windows applications on Linux. WINE stands for Wine Is Not an Emulator, even though most people loosely considers it as a Windows Emulator. Technically speaking, WINE is not an emulator but rather a reimplementation of the Windows core APIs required for a Windows program to function. As one would imaging, reimplementing Windows APIs are easier said than done! Its no wonder WINE took over 15 years to reach a stable version of 1.0! Windows is closed source and so are some of the APIs, which themselves are regularly evolving.

Installing applications, especially games under WINE can be anywhere from a plain, simple out-of-the-box experience to a hair pulling, reading tons of posts and full day of tweaking ordeal. But there is an easier way – to use a support application that automates installing software by making the necessary changes on a per application basis. In this article I will review two such game enabling applications and point you to a few more in the reference links.



Play on Linux is an Open Source software that is available on many Linux distributions. It contains predefined profiles for many of the popular commercial games. For instance to install Call of Duty 4, you would search for it and click apply to launch a wizard that will walk you through the installation process. Each game installation is installed in a separate directory in order to isolate the changes made to WINE to make one game function from not affecting another game from malfunction. These are known as WINE PREFIXES or WINE bottles.

I didn’t try installing Call of Duty 4 so I can’t comment on its playability but there are a few games I did try out over at Steam.

Steam had a great sale recently to commemorate QuakeCon which I ended up buying after few seconds of careful thought! Anyway to cut a long story short, I’ve been playing some of the older games such as Doom, Final Doom, Quake Arena quite successfully with full frame rate of 1024×768 at 32bit using PlayOnLinux. This shouldn’t be a surprise as generally older games do tend to work better than newer ones over WINE as more issues get resolved over time. I did have issues launching some DOS based games such as DOOM via the Steam interface, running under PlayOnLinux and had to use the command line to resolve it. Once the game was launched manually using the wine command, it ran flawlessly.


CrossOver Games

If you don’t want to waste time messing around with WINE or having to go to the command line when things don’t work, then CrossOver games might be a better option. CrossOver Games software makes installing of popular games a snap as it has an online database of hundreds of games, each with a rating of Gold, Silver, Bronze or Unsupported.

Gold rated games are known to work perfectly as expected while Silver rated apps also works most of the time but with minor issues. CodeWeavers the company behind the CrossOver Games product has pledged to improve the product so that all Silver rated games will eventually become Gold rated.

CrossOver Games is commercial software and you’ll have to pay USD 39.99 after the 7 day free trial period if you want to keep using it. If your lucky and skillful, you should be able to find a discount code online to reduce this price by as much as 60%. For those looking for a “feel good” factor for purchasing CrossOver Games can take pride in supporting CodeWeavers, the primary sponsor and contributor of the WINE project so you know some of that money is going back to the community. CodeWeavers also provides 1 years of free updates and support when you purchase the software and works hard on making new popular games work.

For instance as of this writing, CrossOver 9.1 supports Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 as well as StarCraft II, two games that came out recently with a Gold rating.

I managed to install Steam and under it Portal and both ran just fine under CrossOver with a decent frame rate that was playable on my Macbook having an Nvidia 9400. I also tried out some older games such as StarCraft and Max Pane and they ran at full speed to the point it felt as if I was gaming on Windows.

Similar to PlayOnLinux, CrossOver also uses the bottle concept, but has better management and flexibility to WINE bottles. For instance, you can select a bottle and install software on to it or kill all misbehaving applications from just one of the bottles.

Both of the above tools have databases of games that are known to work (or not work) but if you can’t find the game listed then don’t despair, it might still be installable and runnable. Besides games, these softwares can install many generic Windows applications such as Internet Explorer, MS Office, Adobe Photoshop, Dreamweaver etc. So give either of these tools a try and see which one works best for you. Or if you’d rather get your hands wet then there is always straight up WINE.

As a general advice, make sure you turn off 3D desktop acceleration such as Compiz which puts an extra overhead on your game’s use of the 3D graphic card. Also make sure you’ve got the latest 3D drivers. Running a light weight desktop manager such as XFCE or LXDE instead of GNOME or KDE will also help in making more memory available to games.

Happy gaming on Linux!


  1. PlayOnLinux – http://www.playonlinux.com
  2. CrossOver Games Compatibility Database – http://www.codeweavers.com/compatibility/
  3. WINE – http://www.winehq.org
  4. Wine Tricks – A set of automation scripts to improve WINE – http://wiki.winehq.org/winetricks
  5. List of Game Engines – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_game_engines




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