GNU OS Creator: Linux On Steam ‘Unethical’ Due To DRM

When Valve announced earlier this month that they were planning to bring Linux to Steam and the Source engine, it certainly sounded like a good idea. Millions of people – an estimated 1.11% of total Internet traffic – preferentially use Linux and other Unix-based operating systems, and being shut out of one of the more popular access points for PC gaming has to be frustrating.

But will making Steam and Source compatible with Linux be a good thing? As the founder GNU OS reminds us, doing so actuallys violate one of the fundamental principles of open source technology: Free and open access. On, Richard Stallman has posted a thoughtful editorial about the matter, laying out the pros and cons of Linux on Steam. While he admits that the move might “boost adoption of the system,” there are bigger and more important issues at stake.

“I suppose that availability of popular nonfree programs on GNU/Linux can boost adoption of the system,” Stallman says. “However, our goal goes beyond making this system a “success”; its purpose is to bring freedom to the users. Thus, the question is how this development affects users’ freedom.”

Stallman makes the case that ‘nonfree’, meaning for-sale games are, like other for-sale software, unethical “because they deny freedom to their users.” If you’re interested in freedom, then you’re not helping the cause, he says, by installing nonfree software. That said, if you simply must play these games, Stallman acknowledges that using CNU/Linux is better for the operator than Windows. “At least,” he says, “you avoid the harm to your freedom that Windows would do.”

Ultimately, he says that if Valve’s move to bring Linux to Steam causes more people to adopt the system, then more good than harm will come of it, but the risk in undermining the whole point of that system is serious. “Any GNU/Linux distro that comes with software to offer these games will teach users that the point is not freedom,” he says. “Nonfree software in GNU/Linux distros already works against the goal of freedom. Adding these games to a distro would augment that effect.”

Stallman recommends Linux-using gamers instead support the Liberated Pixel Cup free game contest, the Free Game Dev Forum, and events like LibrePlanet Gaming’s free gaming night.

So what do you think, Game Fronters? I myself am part of the problem, as I use both a Mac, and a Windows-based PC during my day (PC for games, Mac for showing off what a smug prick I am when writing at my local coffee shop. /Snark). If you’re a Linux user, what’s your take on the matter? Sound off in comments.

Join the Conversation   

* required field

By submitting a comment here you grant GameFront a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate or irrelevant comments will be removed at an admin's discretion.

7 Comments on GNU OS Creator: Linux On Steam ‘Unethical’ Due To DRM


On August 1, 2012 at 7:51 am

Android which is built from linux has paid apps so I don’t see the big difference :) P


On August 1, 2012 at 9:12 am

uhhh Ross, did you proof read this at all?

” an estimated 1.11% of total Internet traffice”

” That said, if you simply must play these s,..”


Ross Lincoln

On August 1, 2012 at 9:27 am

Ugh, that’s what I get for clicking publish before having coffee. Corrected.


On August 1, 2012 at 9:29 am

Anyway, i use Linux on my netbook for various light tasks and andi get the whole “free is better” thing, but to equate “free” with “freedom is just ridiculous. What about freedom to install whatever i want? Free software is great, but until free pays for the budgets of the AAA games we all love so much then people, including myself, will install, use, and likely very much enjoy Steam on Linux when its available.


On August 1, 2012 at 3:56 pm

I’m sure all passionate developers would love to provide their games for free if there wasn’t this tiresome need to buy food and pay rent that exists in today’s society. For those of us not mooching off of parents’ largesse, charging for creative work is an unfortunate necessity.

You know what else constrains “freedom” in the sense the guy seems to be using it in? Having to pay for computer parts to run Linux on. Or having to pay for electricity to run your computer once you’ve scavenged enough parts out of the trash. If you extend his argument, it conjures the image of hardcore ethical Linux users being feral hobos running jalopy systems off of bicycle generators. Like everything involved in participating in the computerin’ subculture, even the Linux sect, paying for software discriminates against the poor.


On August 1, 2012 at 11:15 pm

First of all, what does this have to do with DRM?

Secondly, wow, Im not one to usually use the word ‘hippy’ in a negative way but here Ill make an exception; dude stop being such a hippy. It seems like this guy is confusing Steam for a faschist monopolizing money grabbing profit machine……..or as those of us in the gaming world has come to call it, Origin.

I have been in the gaming world long enough to spot “unethical” companies when I see one. EA, Activision and Capcom are three companies that spring to mind right away when I think of being “unethical”. Valve might be a business just like those guys and yes businesses exist to make money. Making money isnt inherently unethical, its the WAY you make your money that determines whether its ethical or not. Theres nothing unethical about what Steam represents, in fact its quite the opposite.

This guy is as bad as the guy from GOG trying to say “Steam sales are doing more harm than good to the gaming industry”.


On November 14, 2012 at 9:27 am

“The problem with these games is not that they are commercial. (We see nothing wrong with that.) It is not that the developers sell copies; that’s not wrong either. The problem is that the games contain software that is not free (free in the sense of freedom, of course).” –From the editorial you linked

Ross, did you even read the editorial? Stallman clearly says he has no problems with games costing money. He says he doesn’t like them because they aren’t free in the sense of freedom, aka the drm. When I saw the title of your article, I expected the contents to match it.