Ars Notices The Forza Delisting Process

No Forza Motorsports on the Horizon

Sam Machkovech with an article for Ars Technica titled “How one game’s delisting pokes a hole in the Xbox Game Pass promise”:

Microsoft has long boasted about the backward compatibility of its Xbox consoles, letting you play hundreds of past-gen games on newer systems like the Series X/S. But the game publisher and console maker is quieter about taking older games down from its digital storefronts—and this week’s latest casualty, in the form of a popular first-party game, presents problems for Xbox’s recent sales pitches.

On paper, the basic announcement may look humdrum to savvy modern-gaming fans. Starting September 15, 2021, the sim racing game Forza Motorsport 7 will no longer be available on Xbox’s digital download shops. That date marks roughly four years past the game’s 2017 launch on Xbox One consoles, and “four years” is key. Since the Xbox Live download store has been in operation, other Forza games, both in the Motorsport and Horizon camps, have been delisted at a nearly identical cadence. This suggests that the game’s car licenses factor into the cutoff dates.

I’ve been pointing this out for a few years, and I’m glad that others are noticing. it’s not just Microsoft’s Game Pass that’s broken, it’s the whole backward compatibility and “love of preservation” that Microsoft pretends to care about. As Machkovech goes on to note, this particular delisting is even odder because there isn’t a newer Forza Motorsport game on the horizon. Although, there is a new Forza Horizon game on the way. Of course the versions on disc will continue to function, but it is exceptionally odd that beloved games like the Forza series can just up and disappear from Microsoft’s digital store. It is kind of nice that Microsoft heavily discounts these games before they’re delisted, the “ultimate” version of Forza Motorsport 7 is only $20 right now, but it’d be better if they didn’t get delisted. If Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, and Valve, and all the other companies selling games digitally want us to buy games from them digitally, they should make sure someone who loved an earlier version of the game and wants to go back is able to.

Notably, when Microsoft returned to Steam with their games, Forza Motorsport 7 wasn’t on that list. Only the Forza Horizon games are on Steam.

I love the Forza Horizon series and the first Forza Motorsport was the last game I worked on at Microsoft, it makes me sad that these games aren’t better preserved for anyone who wants to play them and watch them evolve over time. The last few versions of the Horizon games have been particularly interesting with their different open worlds to play in, they’re not just replicating famous race tracks, they even have tie-ins to various fun toy lines like Hot Wheels and Lego.

Frozenbyte Developer Says Proton Better Than Older Linux Ports, Native Ports Not Worth Doing Yet

In a few threads on the Steam forums for an upcoming game called Starbase from Frozenbyte, the developer have spelled out that they believe Valve’s Proton Windows emulation compatibility layer is better than the older ports their games (Trine, Shadowgrounds) had:

Currently it’s probably a better idea to play the Windows versions of our old games via Proton, than trying to get the native versions running.

The majority of Frozenbyte’s games were brought to Linux, but they say it’s unlikely for Starbase unless the Linux audience increases in size:

If Linux gaming takes off (for example, because Steam Deck becomes a huge success), then we’ll have a reason to consider not-so-low-on-resources port, which may (and probably does) change the picture somewhat.

…and they say that another reason to do the port might be if people who play Starbase using Proton report issues:

I recommend using Proton, because it usually just works. If a user reports that Proton no longer works, we would pay attention, but can’t promise anything is done very fast.

These are just comments from an engine developer (Jukka Larja) at Frozenbyte on their game’s forums, so I wouldn’t consider them to be the final word in what gets done, but it seems likely that the statements are accurate and Frozenbyte won’t support Linux in the future if Proton is effective at running their games.

Feral Cites Proton for Cancelling Linux Ports

Feral Interactive has a long history of bringing games to Linux and macOS, ironically Feral often (if not always?) use an abstraction layer to bring the games over, basically plugging some level of Windows emulation into the finished product. Yesterday, Feral announced ports for A Total War Saga: TROY and MYTHOS DLC for macOS and then confirmed these wouldn’t come to Linux due to Valve’s Proton Windows emulation compatibility layer:

I don’t think this should be surprising, but it’s sad to see Valve destroy native Linux gaming.

Panic’s Playdate Pre-Orders Go Up Tomorrow (29th)

A date to play

When we last saw the Playdate we got a list of games, an announcement that twice as many games would be in the first season that comes bundled with the handheld, the announcement of a stereo dock with a pen holder, a Poolsuite app, and a promise of pre-orders in July for the cranky yellow handheld. Tomorrow the promised pre-orders go live for $180 at 10AM Pacific, on the Playdate website. The proposed ship date is “late 2021” for the first group of about 20 thousand Playdates. Any ordered beyond that first allotment will ship later on in 2022. Shipping to the US will be a little under $14. More information on countries that can order the Playdate tomorrow are on this page. Panic says that the pre-orders will be paid up front, that the people ordering can cancel any time, and that orders are limited to two Playdates per-person.

Panic timed the pre-order announcement to coincide with an embargo for other journalists, so there are also impressions of a pre-release Playdate up on Ars Technica, The Verge, GameSpot, IGN, Wired, and Polygon.

I think the Playdate looks like a nifty video game toy, I’m very curious if the homebrew scene for it takes off.

Ethan “flibitijibibo” Lee May Retire from Programming Due to Valve’s Proton

Earlier today I spoke with Ryan C. Gordon, the internet’s #1 icculus, to get his opinions on Valve’s new seemingly anti-native Linux gaming stance. The long and the short of it is that Gordon is seeing the bright side. If the Steam Deck is successful, it will give thousands of people playing games their first desktop Linux experience and they might become the argument for native ports once that platform takes off.

True, too, is that the option to plug in a keyboard, a mouse, and a monitor, using a USB-C dock, and start using Linux. That could be many people’s first experience with Linux on the desktop. It could be good if Valve does a good job with SteamOS 3.0.

However, I remained incredibly skeptical that this is necessarily going to end up going well for Linux users. Valve has not only stated explicitly that game developers do not need native ports, but according to developer Ethan “flibitijibibo” Lee, Valve may also be reaching out to developers and asking them to use Proton instead of native ports:

Lee is perhaps the person with the second longest career bringing games to Linux and working on gaming technologies that make that easier. Lee’s FNA utilities have enabled at least 83 games to be ported away from Microsoft’s deprecated XNA SDK to the more modern FNA SDK and then onto platforms like the Nintendo Switch, Linux, modern versions of macOS and Windows, Xbox One, iOS, tvOS, and Google’s Stadia.

Here is my conversation with Lee, which occurred over email. Names and my questions are in bold. The only edits I’ve made to Lee’s responses are to italicize product names as well as to italicize whenever Lee used underscores to indicate italics.


Jack Slater: How do you feel about the Windows API Compatability Layers like WINE and Valve’s fork using Proton?

Ethan Lee: It’s an essential preservation project, one that I actually worked on for about a year! It helps get access to dead Windows games which I think is really important, just as it has been for FNA and equally-dead XNA games.

Slater: What kind of experience do you think people will have playing games on the Steam Deck using Valve’s Proton?

Lee: The same as those on Linux, honestly – I don’t suspect the experience will magically be any different than what we see on the issue tracker, which is huge and has tons of loose ends and titles yet to be investigated (big surprise, there’s only 20,000 of them and this only covers ~10% of them):
https://github.com/ValveSoftware/Proton/issues

Slater: You have said that Valve is reaching out to game developers and asking them to consider switching from native Linux ports of games to Proton’s compatibility layer, do you know or could you speculate as to why they’re doing this instead of encouraging native ports?

Lee: To be clear: The issue is primarily situations where developers have historically shipped native, and may not have shipped their next title as native yet. This is common, as much of my portfolio will show. I suspect there’s a disconnect here where only one title is examined without looking deeper into it, and so an unintentional partnership comes out of it. The one that seemed to get mixed in with this is, from what my partners have told me, is an e-mail sent to those requesting kits that, much like the developer documentation, prominently features Proton and makes no mention of why you want to care about native. This is probably a case of just not thinking about the wording and the communication, or worse, not thinking about the consequences of obscuring the information until it’s too late.

I don’t know if there is any intent to erase native games on purpose, but consider that the only reason I’m aware of these communications is specifically because of my partners, whom I make Linux games for.

Slater: Do you know if Valve is offering any incentives in return for developers who are willing to switch their games from native Linux to Proton?

Lee: I mean, do they really have to? That’s the beauty of a loss leader, just sink money into it and undercut everyone else to get what you want.

Slater: How will this change your plans for Linux game ports going forward?

Lee: I have my remaining contractual obligations, but short of a complete 180 from Valve that is very very loud I have to walk away and go do other things for a living. A course correction is unlikely, as they seem abnormally confident that developers will just magically come to me after the device’s inevitable success, which is basically asking me to just casually accept that I’m going to endure even bigger losses than I already have with an empty promise that my business will turn around based on a third party’s big risk that they think anyone can endure. It feels very like much I built my own casket having worked on Proton, and as they’re shoveling dirt onto me they’re going “don’t worry, you’ll be fine when someone else finds you!”

Slater: Will this change your FNA development plans?

Lee: I’m currently talking to the other maintainers about transfer of administration roles. I suspect things will change a little since I was super involved in day-to-day maintenance even when I stepped away from working on FNA all the time a couple years ago, but I trust that they’ll do a good job even long after I’ve stopped programming.

Slater: Even Valve’s website for the Steam Deck says “no porting necessary.” What could Valve do to repair this situation with people who handle porting games to Linux?

Lee: So in my most recent conversation with Valve I mentioned 2 things:
1. The developer docs absolutely need to include native somewhere. If your plan is to migrate to native you can’t hide this stuff forever, if you try it’s going to feel like a bait-and-switch and developers will just walk away the second you start to ask for the investment that you repeatedly insisted was not necessary to begin with.

2. If you’re going to intentionally tank businesses who work on native, the least you could do is subsidize work on stuff that native specifically cares about. I and every other specialist could name a million things that would fit this bill, just in the last week the FNA team has been talking about Wayland support, which includes drafting numerous new EGL extensions and Wayland protocols, and other things like Linux high-resolution timer precision, which we’ve discovered is actually a big pain in the ass to track vs. Windows where you can just set the timer resolution and know that your sleeps will be at a certain level of precision. These are tough problems that need people looking at them, and native cares about this stuff! Instead the money’s just getting dumped into crap like the Synchronization Primitive of the Month that basically nobody making production-quality software can ship.

Slater: Early rumored reservation numbers for the Steam Deck seem to be going well for Valve with the figures for the larger NVMe storage tiers. Do you have anything else you’d like to say to people considering a reservation or who are on the fence about keeping their reservation?

Lee: Buy it if you want, lord knows this interview’s not going to stop you, just don’t be surprised if the AAA and “indie” businesses produce the most cynical outcome imaginable if the operating system is what makes the device interesting to you. Were Valve’s attitude different I probably would have ordered one, knowing that incoming business would allow me to do so. But that business isn’t coming, so I can’t and won’t.

Slater: Is there anything else you’d like to discuss that we haven’t yet?

Lee: I guess follow https://music.flibitijibibo.com/ if it turns out I still know how to be a music producer?

Slater: John Carpenter has so many incredible movies. They Live, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, and Escape from New York & L.A just to name a few. Which is your favorite and do you feel like The Thing made it’s way to Washington and has taken over Valve?

Lee: It’s between The Thing and Halloween – though I guess I like Halloween mostly based on Carpenter’s attitude toward scoring and soundtracks, which up until watching and researching it I hadn’t thought of scoring the way he does.
Tell you what, if you (yes you, the reader!) read this and hated me for it, I’m actually the Thing and the real me died a long time ago. That’ll preserve my reputation, right?


Before Valve brought a native Steam client to Linux, the only games Linux users had were from a very small cottage industry coming from indies who developed for Linux and developers like Ryan Gordon and Ethan Lee. When the other writers at LinuxGames.com and I heard rumors about Steam coming to Linux, we were incredibly happy for that news and then it finally happened. Linux gaming was back, and 2014’s Steam Dev Days launch with Steam Machines and SteamOS truly seemed like a moment where Valve was championing the native port.

Then SteamOS & Steam Machines floundered, and now here we are again with the Steam Deck except this time Valve has changed the focus to their Proton Windows compatibility layer. Although we had hints in 2018 never would I have expected Valve to potentially end native Linux gaming along with the careers of prolific developers like Ethan “flibitijibibo” Lee.

I am very disappointed to learn that the long and incredibly successful career of a fantastic developer who has been responsible for so many games coming to Linux and other platforms may be over due to Valve’s takeover of this corner of game and platform development suddenly discarding native games for Linux with the launch of the Steam Deck. I wish Lee well whichever way this turns out, but I suspect that once Valve has made up their mind about the path for Linux development this is just how it will be.

Valve’s profit motive may have both been the reason for the resurgence and, depending on your perspective, now the death of native Linux gaming.

I have reached out to Valve for comment and will update this post if I hear back from them. If other news surfaces regarding native games on Linux, it will get posted here.

If you’re a developer who wants to speak about the issue of native ports on Linux, or a Valve employee who wants to speak on or off the record, please get in touch.