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Interview With Michael Simms of Linux Game Publishing and Tux Games

LinuxGames: In the past year, we've seen the development of native, commercial Linux games slow drastically: Loki has closed its doors; Tribsoft has disappeared; and Hyperion seems to want to want to forget they even approached the Linux market. What are you doing differently that you think will work where these other companies have failed?

Michael Simms: Both Tribsoft and Hyperion entered the market with the expectation that the Linux games market would be proportional to the number of Linux computers out there. The unfortunate fact is that the Linux games market is still small, although it is definitely growing. They invested all of their eggs into one basket, and it didn't pay off. Loki we feel tried to bite of more than they could chew, especially in the early days with 4 or more projects on the go at once, all increasing the company burn rates. We are aiming to produce a slower but far more sustainable business, smaller teams, maybe taking longer to produce a port, but getting it out there and being in business to do the next.

LG: Have Tux Games' and LGP's operations become integrated? If so, did this move improve efficiency?

MS: To a small degree yes. The distribution and the customer service side of things are both handled by the same people, it would be silly to employ two sets of people when one set can handle the jobs. However, the companies are most certainly separate, and will continue to be.

LG: What was the community response to the Creatures: Internet Edition port? Moreover, does it seem like there's a fair amount of anticipation for the upcoming Majesty port, and the updated version of MindRover?

MS: The response to Creatures was fairly unexceptional, whilst Creatures Internet Edition is a top quality product, there are a lot of people that just dont find their thing in breeding norns and genetic splicing. The Mindrover announcement was taken well, it was a popular game and a lot of people have been hoping for the new patch which introduces a lot of new stuff into the game, and so we are happy to have come to an arrangement with cognitoy that will allow us to produce it. Majesty seems to be being anticipated well. We get quite a bit of email asking when it is going to hit the shelves, and Tux Games has taken quite a few preorders for it.

LG: Can you provide an anticipated release date for Majesty Gold?

MS: Not yet, it is getting closer though. All of the main functionality is now in and working, except for networking. Whilst we want to get it onto the shelves as soon as possible, LGP is not in the position that it NEEDS to sell copies right now, and so we will not be releasing it before it is ready and stable and as bug-free as we can make it. We aren't planning to release a substandard product followed by a mass of patches.

LG: Seeing as how it's readily apparent that Loki overreached themselves, how many titles do you anticipate shipping in the next 12 months?

MS: Tough question. It depends a lot on how well Majesty sells. If Majesty sells well, wecould release 3 or 4 new games in the next 12 months, if it sells badly it will be more likely to be 2 titles. These are ports produced by us; we are going to announce a new partnership in the next few days that will bring a number of smaller but high quality games to the wider Linux market.

LG: TransGaming is a fairly controversial company in the Linux gaming community; what's your opinion of their efforts? Do you think there's room for their WineX-based "product" library alongside native ports?

MS: I have a strongly held opinion about Transgaming and WineX. I feel that Transgaming is a company made up of good people with good intentions, but I believe that they are wrong. I feel that emulation will do far more harm than good in the long term for Linux. In the short-term it is a win; in the long term, I believe emulation is sacrificing the future for the present. Linux can stand on its own two feet. It is solid and strong, and does not need to cling to the leftovers of Windows.

LG: Can you comment on the rumors concerning a retail release of the Linux version of Neverwinter Nights?

MS: I can confirm that I have been involved in some discussions with Infogrames on the subject, but at this stage I can not give any information about the content of those discussions.

LG: The TuxGames site has a Top Sellers list; is this lifetime sales or based on a shorter period of time? If not, what has been TuxGames all-time top selling game?

MS: No, that is in the last 4 weeks. Our biggest seller of all time is Tribes 2, followed by Alpha Centauri, followed by Return to Castle Wolfenstein.

LG: How much longer will the old Loki title stock last do you think?

MS: Hard to say, we are hoping to keep stock of most titles until the end of the year. Saying that, LGP is still attempting to obtain the rights to the entire Loki range so we can continue to supply the demand that still exists for them.

LG: Beyond simply increasing market share, what user interface or hardware support changes are required for Linux to be a more appealing option for developers and publishers?

MS: We obviously need top quality driver support for as much hardware as is out there, but I do not feel this is much of an obstacle for game developers, as the Linux users will simply buy the hardware that has the drivers. I feel that the biggest obstacle to developers and publishers is their perception that they need to make a fortune on every game they make. Right now, if a company makes a game for Linux, as long as it is a good game, they will at the least break even, probably turn a small profit. No, they wont get rich, but they are in on the ground floor, getting their name respected among those Linux users that buy now and will continue to buy in the future. The big companies seem to have forgotten that big things start small, and an investment in the future is always worth it.

LG: Any additional comments?

MS: There are a few things I would like to say. Firstly, I would like to say that LGP and Tux Games are both here to stay. Tux Games has ridden out the uncertainty of Loki dying, and yes it hurt the company badly, but we survived it. LGP had a bit of a a shakey start, but now we are starting to form strong partnerships with a number of companies and we look forward to bringing many more games to you in the future. Linux gaming has hiccuped in the last 12 months, but it is not dead, not by a long shot.

Secondly, I would like to say to those that feel that sending flames to the publishers and developers of games will help to get us a port, it wont! Stop doing it, it just harms the reputation of Linux users. If you want to help, buy the games that are out there, show the companies that DO make Linux games that it is worth it, which will make sure that the next game they make is ALSO available for Linux. If you MUST contact the companies that do not make Linux ports, please do so professionally. Send a polite email asking them to port the game, let them know that LGP will port it for them if they have not got the skills to do it. Let them know that you would pay good money for it if it is available for your platform. But do it POLITELY AND RATIONALLY. And only do it once. Continued bombardment of a polite email is as bad as a flame. Remember when you contact a company, you are presenting them with the face of Linux gaming, so show them our best face.

Finally, a thank you to everyone that has supported Tux Games over the last almost 3 years. Our customers who keep coming back for more, the many websites out there that link to us, and to my employees, who put up with working in an uncertain market because they, like me, believe in its future.

LG: Thanks to Michael Simms for taking the time to speak with us today.

-Dustin "Crusader" Reyes