Linux Gaming: Wine vs. Cedega vs. CrossOver Games

In previous posts, I have highlighted some of the outstanding new native Linux games that are coming out soon or have been out but may not be well known. For many Linux gamers, however, the pool of native Linux games is still too small.

As most already know, it is possible to play some Windows games in Linux using Wine. Additionally, there are two prominent commercial spin-offs of Wine that are both designed specifically for gaming: Cedega and CrossOver Games. At one time, there was little difference between the three, other than the graphical configuration interfaces. But over time, each has developed its own feature set and, in some cases, support for Windows functionality that the others do not possess.

Wine is completely free, and most Linux distributions make it easy for users to install it. Cedega is available for $25 for a 6-month subscription. CrossOver Games sells for a one-time fee of $39.95. Wine and CrossOver Games are also available for Mac OS X. The makers of Cedega sell a similar product called Cider for Mac users.

Wine

Wine is a compatibility layer for Linux that allows users to run Windows applications. Unlike an emulator, which must also emulate hardware and the operating system, Wine accesses the Windows libraries and makes them work within Linux. This makes Wine faster than emulators and virtual machines.

There are a large number of games supported by Wine, and the project’s website hosts a substantial database of supported and unsupported games, often including details about how to get the games working.

Wine configuration interface

Wine’s graphical configuration tool is called “winecfg” (Wine Configuration), and it includes tools for specifying drivers, configuring media, graphics settings, and desktop integration. By default, there is no graphical frontend for installing or running games, but there are free third-party programs that can act as frontends.

Wine runs OpenGL games very well and will also run many DirectX games. Some games require the installation of additional DirectX libraries that are readily available online. Windows .NET is not easy to install in Wine, but games that require it seem to run fairly well. Users can install many other additional packages, such as MS Core Fonts, using a handy tool called winetricks.

CrossOver Games

Developed by a company called Codeweavers, which also makes CrossOver Office, CrossOver Games is designed to be specifically for Linux gaming. Everything is controlled from a graphical interface where users can create “bottles” to hold multiple Wine configurations. This gives you with the flexibility to have drastically different configurations for your games.

CrossOver Games Manage Bottles

CrossOver Games has a graphical installation tool for games and for additional libraries, including DirectX and .Net. All additional packages install easily, which usually makes installing games faster than with Wine. For configuration, it uses the same utility found in Wine.

Similar to Wine, CrossOver Games has a database of working titles, but the database is far from complete. Users would be better served to use Wine’s database to determine if a game will work in CrossOver.

Cedega

Developed by Transgaming, Cedega has a robust graphical interface with many features for tweaking graphics, sound, and more. It is based on an older version of Wine and has significantly deviated from Wine’s original code. In some cases, this has given it greater support for pixel shaders and other technology. In other cases, it means that some games will work in Wine but not in Cedega.

Cedega supports OpenGL and DirectX games and has added some DirectX compatibility beyond Wine and CrossOver. One significantly absent feature is .Net support. It seems to be impossible to install .Net in Cedega, making it unlikely that games requiring it will run.

Cedega GUI

Cedega’s website includes a large database of games, available to members only. In most cases, however, the database will only say if a game works or not, providing little other information about it. New games are not usually added immediately, as they often are with Wine. Users can upgrade Cedega as long as they maintain their subscriptions. After a subscription expires, the application continues to work on its own.

The Winner

Unfortunately, there is no clear winner. I have tested games in all three applications and found inconsistency across the board. A game that works in one may not work in the others. Therefore, the only way to get the maximum number of Windows games working in Linux is to have all three.

Madden NFL 08 running in Cedega

Wine’s community database has a significant advantage over the others, since it is the only way to know if a game that is not officially supported works. CrossOver has the best support for installing additional packages. Cedega’s strongest point is the graphics configuration utility and support for advanced shaders. Users can start Wine and CrossOver games from the user menu, whereas Cedega games must be started from within Cedega.

Compatibility with Windows games will never be perfect in Linux, but these three solutions all have their positive attributes, and a user who wants to play a limited number of Windows games on Linux will not be disappointed with any of them.