An interesting fact has emerged regarding the Mists of Pandaria beta (and the Diablo III beta) that most fansites are going to have missed. Buried deep within the launchers for these two beta games is Qt, a cross-platform application framework. Qt is well known to Linux users since it forms the foundation of KDE, one of the two major Linux desktop environments.
What does this mean for Linux users? Will Blizzard finally begin releasing native Linux versions of their games?
Linux users who have tried to run the beta launchers for MoP and D3 have discovered to their dismay that they don’t yet work with Wine, the application layer that lets Linux users run many Windows programs. Once an installation is copied over from a Windows box, though, Diablo III runs quite well when bypassing the launcher. (I haven’t been able to try MoP as I haven’t gotten my invitation yet.) Nevertheless the problems with Wine running the launchers are likely to be solved in time for the Diablo III release date, or perhaps shortly afterward.
Blizzard’s games, in fact, have rarely had more than minor issues with running in Wine, and are often on Wine’s list of most-compatible programs.
The use of Qt for developing Blizzard’s new game launcher, though, suggests a development shift. Because Qt makes it easier to produce a cross-platform application, it reduces some of the barriers to creating and maintaining a Linux version of the game. Interestingly, it may also open up the possibility of deployment on smartphones and tablets in the future.
Even though Blizzard’s developers have had an internal Linux build of WoW since before its original release and have kept it updated, it has never seen the light of day. Part of the reason is that there is some difficulty in deploying an application for multiple Linux distributions. Basing the app on Qt, especially if it’s statically linked (the way Skype for Linux is built), helps resolve some of those issues.
To be clear, Blizzard has not announced Linux support for any of its games, and if history is any guide, won’t do so unless they have something they’re happy with internally, and if they actually see a need to do so. While the possibility of Linux native games from Blizzard exists and seems to be growing, for the near future at least, Linux users are likely to remain second class citizens in Blizzard’s world.