Linux Users Do Buy Things After All

Most Linux users (especially gamers) have probably heard the meme at some point about how Linux people won't buy stuff, because they're cheap or they're used to getting stuff free.

There is growing evidence that this isn't true. There's been a recent groundswell of support from indie game developers to support Linux, with exactly the principle that they're willing to buy, and do so in a disproportionate way relative to the market share figures usually touted as reasons to not support Linux.

2dboy, the developers of the highly popular World of Goo game, beat their previous daily sales records when the Linux version was released. Then later, in a pay as much as you want sale, Linux users outspent Mac and Windows users, paying the largest amount on average by a significant margin:

We were expecting the average price paid to be highest for Linux users and lowest for Windows users, but the gap was larger than we thought it would be…

Also, the per-platform download breakdown was pretty surprising, with Windows accounting for 65%, and Mac and Linux pretty much splitting the remainder evenly:


The developer of Mystic Mine saw the same affect with Linux users making up 30% of sales and had the highest conversion conversion rate of website visitors to paying customers, who then later went on to make a post giving 5 reasons you should support Linux:

Before releasing Mystic Mine, I honestly had no idea if it was going to sell on Linux. I expected it to sell well on Mac OS X and Windows, because other indies have already reported this, but on Linux, I had absolutely no idea. My initial thoughs were that Linux users are used to getting quality stuff for free, so I didn’t expect them to pay for software. So would they pay for games? Probably not. But now I know how wrong that assumption was. Just look at my findings below.

I released Mystic Mine the 3rd of February 2009, so currently there is 7 months of statistical data. Let’s first take a look at the web visitors I got during that period:

So I got 40.29% visitors using Windows, 36.30% using Mac and 22.58% using Linux. Nothing special with these figures, because it’s easier to get Mac or Linux exposure, but there are still a lot more Windows users.

But if you look at my sales, that’s quite a different story:
  • Mac OS X: 42.72%
  • Linux: 33.98%
  • Windows: 23.30%
Linux represents 1/3rd of my total sales, which is quite a lot if you compare that to the number of Linux visitors I get. And now comes the cool part. Below are the conversion rates per OS for my Mystic Mine game. Conversion rate means the number of sales I get per visitor (Remark that indie game developers normally work with sales per demo download, not per web visitor):
  • Linux: 0.43%
  • Mac OS X: 0.39%
  • Windows:  0.19%
As you can see Linux is way up there, which is quite a surprise to say the least. For every 232 Linux visitors I get on my website, one of them buys my game. If you compare that to windows users, I need 526 of them to get a sale. For Mac OS X it’s 256. So who would have thought that Linux users are the most eager to buy an indie game? Certainly not me.


This was on top of an already existing recommendation by Wolfire games to support Mac and Linux alongside Windows, citing similar reasoning (including being "a big fish in a little pond"):

1. It's good to be a big fish in a small pond

As a pretty niche independent game, Lugaru was never covered by PC Gamer, IGN, and other behemoth media publications. However, it was just large enough to get covered in a variety of Mac journals. One website, Inside Mac Games fell in love with it and posted about it all the time.

If you support Macs, even a small indie video game can rapidly spread throughout the community whereas the huge Windows market might just ignore you.

2. More platforms means more opportunities

As an indie video game studio, we don't have many resources in the way of marketing. It's embarrassing how much we rely on serendipity, for example, getting posted on fun-motion right when the admin decides to take a break, or getting called up by Igromania randomly.

We have had more than our fair share of Mac serendipity though. A recent example: Lugaru was promoted in MacHeist's Giving Tree. This generated the equivalent of like three diggings worth of traffic. We were up to 30 requests / second at its peak and dwarfed any event in the history of our Google Analytics. If we didn't have a Mac OS X build, we simply wouldn't have had this opportunity.

3. Vocal minorities

Having a Linux build meant coverage on Slashdot. This of course generated huge interest in not just the Linux version of Lugaru, but the Windows and Mac versions too. Lugaru also made an appearance in a few Linux magazines. A lot of people heard about and supported Lugaru simply because we had a Linux build.

4. You can't choose your evangelists

If you're familiar with Guy Kawasaki's philosophy of evangelism, this shouldn't be any surprise. You'll notice that a small minority of your users will go crazy with your game and spread it all over the place. On the internet, all it takes is one thread on a popular forum, and you've literally got hundreds or thousands of new visitors. Basically, a small amount of your users can make a huge difference for you, and they might be Mac and Linux users.

A notable number of the Wolfire fans who hang out in IRC and spread Overgrowth like crazy are Mac users and we would be much smaller without them.

5. You can't choose your power users

In the same vein as the above, you never know who the movers and shakers are going to be in your community. In Wolfire's case, we are forever indebted to Wolfire forum regular, Silb. He actually reverse-engineered portions of Lugaru and made a kick-ass, extremely popular replacement campaign for the game, providing a huge amount of extra content to other people. His single, epic thread has been viewed over a hundred thousand times.

Oh yeah. He's a Mac user.


Prior to this was also 2 other posts that Wolfire did supporting the use of open standards like OpenGL over DirectX as being more beneficial in the long term for compatibility and general technical reasons, then revisiting the argument to reaffirm that support after certain criticisms had come up.

In light of all this, another indie developer, Fishing Cactus, announced they were porting their engine and various projects to Linux, seemingly doing a developer diary feature along the way, whilst citing previous sales of World of Goo as support of why they're porting to Linux. They're also working on providing an open source localisation tool specifically created for use in game development.

Since then, a major experiment between 5 indie developers including both Wolfire and 2dboy was conducted with another pay as much as you want sale offering a game from each as part of a bundle, of which part of the proceeds of each sale would by default share out the sales amongst each developer and also 2 charities. As of May 8th, the statistics show once again that indeed Linux gamers pay, and do so disproportionately compared to the market share statistics:

Source: http://www.wolfire.com/humble

Wolfire also made a few posts about some of the statistics that had come out of the experiment:

At the moment, we have about 53,500 donations -- far more than we expected! But where did they come from? Our breakdown for number of donations per platform is: 65% Windows, 21% Mac, and 14% Linux. However, when we look at the amount donated per platform, we see something different. Our breakdown for total donation size per platform is 52% Windows, 25% Mac, and 23% Linux. Here are these results in pie chart form:

This could only be explained if Mac and Linux users are making much higher contributions than Windows users. So far, the average Mac user is donating 40% more, and the average Linux user is donating 100% more! Here is a bar graph showing the different average donation amounts:

Linux users contribute twice as much as Windows users

Shortly after the event had ended, it was announced that in crossing the $1,000,000 mark they were going to open source four of the games in the bundle and extended the deal by 3 days. Suffice to say, people continued to contribute to sales of the game.

Even more recently, developers of a game called Osmos had ported to Linux, and did a small 3 part examination of the process and and figures:

A little over a month ago we released the Linux port of Osmos, promising statistics on our sales and downloads. We wanted to find out - from a financial perspective, for our studio - “is it worth porting games to Linux?”

The short, simple answer… is “yes.”

Did we get rich off it? No. But the time we invested was repaid, with room for margin of error, and possibly with a little extra at the end.


So… let’s call it an even 2 man-months across the board for our studio. A big question is, what’s a man-month worth? All I can say is, if your answer is the industry consulting standard of $10k/month — you’ve way overbid, and put the Linux port of Osmos into the financial-loss category. However, as independent developers with a passion for what we do, our goals and desires are considerably lower than that (i.e. less than half).


Unfortunately, this isn’t so simple for us to measure. We’re selling Osmos under a pay-once-for-all-platforms philosophy — for $10 you get the Windows, Mac and Linux versions. So the numbers are fuzzy. What we can determine though, is how many times each person downloaded each version. We can also look at our sales graph over time, where there is a clear and obvious spike associated with the release on each platform.

On first glance, one very cool stat emerges: our best sales day ever (by 29%) was right after the Linux release, similar to what 2dboy experienced with World of Goo. That said, the spike is also somewhat narrower than what it was for the Windows or Mac releases. In any case, if we measure the area above the “background noise” for the Linux release (based on the previous month’s sales), this gives us a conservative lower bound on sales. I say lower bound for several reasons. 1) As many Linux folk have pointed out, some purchased Osmos prior to the Linux release in support of our studio and on the promise that we would deliver the port. 2) There may still be some Linux mini-spikes to come, and future “background noise” will of course include Linux customers. That said, based solely on these numbers, Linux accounts for roughly 15% of our sales to date.



When we say “yes, it was worth porting Osmos to Linux”, we’re basing it on the lower bound. If the reality is closer to the upper bound: that’s “gravy”. The tail: more gravy. (Though it does cost us time and money to support and maintain the site).

It’s also important to note that this analysis applies only to sales from the Hemisphere Games website. The majority of Osmos sales come from portals — in particular, Steam. (Steam’s recent addition of Mac support has had a huge effect on our Mac numbers.) If we were to include portals in this analysis, the percentages would look very different. So in the bigger picture, the lack of a strong Linux portal makes it a much less “competitive” OS for commercial development. Of course, if Steam or another successful digital distribution portal decides to support Linux, that’d be major! Like… extra gravy. With stuffing. Mmmmm… stuffing…


The post later goes on to detail where most of the Linux release traffic came from, with most coming from eastern sites, with Russia based sites making 3 of the top 5 along side one German site. It also details the difference in support emails they received, some of which even included patches for the problems.

Update 18/04/2011

Wolfire started the third in their Humble Bundle sales on the 12th of April, 2011, the Humble Frozenbyte Bundle, this time dedicated to a particular developer named in the title. It contained 5 games, 3 of which were released and available on Linux, another in development that will be available on Linux, and a fifth that exists as Windows only, but with source code and assets provided with some support from the developers in producing a Linux/Mac client. As of 18/04/2011, Linux users for the third time in the Bundle series had the highest average donation at $11.71, and were the second highest in overall money generated at ~25% ahead of Mac users and behind Windows users.

Source: Humble Bundle

Developers Mentioned:

Fishing Cactus
Hemishphere Games


World of Goo (2dboy)
Lugaru and Overgrowth (Wolfire)
Mystic Mine (Koonsolo)
Trine (Frozenbyte)
Shadowgrounds Series(Frozenbyte)


  1. "they're engine?"
    And your comment form says "remember to double check for spelling and grammar errors..."

  2. now that the humble bundle 2 is here, we are seeing the same numbers.

    It has been confirmed that mac and specially Linux users care more for indie games, specially since linux users related deeply with the "little guy" concept.

    Windows users dont care much, and sadly a big amount paid like 0.50 cents and/or distributed them by torrents..

    piracy is really bad for indies.

    anyway i hope to see part2 of this post soon, cheers! :)


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