Everything you need to know about Linux Proton on the Steam Deck

Is Steam Proton the future of handheld gaming?

Screengrab via Valve

The Steam Deck is Valve’s venture into portable gaming. In terms of hardware, the Steam Deck is nothing but impressive. But more importantly, the system has everything a portable gaming device needs, including a 7-inch touchscreen, dual thumbsticks, and a trackpad. While the Steam Deck may look like its mobile gaming counterparts, it performs nothing like them. 

What is Steam Proton?

What makes the Steam Deck unique is its software. The Steam Deck runs on a Linux-based software called Steam Proton. On paper, a Linux-based gaming system seems like a bad idea. Linux-based systems can only reliably play games that developers designated to be native to Linux. But, unfortunately, this is only a small amount of games, limiting the library of Linux compatible titles. 

However, the Proton operating system is a compatibility layer for Windows that works as an emulator with little cost to performance. Using Steam Proton allows the Steam Deck to run PC games native to Windows. To do this, Steam Proton is built on top of the essential Linux tools for gaming, such as Wine and DXVK, while also improving on their compatibility. 

Image via Valve Software

Essentially, Steam Proton will let users boot up any game from their Steam library and without having to fiddle with settings and multiple Linux OSs to get their games running properly. Although Steam Proton is great at running a handful of select single-player games, Valve still has a long way to go if it wants every Steam game to run on Proton as effortlessly as they do on Windows. 

How to test Steam Proton right now

Proton is still in development, but players can try it right now on any Linux desktop with Steam installed.

Screengrab via Valve
  • Open Steam, head over to Settings, and click on the Steam Play tab. 
  • Check the box at the top that says Enable Steam Play for Supported Titles.
  • Under Advanced Settings, check both Enable Steam Play for All Titles and Use This Tool Instead of Game-Specific Selections from Steam. 
  • Click the Compatibility Tool dropdown and select the newest version of Proton.
  • Click OK in the Settings menu, then restart Steam.

Now you can start running Windows games on Steam Proton by simply downloading and launching them using the Steam UI.  

What games are compatible with Steam Proton?

Valve wants to make every major Steam game playable on Proton. However, Proton is still in its early stages and will need to be constantly tweaked by Valve, with most games needing to be further tested and troubleshot. 

Because Valve can’t test every game itself, they’ve set up ProtonPB. ProtonPB is a system that gathers reports from users playing games on Proton to gauge the performance of each game. Valve will then use this information to make adjustments to Proton. On top of this, users can use ProtonDB to discover which games run well on Proton and which ones struggle. For example, Rocket League, Dota 2, and Terraria run great on Proton, while others need more work.

Screengrab via Valve

Fans of competitive first-person shooters will be disappointed by the Steam Deck, as games like Apex Legends, VALORANT, and PUBG won’t run on the current version of Proton. A lot of this has to do with anti-cheat systems and how it interacts with Linux. If Valve can find a way to get a solid anti-cheat up and running on Proton, it will open the door to many more multiplayer titles making their way to Steam Proton. But if Valve doesn’t make the constant adjustments to bring new games to Steam Proton, the Steam Deck might find itself dead in the water.