I am doing a Reddit AMA on Tuesday 30th August 2016 at 9am Pacific (see other time zone times here). Find out more here.

This post has nothing to do with Canonical, just one of my own hair-brained ideas.

I was traveling into San Francisco the other day, and I had an idea I wanted to share. This is very much just an idea, and given I don’t have the time to work on it, I just wanted to share it so if someone else wants to run with it, they can.

Every Wednesday at 11am Pacific / 2pm Eastern, I do a live Ubuntu Q+A videocast. In pretty much every show someone always asks me about gaming on Ubuntu, and if it is going to be a focus for us. I think gaming is really important for Ubuntu and something we should certainly focus on more in the future. My idea is linked to the importance of gaming, but with a slightly different tack.


Not that type of gaming.

One of the wonderful elements of games consoles is that the experience is predictable every time. You pop in a disc or download a game, and you know you will get the same experience that everyone else gets. In addition to this, the development platform is consistent – game devs can share the same knowledge, techniques and approaches in building their games. This is the very definition of a platform; a predictable, definable target so that the developer can deliver a quality experience for all users.

Back in the late nineties and at the birth of the CD-ROM revolution, a new marketing standard evolved called the MPC specification. In it it defined a minimum hardware and software specification to ensure that software titles branded as MPC compatible would always run great.

As an example MPC Level 1 from 1991 was the following:

  • 16 MHz 386SX CPU
  • 2 MB RAM
  • 30 MB hard disk
  • 256-color, 640×480 VGA video card
  • 1x (single speed) CD-ROM drive using no more than 40% of CPU to read, with < 1 second seek time
  • Sound card outputting 22 kHz, 8-bit sound; and inputting 11 kHz, 8-bit sound
  • Windows 3.0 with Multimedia Extensions.

Essentially, the Playstation 3, Nintendo Wii, and XBox 360 are basically the same thing; a standard piece of hardware (and peripherals), and a standard Operating System and set of capabilities.


A child playing Duke Nukem Forever on a MPC Level 1 computer.

Now, the MPC programme didn’t really take off, and there are various reasons for that, but I am curious to see if the concept of a standardized platform still has merit. Thus, the idea…

The Idea

In a nutshell:

Define a hardware and software specification that would be branded as a gaming platform, putting Ubuntu at the heart of the story.

It could be interesting to decide on a hardware specification that provides a certain set of functionality that developers could target and profile their code on, and a defined set of software components that a given game could expect. Thus, if you find a computer with that hardware specification, and you package the software pieces up on a ubuntu-gaming-platform package, you are good to run all games designed for the platform.

There are a few interesting outcomes that could happen here:

  • For the hardware hackers among you, you could buy the hardware components and build custom set-top boxes that act as consoles for the platform. Also, hardware vendors could sell pre-built machines that consumers could run games on. The openness of the hardware platform would encourage competition and deliver low-cost hardware for the Ubuntu Gaming Platform.
  • Developers could have a standard tool-chain and set of facilities to build games, and existing Open Source games could be ported to the platform.
  • Developers would also have a consistent set of tools to share best practice and documentation about. We could build community around this platform.
  • These games could be exposed easily from the Ubuntu Software Center and if someone has the suitable hardware, they are only a click away from a set of titles that will run great on your system.
  • We could even set up an open governance board that certifies games that conform to the platform (in the same way Sony certifies and approves games for the Playstation platforms).
  • I think such a platform could also potentially attract commercial game developers’ interest too. A predictable, definable platform with many different hardware implementations that are cost effective

The end-user experience would be a set of games that they know will work well on hardware that they either buy as a console from a vendor or a box that they build themselves.

To do this we would need to standardize the hardware and software platform, brand it, and build a standard set of tools and resources to encourage developer adoption.

With the right people working on this idea, I think it could work. Thoughts?

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