How to play Windows games in Linux


Game developers are increasingly taking advantage of the growing market in Linux gaming, but that’s not always been the case, and even now some games aren’t released outside of Windows. Thanks to a clever tool called Wine, though, you can run many Windows games—and other apps, including Office—as though they were native to Linux.

Wine provides a skeletal virtual version of Windows, inside which you install extra components and perform various tweaks (for example, selecting which version of Windows you want to emulate) to get your app working. Sadly, it’s not a silver bullet that will get all your Windows games working in Linux, but it should be able to give you access to at least some of them.

The biggest hurdle is that Wine is a command-line tool—great for purists; not so convenient if you want to point and click your way to gaming heaven. Thankfully, others have developed graphical “wrappers” that sit on top of Wine to make it easier to use from the Ubuntu desktop.

In this guide, we’re focusing on one such free tool called PlayOnLinux. Not only does it provide a graphical front end, but PlayOnLinux (or POL to its pals) provides a series of pre-built scripts that, in theory, make it easy to install and play specific games. As you’ll see, in practice that’s not always the case, but we’ll take you on a tour of the program’s features, plus step you through the process of installing both through scripts and manually, to hopefully get your game up and running.

We’ll also explore an alternative Wine wrapper (and touch on another way to play Windows games in Linux), plus reveal how to play old DOS games in addition to Windows classics. So, plug in your game controller, dig out your old Windows discs, and prepare to enter gaming nirvana.

POL provides literally hundreds of scripts for games.

For the most part, playing Windows games in Linux involves the Wine emulator. PlayOnLinux (POL) is effectively a more user-friendly front end to Wine, enabling you to configure and access it from outside the command line. Generally, Windows games are played in a 32-bit environment, so if you’re running a 64-bit build of Linux, you need to open a Terminal window, and then issue the following commands:

$ sudo dpkg --add-architecture i386
$ sudo apt-get update

The following steps install the latest version of Wine:

$ wget -nc
$ sudo apt-key add Release.key
$ sudo apt-add-repository https://
$ sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install --install-recommends winehqstable

Note: This is a hefty install—around 800MB—so make sure you have sufficient drive space. Once done, you can move on to install POL itself:

$ wget -q “ public.gpg” -O- | sudo apt-key add -
$ sudo wget http://deb.playonlinux. com/playonlinux_trusty.list -O /etc/apt/ sources.list.d/playonlinux.list
$ sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install playonlinux

Open Launcher and type “PlayOnLinux” to launch the app. When prompted, we recommend clicking “Yes” to anonymously record and share your hardware configuration with POL the first time you attempt to run a Windows program—this helps determine its suitability for similar setups as yours.

The main screen appears, and you might be immediately informed that a newer version is available—if this is the case, go here and save the latest deb file (4.2.12) to your “Downloads” folder, then open a Terminal window, and type the following to install it:

$ sudo apt install ~/Downloads/ PlayOnLinux_4.2.12.deb
$ playonlinux --version

This should now read “4.2.12.” Launch PlayOnLinux again.

You only need the command line to install Wine and PlayOnLinux.

Install a supported game

When the main screen appears again, click “Install a program,” and the “Install” menu appears. Click the “Games” button to see a list of supported games. Either browse through the list or use the “Search” button to find a specific game. Some of the games listed require the original disc to run, so make sure that’s handy if required.

If you find the game you want, click “Install,” and note the warning: Games should always be installed to “drive C” of the virtual machine; don’t automatically launch the game at the end of the installation if asked; and only reboot virtual Windows if asked to by the program. Click “Next.”

You’re also told how POL isn’t related to WineHQ—one additional advantage of POL is that it allows you to install and run multiple versions of Wine at the same time, so if an earlier version is known to work with a specific game, the POL script installs that, and uses it automatically. This warning merely points out you should address any problems you encounter to the POL website, not WineHQ. Click “Next” again.

Games are installed just as they would be in Windows.

The installation wizard proper launches—work your way through it as you would with any other Windows program. Step one may be to download a specific version of Wine (and required prerequisites) known to work with the game you’ve chosen—this is done automatically for you.

Next, you might be prompted to choose the game source. This could be a setup file you’ve downloaded manually to your PC, a program download (which POL handles for you), a Steam store version (in which case, a virtual version of Steam needs to be installed), or the original game CD.

Any known additional prerequisites—such as Microsoft fonts—are now flagged up, and again installed automatically for you. This is where the automatic wizard comes into its own, highlighting settings and Windows elements you may not be aware of. You might also be asked additional questions, such as how much memory your graphics card has; enter the following in a Terminal window if you’re not sure.

sudo dmseg | grep drm

If the script continues to run properly, skip to “Install the game” on the following page.

Find an unsupported game

If you can’t find your game listed in PlayOnLinux or the script fails to work, don’t panic (yet). Head to the Wine Application Database and type the name of your game into the Search box. Scroll down, and click the first AppDB result. Note the game’s rating: Platinum and Gold indicate the game should work with few problems; Silver and Bronze suggest there may be issues, such as random crashes; Garbage means it won’t work. If multiple versions are listed, choose the one closest to your distro and the game.

From here, work through the “Test Results” and “Known Bugs” to see how other people have fared, then expand “HowTo/Notes” to see what guidance there is in terms of prerequisites, which version of Wine to choose, and so on. Also check “Comments” for further information.

In some cases, you receive detailed instructions on what extras to install and how to configure your virtual disk, but sometimes the notes are incredibly sketchy. Try Googling the name of your game along with “Wine” or “PlayOnLinux” to see if you can find any more information—typically via forum posts from people asking the exact same questions you are.

POL enables you to run multiple versions of Wine at once.

POL enables you to run multiple versions of Wine at once.

If you’re happy there’s a good chance the game will work, first make sure you have the correct version of Wine installed (you can install multiple versions). In PlayOnLinux, open the “Tools” menu, and select “Manage Wine Versions.” You’ll see a list of available Wine versions on the left under the “Wine versions (x86)” tab. Scroll through, finding the one recommended, and click the “>” button to install it.

Close the versions manager window, then click “Install a program,” followed by “Install a non-listed program.” Click “Next,” then choose “Install a program in a new virtual drive,” and click “Next” again. Give a name for your game’s virtual drive—the game’s name should suffice.

You’re given three optional choices to select: Choose a different version of Wine; configure Wine; and install some libraries. Select those you’ll need—“Use another version of Wine” almost certainly—then click “Next.” If you’re choosing a different version of Wine  select it from the list. Click “Next.” Leave “32-bit Windows installation” selected, and click “Next” again.

If you opted to install additional libraries, you’re given a list of options marked with a “POL_” prefix. They’re largely self-explanatory—you’ll see many refer to installing additional components, such as DirectX or GDIplus, for example.

If you opt to tweak Wine settings, the Wine configuration window opens. This is split into seven tabs, all of which are largely self-explanatory. Key ones to consider are “Libraries,” where you can specify DLL overrides for compatibility purposes; “Graphics,” for determining whether the program runs full-screen or in its own desktop window; and “Audio,” for tweaking sound settings, should you need to. Click “OK” when done.

On page 2: We guide you through installing games, Steam, and even playing DOS games.