Cracktivsion: Gabriel Knight Remake Linux Version Banned?

By John Walker on December 12th, 2013 at 2:00 pm.

Update: As we suspected, this is a misunderstanding rather than a conspiracy. A Linux version was never planned. Details below.

Activision have always been a strange lot. Peculiarly aloof to games journalists, they put out their billion dollar generating games with a raised nose, and that seems to be working out for them. But it doesn’t stop them from having a really rather meticulous stranglehold on the IPs they own but never touch. Try to create a fan game based on, say, the Atari 2600’s Fishing Derby, and you can be sure to have a letter from their spinning-eyed shark-teethed lawyers promptly delivered to your door. But most strange of all is the news that the new Gabriel Knight, created with Activision’s eventual blessing, is not allowed to be released on Linux.

After Jane Jenson’s ambiguous Kickstarter blasted its goal last year, it became obvious that fans wanted more than Moebius, and would like to see some of that cash funding a return to the world of Gabriel Knight. The studio announced in October that they (along with partners Phoenix Online) had gained the rights from Activision to recreate the original, Sins Of The Father, in modern shiny graphics with a whole new voice cast. Built in Unity, it will be only a button press away from a Mac and Linux version, so of course they promised these at the time.

Now they’ve had to take that back. While the game will be coming to PC and Mac and handhelds, Activision – they say – have prevented there being a penguin-flavoured port. Phoenix’s tech director, Weldon L Hathaway, took to their forum to sort of explain:

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but my previous statement that GK would be available on Linux turns out to be incorrect. I can’t even begin to imagine why, but Activision isn’t allowing the game to be made for that platform. Just PC, Mac, Android, and iOS devices.”

Their, and indeed our, immediate reaction – that doesn’t make sense – seems a pretty appropriate one. It doesn’t. While Activision have shown absolutely no interest in Linux, and don’t support the platform for any of their games, it seems extremely odd that they would want to prevent this game reaching more players. Which makes me wonder what’s actually going on here. Is this a case of the massive, rusting cogs in the Activision behemoth turning so slowly and clumsily that it doesn’t have a way to process this option, and so just fed out “NO” in angry red letters? Have there been crossed wires, misunderstandings, with either party not following what the other meant? Or is Activision just so batshit goat-eyed crazy that it sees it as its ongoing mission to bring down Free Software and all it stands for?

We’ve reached out to Activision to see if they’re willing to say why, and contacted Phoenix for some clarity on what happened from their side. (Oh, and no one tell them that Android is based on Linux!)

Update: Jane Jensen has posted to the Pinkerton forum to explain that this is all a misunderstanding. It seems there was never a Linux version planned. Odd, since Unity would spit one out for them, with just some additional Q/A needed, but not something they were aiming to do. So Activision have, to the best of our knowledge, not blocked anything.

Which makes it all the more odd that all we got out of Acti was a “no comment”. They seem to want to appear like the bad guys even when they’ve done nothing wrong!

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66 Comments »

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  1. lautalocos says:

    i like to think that the CEO of activision is a crazy goat, so i will keep believing that.

    • Meat Circus says:

      I think his door actually says “Corporate Sociopath Bobby Kotick” on it.

      • stupid_mcgee says:

        Bobby Kotick is a dickbag, but he’s hardly the worst CEO around. Hell, he’s hardly even the worst or most morally bankrupt video games CEO. John Riccitiello’s little song-and-dance with Elevation Partners, VG Holdings, BioWare, Pandemic, and EA is amazingly impressive.

  2. BobbyDylan says:

    Publishers: “Please don’t sell you game one of the minor platforms. Cos, fuck them. Also, please stop making free advertising for our products.”

  3. SanguineAngel says:

    batshit goat-eyed crazy

  4. Meat Circus says:

    Does somebody want to tell them that Android *is* Linux?

    But yeah. That doesn’t make any sense.

    • John Walker says:

      MARTIN! Go to your room and write out, “I will read the post before commenting” one hundred times.

    • ThTa says:

      Kernel-wise, sure, but Android really is quite different from the usual Linux distributions you see on PCs. So while the phrasing is incorrect (i.e. “no Linux” in general, when they probably mean “no GNU userland”) the distinction isn’t.

      It’s still silly, of course. And I’m really struggling to think of a reason why they’d do it. Maybe it’s a compatibility concern and them not wanting to offer after sales support?

  5. Premium User Badge

    AngelTear says:

    Maybe it does make sense. Maybe it’s just an answer to EA. They are proving they can be unreasonable and make crazy decisions too, and they can do it more and better than their rivals!

    • SanguineAngel says:

      Look, if there’s a poll to be be voted top of, Activision want to beat EA

    • The Random One says:

      At least EA fucks its consumers to increase its profits, or on Origin’s case fucks its profits to increase its control. They are evil, but sensibly so. Acti is fucking their costumers so they can fuck their profits. That’s a bad skin condition away from a Captain Planet villain.

      • Lemming says:

        Some publishing houses just want to watch the world burn…

    • lautalocos says:

      maybe activision thinks that “the worst company of america” is actually a prize they want

  6. wild_quinine says:

    My suspiscion is that there will be a high level business reason related to the upcoming SteamOS.

    It could be that they have a blanket agreement with Valve that they will not release Linux games through any platform other than SteamOS and the details for that are not yet finalised.

    Alternatively, it could be that Activision do not want to enable Valve to corner a Linux market. Perhaps they’re planning their own digitial delivery service, which will not be Linux based, for example.

    Or it could be that they have an agreement with Microsoft to a similar effect, likely Xbox One favours in exchange for not going to Linux on PC.

    Not that there are necessarily going to be good reasons, just that I don’t expect there will be NO reason.

    If it’s any of the reasons above, of course, we’ll never find out. Pure speculation on my part.

    • Dominic White says:

      Yeah, the only thing that springs to mind as a possible reason for blocking a Linux release is a bizarre corporate policy to try and reduce the number of titles that Valve’s own system could boast.

    • uh20 says:

      looks like our brainwaves hit over the internet.

      i would have to shoot down the first possibility however because steamOS [is] steam, the features have been updating regularly as just-plain big picture mode. valve even specifically stated “there will be no exclusives”

      more likely is a internal agreement to cripple valves hardware plans, even if it means killing off games for linux users.

      • Premium User Badge

        AngelTear says:

        I also think that the first conjecture is unlikely, but do not get confused over “there will be no exclusives”. I think they meant “there will be no Linux-only games”, but you can still have multi-platform games that are only purchasable on Steam. (which is what wild_quinine said)

      • uh20 says:

        “they will not release Linux games through any platform other than SteamOS” implied they would not be releasing on normal steam. no exclusives should also refer to being no steamOS games locked from normal steam distribution

    • Talon2000uk says:

      This man talks sense.

      • TechnicalBen says:

        No, no he does not. A “steam exclusive” goes against every bit of data we have so far. By all means it’s a possibility, but “deal with windows OS distributors” is far more likely.

        • wild_quinine says:

          Yes. I would also tend to the view that it’s about various deals intended to stop SteamOS from becoming an all-out success.

          It certainly could be something more benign, like they do want to release things in Linux but there’s a company policy on that and in the mean time there’s paperwork waiting on paperwork waiting on bureaucracy. And in most cases, that kind of solution to a mystery like this would be the right one.

          But this is about the first time in history there has been any chance of a AAA shift to Linux, and Valve are the only company that have ever been in a position of sufficient leverage to make it possible.

          Meanwhile Windows is looking less necessary than ever now that a majority of our computer interactions happen within reasonably agnostic browsers, or via cross platform services.

          It would be a bit paranoid to speculate about precisely what MS might do to avoid losing their hold on PC gaming, but it would be foolish to assume the answer would be ‘nothing’.

    • stupid_mcgee says:

      -edit- Derp! Sorry, this is meant to be @ wild_quinine:

      I’m sorry, but this does not pass the smell test.

      Really? Microsoft is worried that a fucking Gabriel Knight game might be the tipping point for Steam OS?

      Here’s a very valid and logical reason that actually does make sense: PC games are a much more niche market with less sales volume than most other game platforms. Linux makes up a significantly small userbase for PC game sales. Adventure games don’t tend to be very big sellers. Telltale’s “The Walking Dead” is a great exception, but I have a feeling that has more to do with the IP than the game itself.

      So, we have the PC market, which is a relatively small fraction of the overall gaming market. Then we have a niche adventure game, further minimizing the market, and then we have Linux which is an even smaller sliver of that drastically reduced market share.

      Video games cost money to make and take time to develop, even to port. So, why would Activision want a developer to denote time to porting a game that will likely never see anything even remotely significant in sales? You can hem and haw all day about releasing on every single platform to make as much money as you can, but that’s an incredibly foolish business decision. You need to see if the expense of porting to Linux is worth the money invested in it. I would imagine that it rarely is, and is often more about passion for the platform than anything else. I mean, for fucks’ sake, even Good Old Games doesn’t support Linux and has stated that the economics simply aren’t there.

      My guess is that Activision would rather the devs use their time and money on making the game as good as it can be, with as few bugs as possible, and to maximize the amount of content as much as possible rather than focusing on porting to an OS that will never net any serious return. This makes a lot more sense than some overt conspiracy to ensure that the OS with a staggering level of adoption stays at the top. It honestly makes no sense. MS doesn’t give half a damn about PC gaming and we all know it. There’s no way in hell that they would give Activison money only to ensure that games don’t come to Linux. Why not just secure a Windows-only release? It’s stupid, obtuse, and horribly illogical.

      • wild_quinine says:

        What you’ve written above makes sense, based on two assumptions that you have made.

        1) That we’re talking about Gabriel Knight being targetted specifically
        2) That Activision have any direct responsibility for the development of the Gabriel Knight remake.

        Both of these assumptions are wrong.

        However, we were only speculating. The update suggests that there may have been little more to it than a misunderstanding. Who knows?

  7. The Random One says:

    I would bet that some clueless exec thinks “Linux is open source… so if we let them release on Linux they’ll have to release the source, and pirates will be able to distribute it any way they want!”

    • UmmonTL says:

      This was pretty much my first thought, some Executive just heard Linux, thought pirates and said no way.

      • Bull0 says:

        It’s not like we’re talking about some business-critical project here; they’ve probably got a temp calling the shots on it. Whenever one of the big publishers does anything, we seem to jump to “they must have incomprehensible, but EVIL, machiavellian plans for this” and never “some muppet over there clearly doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing”

      • Bull0 says:

        It’s not like we’re talking about some business-critical project here; they’ve probably got a temp calling the shots on it. Whenever one of the big publishers does anything, we seem to jump to “they must have incomprehensible, but evil, machiavellian plans for this” and never “some muppet over there clearly doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing”

    • stupid_mcgee says:

      Or they had someone look at revenue for Linux games, realized this was an adventure game on PCs and that a Linux port would likely never be able to recoup the investment of porting. Or it’s just a standard policy they have because they don’t bother with Linux.

  8. uh20 says:

    if activision has some grudge about valve then this decision might be a steamOS thing…

  9. LionsPhil says:

    Perhaps market research shows that the Linux-using demographic would never accept the loss of Tim Curry’s voicework.

    • Premium User Badge

      Stellar Duck says:

      I’m not currently a Linux user, but I for one, are having a hard time convincing myself that I want this game without Tim Curry.

  10. lizzardborn says:

    Scared of SteamOS someone? That is the only plausible explanation outside of total incompetency.

    • who_me says:

      Why the hell should they be afraid of SteamOS? It’s not supposed to be a closed system (we’ll see how open tomorrow, when the beta is released). They don’t want to use Steam to distribute? Ok, then don’t. Nobody is forcing anything.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      If anything, I’d think Craptivision would be more afraid of the Steambox. They may see it as a shake-up threat to their deals with the dominant forces in console gaming, Sony and Microsoft.

  11. Fenix says:

    Unless they’re hoping Activision will be reasonable and change its mind (ha!), they should probably edit/remove the bits mentioning the Linux version from their Kickstarter page..

    • aurious says:

      They are not allowed to edit a Kickstarter page once the campaign has closed.

      Besides, Gabriel Knight is not a kickstarter funded game, that’d be “Moebius”, which I don’t believe to be affected by this.

      • Premium User Badge

        phlebas says:

        From the Kickstarter page:

        The first game we are creating is Moebius! See additional details below. The second game, called “Mystery Game X” is still TBA, but it will be produced as part of this offering.

        Mystery Game X is the Gabriel Knight remake.

  12. Reapy says:

    Weird, can you really stop it from running on linux? Just really can cut it from an officially supported format, but if the game just oops, ‘works’, when you install it on linux is that a problem? What if someone runs it on wine via linux?

    Whole thing seems odd, maybe its a move to get more attention for the game perhaps.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      “One does not simply install something on Linux”
      http://cdn.memegenerator.net/instances/400x/34074736.jpg

      (I knew that image would exist even without searching for it. I’m currently failing (have been for 2 months) to recompile Descent 2 from and open source repository and the game files. :( )

      • Cockie says:

        Ah yes, compiling yourself is horrible. I love Ubuntu, use it all the time, but every attempt at compiling something myself has ended in me giving up frustratedly after installing 20 missing libraries and the *&#é program still needing more of them.
        As long as you can use the built-in package manager installing is simple as anything and automatic updates for every program are very nice, so there’s that. :)

  13. Lemming says:

    It’s crappy, and it’s annoying but I wouldn’t say it’s inexplicable. They are clearly gearing up for some SteamOS releases and don’t want the lines blurred with a franchise they own, but wouldn’t be receiving money for if it become popular on the system.

    I am wondering why the developer (now that everyone who backed it knows it’s a Gabriel Knight style-thing), doesn’t just change enough to avoid copyright infringement and claim it as their own? Raphael Knight? Gabriel Squire?

  14. bit.bat says:

    Maybe they are preparing their own OS to compete with SteamOS.

    ActivOS tm

  15. rustybroomhandle says:

    That penguin is sad because he can’t ride a motorcycle.

  16. Dancorg says:

    I assume that it’s something related to costumer support, if they don’t have staff prepared to deal with Linux then they will not release any game for that platform.

    • rustybroomhandle says:

      I think the developer is fully prepared to handle their own customer support.

      • Dancorg says:

        Well, since it’s made with Unity, that doesn’t mean that the devs know how to work on Linux. Also, I don’t know much about Activision, if they have any game released on Linux, but if they don’t then supporting a new platform may imply reworking stores, websites, administration, support and all that is required to provide support for a new platform. Or maybe you are all right and they are just batshit goat-eyed crazy.

        • Premium User Badge

          phlebas says:

          Activision aren’t responsible for making, selling or supporting the game. They just own the rights to Gabriel Knight, so their permission is needed to release the game.

          • dogoncrook says:

            Which makes me wonder, did they not know this when they bought the rights? If they didn’t what the hell kind of lawyers do they have? If it didn’t come up at purchase, does that mean Activision still has control over the IP, as in veto’s and such? Either scenerio is pretty shitty. How good of a game can they make under a contract as onerous as this one probably is?

          • stupid_mcgee says:

            Really? Because, AFAIK, Activision is still slated to be the publisher. This is pretty common when you buy license rights from a publisher. Very few will sell you the rights and then let you publish it through another company. If that is still the case (which it most likely is), then Activision does have a part to play for providing support and selling the game.

  17. Premium User Badge

    Fitzmogwai says:

    Totally nothing do do with the story ( Activision: Boo!) but I want to rant about John’s use of the abominable phrase “reach out to”. It’s a hideous piece of touch-feely nonsense and should only be used in news about rescuing people from quicksand, the edges of buildings or cliff sides.

    If one is requesting information from a person or business, what’s wrong with writing “we asked…”?

  18. Premium User Badge

    RaveTurned says:

    I was about to suggest a boycotting Activision for being dictatorial asshats. Then I checked their publishing history and realised I’d already been accidentally boycotting their games for over five years. Awkward. :/

    • LionsPhil says:

      Hahaha, yeah.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      What, you’re not interested in shitty movie tie-ins and CoD?

      I had to go back to 2004 and Vampire – Bloodlines.

      • Premium User Badge

        Stellar Duck says:

        I accidentally bought the first Prototype game some years ago and then realised I’d bought my first Activision game since Rome Total War.

      • Premium User Badge

        Rikard Peterson says:

        Blur is from 2010, so you don’t have to go further back than that to find a good one.

    • Aaarrrggghhh says:

      Do they actually publish anything that is not CoD or Blizzard games?

  19. Premium User Badge

    stahlwerk says:

    The only possible explanation I can come up with is that the product managers at Activision somehow see Open Source Software as some kind of infectious disease because GPL or something. Hence allowing a statically compiled unity binary of the GK remake to run on ubuntu would force them to release the whole Sierra catalogue into the public domain.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Or the legal difficulties (but AFAIK running on Linux is not the same as the OS, so copyright still stands).
      Or the customer support.
      Or their agreements with other OS/distributors (thus restricted to their systems/models/support)
      Or DRM fears.
      Etc.

      • DatonKallandor says:

        Or they’re just corporate asshats who revel in being asshats. That’s at least consistent with their previous behavior. Their CEO is the devil after all.

  20. bar10dr says:

    Only reason I can think of is that they are scared of SteamOS for some reason.

  21. villadelfia says:

    Good thing it’s made in Unity then.

    This is how Unity games work: All the files except the bootstrapper are exactly the same on every version. So what you do is drop the bootstrapper from any linux Unity game in the game directory and run that.

    They have literally no recourse against this, it’s just how Unity works.

  22. Aaarrrggghhh says:

    meanwhile at Blizzard:
    “We really have to get out of here…fast!”

  23. DrMcCoy says:

    You know, it’s actually even worse that a Linux version was never planned.

    • uh20 says:

      going back to the kickstarter: the game was included as a bonus with moebius.

      although you may argue that they were not referencing game X to the features, full linux support was promised on the kickstarter page.

      the stuff the developers are using (unity) quite literally has a push button for cross-platform compiling, so i would be silly to say it was not planned.