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While the Unreal Engine has enjoyed Linux support in the past, with Unreal Engine 4 we want to make Linux a first class member of our platform family. Our plans regarding the Linux platform balance the needs of both our internal projects and some partner projects, alongside the larger needs of the Linux community. This roughly translates to four large areas of Unreal Engine4 Linux development (each with its own unique challenges):
robust, secure and CPU-effective Linux game servers
full-featured Linux client support
feature-rich, native Linux development tools
enhancing our tools on Windows and Mac OS to make targeting Linux easy
When hearing about Unreal Engine 4 supporting Linux, it is easy to only think about the first three. However, if we want Linux to take off in the game development industry at large, we need a seamless integration with existing workflows of game companies, so that costs of shipping a Linux version of the game are minimized. That is why, somewhat counter intuitively, we need robust Windows and Mac OS tools that would allow anyone to target Linux by just recompiling and repackaging the project. This is also why we started out with cross-compilation and are planning to continue to support it, while also working to make native development easier.
We believe that this ability to target Linux (and, particularly, SteamOS) with cross-tools using the existing development environment is needed in order for it to get broader traction.
When we released 4.0 two months ago, we only supported Linux dedicated servers; by now official support includes running packaged games (both standalone game and client). Having SteamOS in mind, we consciously limited ourselves to the x86-64 architecture with the officially supported way of developing being cross-compilation from Windows (Mac OS toolchain will be added in the future). Documentation (admittedly scarce) of the process is maintained through the community wiki.
Needless to say, the vibrant Linux community wanted more from the very beginning. Once the Unreal Engine was out in the wild, enthusiastic developers (some of them working for much bigger companies than ours!) quickly picked up the slack and started with their own initiatives, which concentrate on getting development tools running on the platform. While we had (and have) that in our plans (take a look at the engine roadmap that we recently made public), quite frankly we did not expect that to happen so soon. Yet the community managed to beat us to getting Unreal Editor to start under Linux.