You might not have noticed but gaming on the Mac is undergoing a quiet boom period. There are now over 3,000 titles available on Steam, for example, providing for a total of four million active players. And that’s not counting titles available through other delivery systems like Origin or Battle.net.
To get an idea of the true state of the Mac gaming scene, we spoke to Ric Molina, editor of Mac Gamer HQ and compiler of the superb Top 100 Best Mac Games list. Ric tells us he moved to the Mac almost 10 years ago and loved it all aside from one thing: gaming. Age of Empires and Spore seemed to be the best Mac gaming options. But after a little digging, it turned out that tons of great games were available on Mac. They were just hard to find. So, Ric started his site, which aims to give Mac gaming the exposure it deserves through reviews, guides, and news.
MKF: Why should somebody use a Mac for gaming?
Ric: Mac users do not choose a Mac for gaming. We choose a Mac because we prefer the platform, both hardware and software. Macs are better looking, they last longer and have fewer bugs and viruses. OS X is much more elegant and for the most part, it “just works”.
Windows offers many more options when it comes to gaming, and if gaming is your top priority, go for Windows. But that doesn’t mean the Mac can’t play games too.
This is what got me started with Mac Gamer HQ. I moved to the Mac because I preferred the overall experience. But I didn’t want to give up on gaming, and that’s when I started digging around to see what the real possibilities were. And contrary to popular belief, there were plenty.
MKF: Where does Mac stand in the gaming scheme of things – that is, consoles, PCs, handhelds, etc. Is Mac gaming more comparable with console gaming than the PC enthusiast crowd?
Ric: Compared to other gaming platforms, the Mac is clearly lagging behind. Not all Windows games ever make it to the Mac, and some can take a year or more to arrive. Why is that? Simply because the Mac is a much smaller platform. Developers focus on the platforms where they can sell the most copies. This is happening to Windows too. Some developers are clearly putting consoles first, because that market is even bigger.
That said, the Mac, many developers, especially indies, are opting for multi-platform development. Plus, companies such as Feral or Aspyr are pushing for Mac and Linux deals when it comes to porting Windows games.
MKF: What do you think about the potential for external GPUs via Thunderbolt 3, coming to Macs soon? Or existing solutions utilizing Thunderbolt 2?
Ric: I have the same opinion no matter the platform: sounds interesting, but it’s way too expensive (for now). Razer recently announced the Razer Core, which lets you attach an external graphics card to your laptop, but costs $500 – plus you need to buy a graphics card. Macs can’t use that, not until Apple starts supporting Thunderbolt 3, but other solutions do exist. MacVidCards and Netkas both offer similar solutions that work on Mac using Thunderbolt 2. That said, if I were you, I would wait until prices go down.
MKF: Where do you think mac gaming is going to be in, say, five years?
Ric: Giving recent trends, I believe the Mac will support more games with faster release dates. Why? Just a few years ago, you could only expect 1 or 2 big Mac games a year. Nowadays, you can expect something exciting every month. Just take a look at 2016. There’s XCOM 2 and Firewatch, with Sleeping Dogs around the corner.
If Apple decides to take Mac gaming more seriously, the situation could be even better. What could they do? First of all better support their new Metal for OS X, and proactively help those developers that have always supported the Mac – like Blizzard and Valve.
However, if the trend of using only integrated graphics continues, this will become the main bottleneck. Why bother developing Mac games if the hardware isn’t powerful enough? That’s the reason why the Oculus Rift team publicly decided to not support the Mac.
MKF: What do you think of using Wineskin to run windows games under a kind of emulation on the Mac? [Note: Wineskin is an app that makes possible the running of actual Windows games on Mac via WINE, which recreates the Windows subsystems on OS X and Linux/Unix.]
Ric: Wineskin and similar solutions are totally viable… If you’re willing to tinker, test and debug first. I don’t personally like it because there’s often issues that need to be resolved. And I like my Mac experience simple and painless. However, once you set up a proper wrapper, you can play Windows games with decent performance without ever leaving OS X. Many love using Wineskin and I can’t blame them, because once the game is stable, it works great.
MKF: At one time games were all about DirectX, which is to say, Microsoft-only. What do you think has led game manufacturers to leap to Mac and Linux?
Ric: DirectX is still the norm. However, thanks to engines such as Unity and DirectX alternatives such as Vulkan, multiplatform development is becoming easier and more viable. Plus, porting companies such as Feral and Aspyr have become extremely good at bringing DirectX-based games to Mac and Linux. This explains why more and more games make it to the Mac.
However, DirectX is still king, and most developers still work solely on it.
MKF: Do iOS devices give Apple a possible upper-hand that other platforms don’t have?
Ric: There’s a debate whether iOS hurts or helps Mac gaming. In a way, iOS gives more exposure to all of Apple’s platforms. For example, many iOS games end up getting a Mac version too. On the other hand, Apple’s focus is clearly on iOS.
In many ways, OS X feels left behind: OpenGL is outdated, the Mac App Store has half of the features the [iOS] App Store has, and most Macs are moving towards integrated graphics.