The Mac gaming landscape remains dire, with no improvements in sight

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in macOS
Apple is in a very strange position with the Mac and iOS in regards to gaming. One platform is enormous and making a ton of money for Apple and some developers, and the other is nearly dead. AppleInsider talks about the two, and what, if anything, is going on to improve the situation.

Mac gaming


Let's be frank: Apple's Mac hardware is not well optimized for gaming. Making matters worse, the marketshare gap between Windows and macOS is profound. That said, the iPhone and iPad are gaming powerhouses for the mainstream consumer, and they aren't showing any signs of slowing.

While venues like Mac Gamer HQ covering Mac gaming still are about, nobody else really has much to say about the situation.

So, let's talk about it.

Apple's hardware is great, but not for gaming

Looking to hardware, Apple uses integrated graphical chipsets in many of their machines, leaving dedicated GPUs to the most high-end Macs. These machines are primarily geared towards creative professionals, and not gamers, leaving that audience underserved.

But, Apple does have a solid workaround for owners of modern machines thanks to the recent macOS 10.13.4 update.

eGPU support


Apple's macOS High Sierra 10.13.4 now supports external GPUs over Thunderbolt 3. Summarizing the situation, a Mac owner with Thunderbolt 3 can buy an external enclosure, and drop in a graphics card that can be upgraded over time.

This comes at a pretty profound price premium, though. With enclosures generally around $300, and a card with any heft hitting $300 and increasing dramatically, doing so is a non-trivial expense in addition to the computer itself. Plus, without hacks, Nvidia card support is non-existent.

BootCamp to install Windows on a Mac is workable, but eGPU support in BootCamp doesn't exist without workarounds right now. So, given Apple's GPU choices, it isn't a great one.

Apple jumping into Virtual Reality

With the eGPU, comes Apple's first tentative steps into virtual reality. At the 2017 WWDC, while talking about eGPUs, Apple officially added support for VR as well. HTC Vive now works on macOS and Valve launched SteamVR at the same time.

This certainly paves the way, especially with an eGPU, for more immersive gaming on the Mac, even if adoption has been tepid to start.

Apple has the smallest gaming platform, and the biggest

Primarily when it comes to gaming, we think of large role-playing games like "Skyrim" or first-person shooters like "Destiny" or "Halo,", but just counting these this ignores the biggest market for games. So-called "casual" gamers by far make up the largest sector of those who play, and more often than not they do so on their mobile device.

According to Statista, in July 2017, iOS had over 783,000 games available on the App Store. This is a stunning amount of titles.

Apple's new frameworks for porting over iOS applications to the Mac might be a big deal for gamers. This probably won't help with huge AAA titles, but popular ones such as "Alto's Adventure," "Clash of Clans," and the like.

If this proves to be effective, it could encourage larger-scale mobile developers to give the Mac a second look, at least for more casual titles.

Apple has used this new platform to port a few apps of their own in macOS Mojave; News, Home, Stocks, and Voice Memos. It will become fully available for third-party developers in 2019.

32-bit apps, OpenGL, and Metal

Metal 2 also got screen-time at WWDC. Apple announced the official deprecation of OpenGL, with new titles expected to use Metal 2 as an alternative. Most games running on macOS already use OpenGL which has caused quite a bit of discontent among developers.

Games and graphics-intensive apps that use OpenGL will eventually cease to run as Apple's OS march continues, without maintenance by the developer. This is further complicated by Apple's declaration that 32-bit apps will no longer be supported after macOS Mojave.

But, Apple has provided the ability to make apps 64-bit for a decade. So, it's not like this is a big surprise, unless you're a Valve front-end developer apparently. As of June 13, 2018, the Steam app itself still isn't 64-bit.

Mac App Store, and Steam help -- but aren't the solution

Don't get us wrong. Porting houses Feral Interactive and Aspyr are doing a fantastic job. But, they are only two companies and they are vastly outnumbered by the AAA publishing houses.

Firewatch on the Mac App Store


This all sounds pretty dire. But, popular titles have still shown up on Steam or the Mac App Store. Titles like "Firewatch" launched on Mac at the same time as other platforms, and "Civilization 6" was pretty close to day and date.

But, this also exposes some problems. "Firewatch" launched towards the tail end of 2016 and to this day the Mac App Store is still promoting the game after minor updates. It is a fantastic game, but it shows the lack of other content the Mac App Store has to work with.

Steam on Mac


Steam, the go-to PC gaming platform, has been available on Mac for years at this point. But, as readers are likely aware, the vast majority of games on it are Windows-only. Looking specifically at the macOS games filter that Steam provides reveals a lot of small titles and new content highlights instead of new, popular games.

We saw this lack of availability recently as we were testing out Steam Link, which allows you to play powerful desktop games on your iOS/tvOS device using your Mac or Windows PC to do the heavy lifting. As we perused the top games Valve recommended to test, the vast majority were not available on macOS.

Valve and Apple have been working together lately, and though Apple eventually rejected the Steam Link from the iOS App Store, they are working together to make it available once more.

Even as Apple has made improvements to the platform, and fully embraced gaming on iOS with nods to it on tvOS, it still has not been enough to entice publishers to throw more weight behind the Mac. In the last several years, very little has changed overall with the lion's share of PC gamers clearly opting for Windows over macOS.

We aren't going to claim to be big Mac gamers. We have a few, but the couple of AppleInsider staffers who game have Windows PCs, or consoles -- or just play on our iPads or iPhones.

Looking to the future, gaming on the Mac overall seems unlikely to get better.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 67
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,230member
    If E3 is any indicator, there’s nothing being released worth playing–much less paying for–anyway. And that’s my time for this thread (beyond discussing actual hardware, that is); some of you know exactly what sort of thing I’m referencing.
  • Reply 2 of 67
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 3,760member
    Looking to the future, gaming on the Mac overall seems unlikely to get better.
    True. 

    The company isn't really interested in gaming for the Mac. But then they’re not interested in lots of things. If they thought they could bring something unique to the table then they’d probably have a crack at it, but gamers like large machines that can heat a small office; that’s just not in Apple’s DNA. 
    edited June 13 lkruppradarthekatbaconstangMisterKitmcdavejony0
  • Reply 3 of 67
    There are some iOS games that would be amazing on the Mac. Don’t disagree that having huge blockbuster titles are unlikely to show, but there are some incredible games that could possibly be ported to Mac under Marzipan. 
    foregoneconclusionracerhomie3
  • Reply 4 of 67
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,425member
    Rayz2016 said:
    Looking to the future, gaming on the Mac overall seems unlikely to get better.
    True. 

    The company isn't really interested in gaming for the Mac. But then they’re not interested in lots of things. If they thought they could bring something unique to the table then they’d probably have a crack at it, but gamers like large machines that can heat a small office; that’s just no in Apple’s DNA. 
    And the fact that you can take your Mac and run Windows on it if you're just a casual gamer why would Apple work to make things better. Its pretty much already set in stone that most people think Macs suck for gaming. 
    lamboaudi4
  • Reply 5 of 67
    bitmodbitmod Posts: 170member
    20+ years ago at my old design house, we used wrap up early Fridays, grab some beer, and LAN game into the night... Warcraft and Marathon etc. (Original beige G3’s). 
    It cemented our love for the Mac platform, being able to do something other than Adobe, Corel, and ClarisWorks. 
    We took pride in our machines, maintaining them, upgrading them, loving them, they were an extension of our identity. 
    Now that magic is mostly gone. They are soulless tools for work. The 4th wife - you still love them, but meh. Mostly Utility. 

    What some here don’t understand (iPhone investors generation) is that gaming was part of the magic and mojo that kept people passionate about the Mac, and inevitably kept the company alive. It’s largely that same group screaming for true pro Macs - that we can get attached to, give some upgrade love to - instead of the one-night-stand iMacs we got now. 


    muthuk_vanalingamberndogdigital_guyemoellerpropodentropysargonautadm1rossggg
  • Reply 6 of 67
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 6,068member
    Is the PC gaming market really that big? Tech sites tend to look at markets through filtered glasses. It would seem the dedicated gaming console market far outnumbers the PC gaming market. Walking around in a Fry’s or MicroCenter the gaming PCs are humongous boxes with LED lighting flashing all over them, ugly as hell. As another commenter said, this sort of thing isn’t in Apple’s playbook because PC gamers like to build customized machines, at least those who I know do.

    Maybe the newly announced Mac Pro or the iMac Pro will have the chops but will be priced accordingly. PC game developers would likely never code for the Mac because the potential customer base is too small to be worthwhile.
    edited June 13 radarthekatbaconstangrandominternetperson
  • Reply 7 of 67
    bitmodbitmod Posts: 170member
    lkrupp said:
    Is the PC gaming market really that big? Tech sites tend to look at markets through filtered glasses. It would seem the dedicated gaming console market far outnumbers the PC gaming market. Walking around in a Fry’s or MicroCenter the gaming PCs are humongous boxes with LED lighting flashing all over them, ugly as hell. As another commenter said, this sort of thing isn’t in Apple’s playbook because PC gamers like to build customized machines, at least those who I know do.

    Maybe the newly announced Mac Pro will have the chops but will be priced accordingly. PC game developers would likely never code for the Mac because the potential customer base is too small to be worthwhile.
    https://www.pcgamesn.com/pc-game-sales-numbers-market-share-2017

    28% of game market worth over 32b - not including hardware. 
    propod
  • Reply 8 of 67
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,366member
    macxpress said:
    Rayz2016 said:
    Looking to the future, gaming on the Mac overall seems unlikely to get better.
    True. 

    The company isn't really interested in gaming for the Mac. But then they’re not interested in lots of things. If they thought they could bring something unique to the table then they’d probably have a crack at it, but gamers like large machines that can heat a small office; that’s just no in Apple’s DNA. 
    And the fact that you can take your Mac and run Windows on it if you're just a casual gamer why would Apple work to make things better. Its pretty much already set in stone that most people think Macs suck for gaming. 
    Boot Camp ...  That has always been my solution but case in point Apple only updated the AMD drivers for the Mac Pro recently. Now thankfully with Catalyst in Windows 10 using both CPUs better than ever I get 160 f.p.s. at 2.5K or 60 f.p.s. in 4K in GTA V.  

    Why AMD Catalyst isn't available in mac OS is a mystery to me.  I know FCPro utilizes GPUs in a special way but that's exactly why Catalysts has the ability to add applications' profiles.  This is only applicable to the Mac Pro obviously but illustrates the weird almost anti-game attitude Apple seems to has in mac OS and had in Mac OSX and even Mac OS.  iOS on the other hand they seem to be killing gaming.
    edited June 13 watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 67
    lovemnlovemn Posts: 22member
    Isn’t most online gaming via browser? So it really doesn’t matter if you own a Mac or a PC. Game systems are DOA.
  • Reply 10 of 67
    There are some iOS games that would be amazing on the Mac. Don’t disagree that having huge blockbuster titles are unlikely to show, but there are some incredible games that could possibly be ported to Mac under Marzipan. 
    Agree. Obviously not the AAA games that are the main focus in PC or console gaming, but this is still a worthwhile development. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 67
    bitmodbitmod Posts: 170member
    In the PPC days and early intel, Steve used to brag about framerates and drag out CEO’s from the game industry at the Macworld events. 
    Macworld was awesome | WWDC is balls. 

    The day they got rid of ‘Happy Mac’ for a grey corporate logo was a monumental shift in consumer ideology. 

    digital_guyelijahgpropodzeus423kirkgrayadm1jasenj1rossggg
  • Reply 12 of 67
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 591member
    lovemn said:
    Isn’t most online gaming via browser?
    No.

    If Apple continues on their path to deprecating and removing OpenGL it'll be even more dire for Mac gaming. There are quite a few games that've been ported from Windows fairly easily as they have either been designed with OpenGL in mind, or are OpenGL games which makes porting a lot easier. There are no Windows games designed with Metal in mind. Okay OpenGL is pretty ancient and slow, but the new alternative Vulcan, Apple's decided not to support. It's weird how Apple's always been so anti-gaming. They'd probably be the same on iOS if it wasn't the biggest source of iOS revenue.

    Besides games there are lots of engineering tools that use OpenGL: Eagle, Kicad, Fusion360, Sketchup, AutoCAD... A lot of the tools simply won't support Macs anymore with the removal of OpenGL, it's not worth it for the tiny user base.

    Apple's the leader in the mobile field, so they can cut their own path and others will work to keep up. That same ideology won't work with the Mac and it's pretty pig-headded of them to think so. Considering Mac support is pretty much a token gesture for a lot of developers, they'll just stop supporting the Mac, to the detriment of Apple's customers. Apple's historic proprietary nature never went down well with anyone in years past, I don't know why they are heading back to that again. 
    digital_guypropodrandominternetpersonrossgggcommand_f
  • Reply 13 of 67
    boltsfan17boltsfan17 Posts: 1,905member
    lkrupp said:
    Is the PC gaming market really that big? Tech sites tend to look at markets through filtered glasses. It would seem the dedicated gaming console market far outnumbers the PC gaming market. Walking around in a Fry’s or MicroCenter the gaming PCs are humongous boxes with LED lighting flashing all over them, ugly as hell. As another commenter said, this sort of thing isn’t in Apple’s playbook because PC gamers like to build customized machines, at least those who I know do.

    Maybe the newly announced Mac Pro or the iMac Pro will have the chops but will be priced accordingly. PC game developers would likely never code for the Mac because the potential customer base is too small to be worthwhile.
    The PC gaming market is still really huge. PC gaming accounts for 28% of the market while console is at 29%. Mobile gaming accounts for 43% of the market. These figures are for 2017. Personally, I don't think it's a bad thing the Mac isn't big in the gaming market. Most people I know who game on PC's are using custom built machines as well. It makes sense AAA publishers aren't going to waste their time or money porting games over to the Mac. Where I think Apple is really dropping the ball is with the Apple TV. The ATV is a potential gold mine for gaming. Apple should be working with developers such as Nintendo to get titles ported over to the ATV. 
    elijahgbaconstangrandominternetpersonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 67
    Rayz2016 said:
    Looking to the future, gaming on the Mac overall seems unlikely to get better.
    True. 

    The company isn't really interested in gaming for the Mac. But then they’re not interested in lots of things. If they thought they could bring something unique to the table then they’d probably have a crack at it, but gamers like large machines that can heat a small office; that’s just no in Apple’s DNA. 
    From my limited survey, none of the Mac users I know are into PC Gaming. Admittedly, most are over 50 years old.

    I could say,

    So What? Who Cares?

    TBH, does it really matter?

    baconstangrandominternetperson
  • Reply 15 of 67
    boltsfan17boltsfan17 Posts: 1,905member
    lovemn said:
    Isn’t most online gaming via browser? So it really doesn’t matter if you own a Mac or a PC. Game systems are DOA.
    Browser based gaming has been in a huge steady decline for years. 2017 figures show browser gaming is down 94% YoY and accounts for $5.2 billion. To put things in perspective, PC gaming generated $32.3 billion and console $33.3 billion. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 67
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 190member
    I game on my iPad Pro. There's some great titles. I just finished Returner 77 and thoroughly enjoyed it. I like that I can curl up on the couch, or out on the deck, or as a passenger in the car to play, not sit at the desk where I also work. So while there are some good games for the Mac, I really am interested in Firewatch for example, I won't look at them unless they are on iOS.

    I suspect that's the reality of gaming. Lots of "casual" gamers on iOS, a proportion on PCs, someone said 28% which sounds about right, and the majority of hard core gamers on dedicated gaming systems. Even if Apple released a gaming system with top end everything and upgradeable everything, I doubt most developers would bother to port their titles over to what will always be a minority of a minority.
    randominternetpersonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 67
    frantisekfrantisek Posts: 304member
    Look at numbers. How many iOS devices are in use and how many macs. It is 1.3 billion v. 100 millions (80 percent laptops). Plus 1 billion PCs. That is huge difference that wont change. Only probably gap will increase as many people takes phone as primary computing device and are not using laptop or desktop any more.
    And increase in mobile/pc and console sales increase shows the trend. 29 % versus 4 % inctease.

    Who want play games buys console or PC as ganming machine. There is about 650 millions console gammers.

    How many of Mac users are serious gammers? Me not. Not talking about Tetris and similar. 25%?

    And as previous post says a lot of people play online games. As my girlfriend from Linux laptop.
    edited June 13 randominternetperson
  • Reply 18 of 67
    canukstormcanukstorm Posts: 1,479member
    lkrupp said:
    Is the PC gaming market really that big? Tech sites tend to look at markets through filtered glasses. It would seem the dedicated gaming console market far outnumbers the PC gaming market. Walking around in a Fry’s or MicroCenter the gaming PCs are humongous boxes with LED lighting flashing all over them, ugly as hell. As another commenter said, this sort of thing isn’t in Apple’s playbook because PC gamers like to build customized machines, at least those who I know do.

    Maybe the newly announced Mac Pro or the iMac Pro will have the chops but will be priced accordingly. PC game developers would likely never code for the Mac because the potential customer base is too small to be worthwhile.
    "While I’m not ready to completely and boldly state that Gen Z is dumping consoles for PC gaming, it is certainly trending that way. I caught wind of this trend a few summers ago, when all of a sudden, more than a dozen friends or family from around the country asked me my opinion on an affordable notebook gaming PC for their high school boy who wanted to get a notebook for high school but also to play PC games. This peaked my interest, and upon further questioning, I found the gaming desire was driving by many of said teens friends starting to play more PC games and they wanted to start playing PC games online with their friends."

     https://techpinions.com/a-gaming-renaissance/53086
    edited June 13 elijahgwatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 67
    Had hopes for OnLive. Thought its development, and improvements with related technologies & infrastructure, would have democratized gaming for many platforms. The hopes of 2010 seem so long ago.  :(
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 67
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 591member
    Had hopes for OnLive. Thought its development, and improvements with related technologies & infrastructure, would have democratized gaming for many platforms. The hopes of 2010 seem so long ago.  :(
    Nvidia does a pretty much identical service called Geforce Go. It's pretty good, though it seems my 2012 iMac can't hardware-decode the H.264 (despite the GTX680MX being capable) so the frame rate is pretty choppy. Works well on my 2015 MBP though.
    watto_cobra
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