Hang around a Mac gaming forum or YouTube channel for five minutes and you’re bound to see someone ask “why would anyone choose a Mac for gaming?” It’s an honest question, but unfortunately, it’s backward. People don’t buy Macs just to play games. People buy Macs because they prefer them for their day-to-day usage. They love the OS X experience, the UI’s elegance and the hardware’s quality. Plus, the Mac has significantly less bugs and viruses than Windows (blue screen of death anyone?).
When it comes strictly to playing video games, yes, Windows is better than OS X. It has more games, better release dates and often less expensive hardware. In fact, if you want a computer to mainly play video games, you can’t go wrong with a Windows PC. That said, the Mac has come a long way. Each year more games make it to the Mac, more games get a same day release for Mac and Windows, and the latest MacBooks keep getting better at running video games. If you think you have to give up on gaming because you switched to the Mac, think again.
Below, I’ve outlined some of the reasons why the Mac is great for gaming.
More and better games
A few years ago, you could essentially only play Spore, Age of Empires and the Sims on your Mac. Today, most of the best video games are available on Mac.
There are some obvious exceptions, such as GTA 5 or Fallout 4 (unless you have a PS4), but the more famous franchises and indie titles support the Mac.
You can play the latest Civilization game, World of Warcraft, Alien: Isolation, and Firewatch. All of Blizzard’s and Valve’s current games have a Mac version and porting companies, such as Feral and Aspyr, continue to deliver Triple-A games for Mac.
The days when you had to give up on the most popular games are over. For example, 6 out of the 10 most played games on Steam have a Mac version, and that’s only because some Windows exclusive just launched (otherwise, that number can go as high as to 8).
The quantity and quality of games available for Mac is impressive. Just take a look at Mac Gamer HQ’s guide with the 100 best Mac games. There are so many great games, you won’t even know where to start.
Better release dates
It’s great if the best games get a Mac version, but not if they come four years too late. This used to be the sad state of Mac gaming, but every year things get better.
Feral Interactive and Aspyr, the top two Mac porting companies, are increasingly better at getting early releases for their ports. Both companies now have the experience, resources and contacts needed to proactively work alongside the original developers and release their Mac ports as soon as possible.
For example, Beyond Earth for Mac was released barely one month after the Windows version and XCOM 2 was released on the exact same day for Mac, Windows and Linux.
Mac release dates are also improving thanks to the rise of indie developers. Many indie developers use multiplatform engines, such as Unity, that let them release their games on Windows, Mac and Linux. This wouldn’t be a big deal if indies only made poor and obscure games. But indie developers are behind some of the best games you can play today. Firewatch, Her Story, and Minecraft are great examples.
Mac porting companies and Indies are even showing the way to Triple-A studios, such as The Creative Assembly. Total War games used to take years to come to the Mac, but ever since Total War: Rome 2, The Creative Assembly is taking care of Mac versions themselves and releasing both Windows and Mac versions on the same day.
Closer relationships between porting companies and developers mean better release dates, but it can go even further.
In some case, Aspyr and Feral have managed to release Mac ports that offer cross-platform multiplayer. Games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and XCOM 2 offer it, which means you can play against your Windows friends (if you all have the game on Steam).
Other than cross-platform multiplayer, many platforms such as Steam or GOG.com let you buy a game once and own it on all supported platforms. A few years ago, you had to buy the same game twice if you wanted both Mac and Windows versions! I know, it sounds crazy, but times were tough back then…
A few years ago, it was laughable to run a modern game on a MacBook Air. But that was OK, because a MacBook Air wasn’t meant to be a graphics powerhouse, capable of running the latest and greatest at ultra settings. The Air’s focus hasn’t changed, but it’s performance exploded.
I constantly run games such as Dirt 3, This War of Mine and many other indies on my 2013’s 13-inch MacBook Air. I can run them at 720p and low settings and play at around 30 frames per second. That may not sound like much, but we’re talking about some of the thinnest laptops ever created!
I recently benchmarked the new 2015 MacBook alongside my MacBook Air and saw the same results:For ultra-light computers meant for long hours on international flights, they both can run modern games at decent settings, and that’s impressive.
These are simply examples of what the weakest Macs can do today. If you take an iMac or a MacBook Pro with dedicated graphics, you can expect to run almost anything you want at high settings.
What about the future?
Some claim that Apple doesn’t care about gaming. Why? Because its implementation of OpenGL (the graphics engine that OS X uses) is old and outdated. That’s undeniable, but the fact that Apple recently launched Metal for OS X is promising.
Metal is a set of 3D tools that third-party developers can use for 3D rendering. It aims to bypass OpenGL and greatly increase graphics performance, allowing hardware and 3D engines to work more closely.
Most of the major game engines have committed to work with Metal. Blizzard, Unity, Unreal, all of them. If indeed they start using Metal, you can expect to run their games faster than ever. Better performance and Apple’s support through Metal could radically change Mac gaming for the better.
Metal is promising, but we will have to wait for a few more months before Metal versions of games are released. Then we will be able to see if Metal is a game changer or not.
• Ric Molina is a Rocket Yard contributor and runs Mac Gamer HQ, a site he created when he realized that great games did exist on the Mac but were just really hard to find. For more Mac gaming news, reviews and videos, check out Mac Gamer HQ.