Is Mac Gaming Stuck in the Past?

Gaming on the Mac has always been a sore topic for most gamer and users of the platform, as there hasn’t always been support from game studios and developers, and the topic of gaming on the Mac has always been taken as sort of a joke by most serious gamers.

However, lately a few things have changed with the Mac, like the launch of Steam for Mac and the Mac App Store, which have made things a bit different. Has it changed things much or is Mac gaming still stuck in the past? Let’s take a look.

The Elephant in the Room

So, why did this happen? Several reasons, and the answer may vary depending on who you ask. First off, the user base for Mac OS users didn’t used to be considered a relevant enough number to dedicate the resources to make a game specifically for it. There were already enough platforms out there that developers need to adapt and port their games to.

But there’s also the resource issue: Macs have always been powerful machines, but they didn’t use to come with video cards suitable for high-profile gaming. With newer Macs this hasn’t really been an issue as they tend to come better equipped out of the box. You could argue that both of these problems aren’t valid arguments anymore, as the Mac user base has grown in recent years and the specifications of most Macs nowadays make them suited for gaming; so what’s holding us from getting our hands on new big-profile games to play on our Macs?

The New Ways of Gaming

Angry Birds

Angry Birds

Now, gaming on the Mac (and even on consoles and other platforms) seems to be going the mobile way, which is based on small games that you can easily pick up and leave after a few minutes, but that urge you to come back and continue playing them time after time. You can go on the Mac App Store and find in the most sold apps a handful of games that you might recognize from the iOS Store, such as Angry Birds and Flight Control.

This goes to prove that “casual” games have found a home in the Mac App Store, much like they did in the iOS App Store before that. They don’t require as much time or resources to be developed and developers profit not by pricing their games highly, but by making small enough games that go by the dollar but continue to sell thousands of copies months after they are released. I think we’ve all learned from Rovio, the Angry Birds developers, that there really is an opportunity to make big money on mobile (now even adapted to other platforms) gaming.

Retro Gaming

Mac App Store Most Popular

Mac App Store Most Popular

So far I’ve told you nothing that you didn’t already know. Let me get to the point: the other day as I was browsing the Mac App Store, I realized that, outside of the casual games, a lot of the “Most Popular Games” and also the most sold apps are old games that have just found their way into the Mac App Store.

Games as old as Bioshock, Call of Duty 4, and the first 3D Grand Theft Auto tiles; which range from 3 to almost 10 years old. Don’t get me wrong, I love most of these games and when I saw them at the App Store my first reaction was “I would love playing Vice City all over again”, but it also made me reflect on the kind of gaming market that Apple and the developers putting these games out are aiming for, especially within the App Store.

Let’s not forget that these are all games that have sequels already out, which can’t be played on the Mac yet (but probably will in another 3 years, if we’re lucky). So, yes, there are a handful of newer games out there like Civilization V, but the most sold games remain the older ones. Why is that? Who is buying them? Is it gamers like me who want to revisit old great games for nostalgic reasons? Or is it actual new customers that haven’t tried these old games out, perhaps because they didn’t even know they existed?




There has been a lot of talk this year that the future looks bright for Mac gaming, especially with platforms like Steam taking the Mac as a more serious market for business. But even with Steam, the catalogue looks pretty much the same: very few truly new games with a lot of casual cheap games and a handful of old classics thrown in. And that’s not even counting the fact that the number of available games for Mac in Steam is much smaller than those available for the PC.


Perhaps it’s too late for Apple to make a move within this market, perhaps the ship has already sailed for them when it comes to gaming. They didn’t embrace it as a serious thing in the past, and now that they’re trying to catch up with it, things are looking pretty slow.

It seems like it may take a lot of time for games to really start coming out for the Mac platform at the same time as they do for each other relevant platform. In the meantime, I’ll stick with my consoles and revisiting good old Vice City.


Add Yours
  • You should also include OnLive, which is quite amazing.

    • Yes! I’ve been using OnLive for 1 week and am in love with it! No longer do we need to depend on publishers to make Mac ports. Plus it looks great on my 5 year old iMac! There isn’t a single game on OnLive that I can’t play!

    • How do you manage that?
      I have 2Ghz 2007 Intel iMac with 2400 HD(128mb VRAM) and 3GB RAM running fresh installed Snow Leopard.I also have Time Warner 30MB connection.

      All my games lagged badly,FPS’s are almost unplayable.I even tried connecting my iMac to ethernet cable instead of using WiFi.

      Yeah its promising but i feel like 100MB connection is required for smooth gameplay

  • You could also mention that Microsoft spent money on developing DirectX, so building games was easier and the game companies didn’t have to spend money on developing what MS had already given them.

    If Apple subsidized game development like that, I’m sure there would be more interest. …and they SHOULD. The only complaint I consistently hear from Mac owners is that there’s not a lot of good games.

  • Well yeah, there might be oldschool games in the Mac App Store. But 30 euros for CoD 4? Seriously?

  • They’re still playing catchup. So it makes sense from a business perspective to be releasing older popular games.

    If they can cash in on the back catalog while slowly drip feeding us newer releases they’re obviously going to milk consumers as much as they can.

  • As long as I can dual boot into windows to play games I don’t think it matters too much :P

  • You completely left out indie games, there are true gems, not only “mobile games”, that are out for all the platform and are daily played on Macs as well as on PCs.
    Look at the screenshot you took of the Most Popular Games in the Mac App Store: number 17 is a lovely and challenging independent game, Machinarium.
    I’ve got a pretty big Game folder on my Mac, but most of my games are independent (from the Humble Bundles), and I’ve just got a few mainstream games (like The Sims or Monkey Island Special Edition), and those are not “retro”, they were out for Mac as soon as they were out for PC.
    I think your vision is much more pessimistic than reality.

    • QUESTION: Are the games you by completely, mostly, partly, or not at all ones that ONLY available through the appstore?

      • They are never available ONLY through the app store, actually all my games are independent downloads, I never downloaded them through Mac App Store.

    • You’ve got a very valid point, “indie” games have gotten pretty important and popular. I’ve played and loved Machinarium, Braid, Limbo and a bunch of other smaller games and they usually feel very refreshing and fun. I just wish there were more of them.

  • I don’t play any real v-games anymore, but this is indeed an iconic area where I’ve always noticed that the MacOS world seems stuck in the 80s… at least. I’m not sure whether its an issue of platform, OS, community mentality / culture, or what, though its likely some of all of these. But it certainly seems there’s something different from the world of DOS/Windows, Linux, etc.

    I have noticed that those of the MacOS lineage seem to be more into their separate devices for a multiplicity of personal purposes, be those devices wholly MacOS or not. Maybe there’s a perspective there that I do not fully comprehend or is too alien to me, but being able to do everything with one device… even games that were up-to-date… is something that followed me into the MacOS world.

    It’s an area that has always been problematic since buying my first Mac, which is why I run virtual environments/OSes of all kinds needed. The Mac world simply does not fulfill my need for “everything” on my notebook… rather than a every device trying to run the same “style” of operating system… games being a lesser concern among those but culturally notably.

  • I just want Sim City 3000 on Mac OSX.

    • Same here. SimCity 3000.
      I think there is no way to play this on Intel at the moment.

  • Bootcamp.

    The hardware is more than adequate, and honestly for most games the Mac port is so crappy performance wise that once you’ve seen the Windows version on the same hardware it’s hard to choose the Mac version. There are exceptions, but they really aren’t the majority :(

    And this is part of the vicious cycle, poor ports show bad performance which reinforces the impression that the Mc can’t handle modern games.

  • Boot Camp? Anyone?!!

    I’ve already logged 20+ Hours playing Battlefield 3 on my Mac Pro. Just buy a copy of Windows and Install. And considering you can typically get the PC version of a Game for 25-75% less than it’s Mac counterpart, you’ll save in the long-run.

  • I’ve played COD4 for around 2 years now and its definitely worth it. Great game, played nearly 3,000 hours and I’m still playing it right now. I wish MW3 would be released as a lot of my team (Yes, I play COD4 competitively) are purchasing it.

    I’d like to see Gaming, go a LOT further in the future.

  • If you want to play games, then you don’t buy an overpriced mac (yes it is (and yes I have a mac)), instead you build a custom machine for half the price, install windows and you can play virtually every game on the planet. This is my personal opinion, not intended to make you angry! ;)

    • That’s basically what I’ve done for the last several years. The last time I played a “big” title on a Mac was Return to Castle Wolfenstein on my Graphite G3 and that lasted a few years. Even played competitively with my Windows lovin’ team, but after that I had to build a gaming rig to stay current with what was being released & I’ve just never thought about going back.

      Part of that is that I’m now a more mobile Mac person – MacBook, iPad, etc. I don’t see a need to ever buy a desktop Mac again for what I use them for, that’s just a matter of my situation. Now, if I had a freelance business & a good excuse to be running an 8-core beast with a smokin’ video card & 32GB of RAM plus an SSD then yeah, I’d be all over the latest title even if it meant running Windows on the thing.

  • The majority of “retro” games have more replay value than the epic storyline driven ones big companies try to make today. Pac-Man is still one of the most played games. There is something to games just being “fun” rather than having some grand story to which the conclusion is always just… meh.
    The Diablo series is one of my favorites, but you get to the end and it’s just like, ok, so? It’s the playing in the middle that is the fun part.

    That said, there are some very cool games coming out lately. A personal fav is Machinarium. Beautiful and engaging.

  • I heard they were planning to release Deus Ex: Human Revolution for the Mac. And I find that exciting. While I have a PS3 set up right next to my computer, I still find the possibility of playing that game on my mac something to get excited about for some reason.

    It’s an amazing game, might I add

  • It is *not* any lack of variety or games that stops me from using the OS X side of my Mac Pro from gaming, it is that for current games the performance is poor when compared to the Windows side. OpenGL has only received an update within the past few months (after 3 or so years of 2.1) on OS X and only at 3.2 instead of 4.0/4.1/4.2.

    We are behind the curve and it affects what gets released for OS X and how it performs when it does.

  • I think that gaming has come a long ways. World of Warcraft was a huge turning point in that it gave Mac users the option to really dive in to a new state of the art game (at the time), and go toe to toe with their Windows buddies. As soon as Valve and Steam jumped into the mix, gaming on the Mac has changed for sure… albeit a bit behind the curve.

    While there are a slug of retro and app titles coming out, I think we’ll know the Mac has hit mainstream when OS X is included in premier launches such as Battlefield 3, Star Wars: The Old Republic etc. Rift in my opinion could have taken a huge chunk out of Warcraft, if they ran a concurrent OS X version of their game.

    With OS X gaining market share, improved toolkits to help write games (thanks Valve!) and direct access to the consumer via App Store and Steam, I can only imagine game development companies must be licking their chops at broader market opportunity.

    As much as I also appreciate Steve Jobs and what he’s done, I can also imagine Apple eying gaming as a way to increase some market share as well. I know there are quite a few senior people at Apple that would like to embrace that community a bit more than they have in the past.

    Cheers & thanks game developers!
    – John, a 42 year old gamer who still loves the Atari 2600 and everything since!

  • Well, we have Assassin’s Creed, Splinter Cell, Duke Nukem Forever, Batman Arkham Asylum and DiRT 2… There aren’t brand new games, but some of them are, at least, recent.

    So I’m not that sad with mac gaming… I’m feeling that the gaming scene is growing but, sure, it have a lot of room to improve!

  • I’m beginning to regret upgrading to Lion for this reason. I can’t play Diablo II anymore, and was so sure I’d find something better to replace it with. Guess I’ll just keep waiting on Diablo III…

  • Forget Mac gaming, it’s over before it even began. If you’re on Intel go with Boot Camp, or sign up with OnLive. I use both and get everything I need. Dirt 3 with OnLive and a USB XBox controller (with Mac driver) works a treat. I believe cloud gaming to be the future.

    Mac gaming is a contradiction!

  • I really don’t understand why Apple haven’t capitalised more on the gaming front. If they offered big grossing games that are available on PS3 and Microsoft Shit-Box (I’m not including exclusive titles like GT5 and Halo) then they’d take a massive chunk out of the market. One that’s been reserved exclusively by Sony and then Microsoft for bloody years.
    Ok we may have Dirt2, and that’s a start, but why not Dirt3? I want the Ford Sierra and the BMW M3 as well you know! It’s as if we’re second rate gamers. I’m sure you’d all pay the £40 (yes there’s a limey amongst you) full wack. My 360’s broken and that’s cheaper than a new X-Box to play Dirt3 and COD on. This could be MASSIVE for Apple.
    But I just don’t get why apple haven’t seen, or are ignoring the benefits they can reap from proper gaming. They’re not stupid and (usually) in touch with their customer base. Come on Apple. This is what we want. Unless you’ve got a games consul in the pipe line; wake up. Please.

  • I’m feeling that the gaming scene is growing but, sure, it have a lot of room to improve…