Steam for Mac: Is OS X Now a Platform for Gamers?

Steam, the popular PC gaming network from Valve, recently released a Mac client. Is this the beginning of the gaming revolution that Mac users have waited years to see or yet another disappointment? Read on to find out!

Today we’ll poke around the application a little, discuss how Steam for Mac performs relative to its PC counterpart and end with a brief look at a few of the games currently available.

What is Steam?

To clarify, Steam is not a game, it’s an online gaming platform. In fact, it claims to be the world’s largest gaming platform. Using Steam you can purchase and download games, meet other gamers and play with them online, and chat with friends.

A decent (though not perfect) metaphor for Mac users is iTunes. iTunes is an integrated music player, marketplace and more. iTunes doesn’t make it’s own music, they’ve just created iTunes to be your all-in-one music hub. Steam occupies a similar space in the gaming industry with a lot more of a social aspect thrown in (though Valve does in fact make games).

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Steam for Mac

Steam was a major pioneer in both the digital distribution of games and the creation of networks of gamers that can communicate and interact, but has previously been a Windows only platform. Now that a Mac version has finally launched we couldn’t wait to try it out. Let’s dive in!

Getting Started

After you download and run the Steam installer, you’ll be taken through a quick sign up process to get your account up and running.

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Signing Up Only Takes a Minute or Two

At this point you essentially only need an email address and screen name. The entire process takes a few minutes at most so you’ll be up and running in no time.

The Interface and Features

For PC users, the Steam interface holds no surprises as it’s nearly identical on the Mac. For newcomers, it’s a beautiful dark theme with nice gradients and smooth sliders; not unlike many AIR apps we’ve seen. The primary interface is essentially a custom web browser that helps you interact with both remote and local content.

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The Interface

As you can see in the screenshot above, the app opens with four different sections: Store, Library, News and Community. Let’s briefly look at each of these.

Store

The Steam store is where you buy and download all your games. You can also download demos and watch trailers for upcoming titles.

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The Store

There are currently 64 titles for Mac ranging in price from $3 to $40. There is also a single free game called Portal available directly from Valve. If you’re used to the iTunes business model, you’ll likely be disappointed in the lack of other free offerings.

I think finding some developers willing to put out free content would be a great way to drive new users to the platform. However, for now, this remains a fairly serious gaming community aimed at providing quality content. If your budget is low, there are plenty of games for $9.99 and below that might be a good place to start.

If the number of available games seems low, remember that the Mac version is still very new – so you can expect to see that offering grow and approach the huge library of PC games available. Expect plenty of games from both indie developers and from big names like Sega, Square Enix, Capcom and Lucasarts in the near future.

Library

Your library is where all the games, videos, etc. go when you download them. The files can be huge (several GBs) so there’s an integrated download manager to help keep an eye on and control your downloads.

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Library

To launch a game, simply double click on it in your library. The library tracks detailed information regarding achievements earned and recent news regarding each of the games that you own.

News

The news section is basically a blog that keeps you up to date on all things Steam.

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News

Here they announce special offers, game releases, new versions, etc. If you’re the kind of gamer that wants to keep up on everything new, old and coming soon, you’ll want to stop by here daily.

Community

The community section is where you connect with other gamers on Steam. Just like any other social network, you can set up a profile, add friends, and join groups. Steam keeps track of your gameplay stats and will tell other members if you’re online, in a game, or offline.

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Community Profile

If you see your friends online, you can send them a message, leave comments on their profile pages or join them in a game.

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Chatting with Friends

First Impressions and Considerations

Remember that this review is targeted at Steam for Mac as a platform and not at any specific game. For this, Steam works fairly well (but not great, yet) and Mac users should be thrilled they can join the party. I found the application to be a little sluggish at times but for the most part it handled pretty well.

On the positive side, you definitely get the feeling you’re jumping into a huge community and can instantly get excited about the prospects.

Without a doubt, if you’re a serious gamer, you should join Steam. The impressive network of players and fast growing body of available titles is more than enough to keep you strapped to your chair for months on end (if you can handle the drain on your bank account).

However, before you run off to start your download, you should have a look at your System Profiler. Games this intense and large-scale require some heavy machinery – so if you’ve got one of the lower-end MacBooks, you can forget about it. The only system requirements I saw on the Steam website were OS X 10.5 or 10.6 and a two button mouse, but each game has its own set of system requirements and will not hesitate to tell you that your video card isn’t up to snuff.

For many games, it’s recommended that you have an (ATI): Radeon 9600 Video Card or (NVidia): GeForce FX 5200. You’ll also want at least a couple of gigs of RAM and a powerful processor to avoid choppy game play.

Is Windows Still Steaming Mac on Gaming?

Though Steam looks promising, there are still plenty of problems to be worked out. As we all know, Macs have almost never been the ideal choice for gamers due to several factors, the largest of which is perhaps a simple lack of available options compared to that of Windows. Even now as more and more offerings become available, there are lots of other hurdles.

In a recent article, Gizmodo conducted speed tests that showed the Windows version of Steam blowing away the performance of the Mac version (even when both were run on a Mac!).

The article suggests that slower GPUs, graphics drivers and OpenGL’s poor gaming performance are likely to blame for many of Steam’s downfalls on a Mac. Further, many games are simply being ported to the Mac version of Steam from their Windows counterparts, resulting in hasty bug-filled implementations that lack the finesse and performance of the originals.

Hopefully we’ll soon see lots of games built from the ground up to handle well on the Mac version of Steam but until then, we Mac users might just be forced to withstand the jeers of Windows users regarding our inferior experience.

Games

To finish off our review, here are a few games currently available for both Mac and PC on Steam.

Portal: Free Until May 24th

“Portal is a new single player game from Valve. Set in the mysterious Aperture Science Laboratories, Portal has been called one of the most innovative new games on the horizon and will offer gamers hours of unique gameplay.”

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Portal

Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: $19.99

“With over 6 million units sold and unprecedented critical acclaim from fans and press around the world, Sid Meier’s Civilization is recognized as one of the greatest PC game franchises of all-time.” Also be sure to check out Civilization IV The Complete Edition for $39.97.

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Civilization IV

Torchlight: $19.99

“The adventure is set in the mining settlement of Torchlight, a boomtown founded on the discovery of rich veins of Ember – a rare and mysterious ore with the power to enchant or corrupt all that it contacts. This corruptive power may have dire consequences however, and players set out into the nearby mountains and depths below to discover the full extent of Ember’s influence on the civilizations that have come before.”

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Torchlight

Guns of Icarus: $9.99

“In an apocalyptic steampunk future, you are a privateer ferrying goods across treacherous airspace. Protect your airship and yourself from an onslaught of pirates, and safely reach your destination to reap the rewards. Guns of Icarus combines aspects of first person shooters with time management in a richly detailed steampunk setting. The effect is a thrilling, frenetic aerial showdown that quickly takes hold and doesn’t let go.”

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Guns of Icarus

Quantz: $3.00

“Experience a new dimension of puzzle action game fun in QuantZ for the PC; a fabulous adventure that goes beyond the Action-Puzzler, Match-3 and Marble Popper genres. The gameplay is simple yet addictive: you have the power to control a cube with your mouse and drop marbles onto it. Create explosions of colors, chain reactions and win special rewards. Explore an immersive universe and become the QuantZ Oracle! With 24 unique and beautiful worlds to go through, 100 puzzles to complete and innovative game physics, QuantZ will amaze you!”

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Quantz

World of Goo: $19.99

“World of Goo is a multiple award winning physics based puzzle / construction game made entirely by two guys. Drag and drop living, squirming, talking, globs of goo to build structures, bridges, cannonballs, zeppelins, and giant tongues.”

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World of Goo

Conclusion

To sum up, Steam for Mac is off to a promising start. It’s only been out a short while and already has over 60 games available and is receiving daily updates. The giant existing network of gamers provides newcomers on the Mac with the ability to join the fun and take part in the community without any compatibility issues.

The main problems that will need to be addressed in the long run are the performance issues. Until the complex equation of hardware and software balances well enough to provide a smooth, relatively glitch-free experience, I predict that many Mac users will be turned off and therefore continue to look to dedicated consoles for their primary gaming experiences.


Summary

The popular gaming network Steam has finally come to the Mac. Though it shows a lot of promise, it currently suffers from a small offering of mostly ported games and some serious performance issues. However, there are some great titles currently available so if you've got a powerful Mac, you should absolutely give Steam a shot.

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  • http://deliciousroom.com/ Yaro

    “Is OS X Now a Platform for Gamers?”

    Are you kidding or something?

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      You only read the headline. The review is honest and you just might agree with it if you read it.

  • http://joaojoaquim.com Joao Joaquim

    OS X isn’t a platform for gamers, at least right now. Maybe the launch of Steam can help Apple push forward at this level, but at the moment we’re very limited on the games we can play over OS X. And the ones you can play, well, they’re rubbish or very old.
    Other than that, it’s an awesome OS. And besides that, Apple also needs to start including better graphic cards on their machines.

  • Aquaman_Tom

    Its really hard to get games running in OpenGL and its taking Valve some time to port the most important game over (TF2) and if it didn’t come out yesterday than it looks like it might be awhile till we see some action packed games for Mac. Steam shows promise but it might be a few months or years before its good as the windows counterpart and even if they can make steam run good. Jobs has got to stop putting mobile processors in the lower end Macs, even the graphics cards as well if Macs are going to have some decent games.

  • That Guy

    Why can mac NOT be a platform for gamers? It’s a computer, right? Up until now its the developers who decided not to develop for the mac, there was no other reason why it hasn’t been a good platform for games. Valve has made a great decision in porting steam over to the Mac. Game developers are already jumping on the bandwagon to port/create games to play on the mac through steam.

    There may not be a lot of titles now but so far I think the launch has been successful. I have bought 4(did not count all the civ4 variations that came in a bundle) games on there, each of which can play on both my mac and pc as well as play with friends online that are on a PC while I am on my Mac.

    I have high hopes for steam being a good resource for games on the mac… Who knows maybe “Mac Gaming rigs” will start popping up on the internet. Maybe not real soon but it could happen :)

    • http://www.lostpenguin.tumblr.com megapenguinx

      I doubt that we will see Mac gaming rigs anytime soon until Apple starts giving people the freedom to customize their Macs. It’s been a while now and though there has been numerous updates, the games still run better on a PC with similar specs, just because it seems that the graphics cards on the Macs are being limited for some unknown reason.

    • Simon Gredal

      well i guess the reason that “The Mac” has not yet become a gamers platform is:
      Price, GPU etc. –> low number of costumers –> low number of developers –> low number of games

  • http://twitter.com/luckykind Danny

    I might sign up just to play Braid again… best.game.ever. (maybe not ever… but damn good)

  • http://soundcloud.com/noodly Noodly

    “Is OS X Now a Platform for Gamers?”

    Are you kidding or something? [2]

    Of course, I was playing Portal and it’s fucking cool!

  • Pieter

    I downloaded steam the first hour it launched and have been loving the service ever since. However, to me the biggest disappointment was how badly the steam client has been adjusted to fit into OS X.
    Basically when using the app you have to forget that you’re using a mac, even cmd+w doesn’t work.

  • http://davidappleyard.net David Appleyard

    I think that Steam shows a huge amount of promise. It’s early days and, while I’d like to see several other titles available, I’m grateful that developers are starting to see the importance of making their games available for OS X users as well.

  • http://www.iynque.com iynque

    The Steam client itself is SO awful. It installs games into your Documents folder and puts shortcuts into your user/Applications folder, instead of just in the Applications folder. …apart from treating the default Mac user folders like they are Windows user folders (in My Documents makes sense, in Documents doesn’t), the client itself is just slow as hell and crashes all the time on my system. I guess they’re using the Windows developer model there too: it’s buggy and crashes all the time, so let’s release it!

    ……but anyway…..

    The games themselves are GREAT.

    I think I played Portal through three times the week I got it.

  • http://kloudesign.gr Thanos

    Until left4dead and counterstrike are ready we can’t talk about the full experience, but it’s a good start :)

  • Enio

    i have bought the game call killing floor for only 10 uss and is incredible graphics and very addictive.. try it an you will find a good beginning of playing on mac.. my english could be poor because i’m from argentina.. thanks

  • Erik

    Thanks, but until graphics bugs get worked out, I’ll stick to dual-booting.

  • kocho

    Would be great, but so many games that have mac copies available (cod4, dragon age origins, civ 3, etc.) don’t have them up on steam. Doesn’t make any sense to me.

    • Flafla2

      I think that Steam is going for only native games. The games you are talking about are actually just ports of their PC counterparts – they are slow and buggy.

      BTW Valve released a Mac-seperate Source Engine SDK that works natively on the Mac, so all of Valve’s titles(and some serious titles like Garry’s Mod) have been released on the Mac.

  • http://www.dvdrippermacos.com hanse

    Mac have been a very popular platform for gamers , it’s been years ,dude

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