Macs have a lot of advantages. Maybe you like the simplicity of macOS, the sexy industrial design, or work in a creative field where they’re pretty much a requirement. But if you’re also a gamer, you may be wondering: can they handle the games you want to play as well as Windows?
Can You Play Games on a Mac?
Macs are made of the same components as any other PC. They’re just an Intel x86 computer in a fancier case with a different operating system. This means there’s no real hardware barrier to gaming on a Mac. It’s not like a PC has some magic video game component that your Mac lacks.
However, Macs aren’t exactly designed for gaming. The discrete graphics cards used in the high-end Macs aren’t all that great, and you don’t have the choice of the more powerful graphics cards you would in some Windows PCs. The Mac Pro is an exception, which carries a decent graphics card inside, but it’ll cost you a lot more than a comparable Windows PC would.
These graphics cards are also soldered in, so there’s no way to upgrade them a year or two down the line—even on desktops like the iMac or Mac Pro. Windows desktops are more upgradeable in this respect.
Entry level Macs don’t have dedicated graphics cards at all—they have integrated graphics chips that are even more asthmatic. They might reach the absolute minimum requirements of some popular modern games, but just barely.
There’s no way you’ll be able to play new games at full resolution with all the detail settings cranked up, even with a specced-out iMac—but they are technically capable of playing many games. Even a MacBook Air can play Minecraft. But, although it’s possible, is it worth doing?
A Mac is never going to be as good for gaming as a dedicated Windows PC, especially for the price. Even a Mac Pro can’t compete with a gaming-focused rig that costs a quarter of the Mac Pro’s $2999 price tag. If you’re serious about having the best gaming experience, your Mac isn’t going to cut it. Build your own gaming PC or buy a console and be done with it!
If you’re looking to casually play the occasional game, though, a Mac may suffice. I travel a lot, and only have my MacBook with me when I do. I’m away from my beloved PlayStation 4 for months at a time. My MacBook is able to give me a small gaming fix. It might be more methadone than heroin, but it’s something.
What Games Are Available?
The biggest issue with gaming on a Mac, though, is game availability. Windows’ DirectX APIs are incredibly popular with game developers. They don’t have any equivalents on macOS, which makes it harder for developers to port their games. Because of this, the catalog of games available on macOS is much much smaller than that for Windows. There are plenty of big games that will never come to Mac. Things, however, are a lot better than they used to be.
While you can buy games through the Mac App Store, major games retailers like Steam, Origin, Battle.net, and GOG all have Mac clients with better selections than the App Store. If the game you want is there and your Mac has the hardware to run it, it will run.
The quality of macOS’ game selection depend on what games you like to play. AAA first person shooters are especially underrepresented. None of the recent Call of Duty or Battlefield games are available on macOS, but other genres, like MMORPGs and strategy games, are actually pretty well covered. Popular games like World of Warcraft, Civilization VI, and Football Manager 2017 are available and work without you having to jump through any weird hoops.
Here are the top 15 most popular titles on Steam:
It’s a broad mix of AAA titles from major publishers, like Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands, and indie hits, like Rocket League. Of the fourteen games (the Season Pass for Wildlands also makes the top fifteen), only five are playable on macOS. However, those five games—Rocket League, Pillars of Eternity, Counter-Strike, Blackwake, and ARK—are all older or independent titles. Wildlands, Dawn of War III, For Honor, and the other big AAA titles are Windows exclusives, at least at the moment.
This, then, gets to the heart of it. If the kind of games you’re looking to play are available, work on your specific Mac, and you don’t mind playing them with the quality settings turned down low, you’ll be fine. If you want to shoot your friends in Battlefield One in high resolution, macOS is about as useful as a toaster.
Better Ways to Game on a Mac
If you don’t want to plop down another $800 for a decent Windows-based gaming PC, you have a few options for better gaming on your Mac. The first of which is…well, Windows.
Gaming in macOS is stunted in more ways than one. It might be easy, but if you’re serious about gaming, it’s probably worth your while to set up Boot Camp. Boot Camp lets you install Windows on a separate partition, so you can boot into Windows or macOS whenever you want. You have your macOS partition for day to day use, and when you want to game, you restart your Mac and run Windows. You still won’t necessarily be able to play games at high settings—after all, you still have whatever low-power graphics card came with your Mac—but at least you’ve got a much wider selection of games to choose from. Also, because they’re designed for the operating system, the same games tend to run better on Windows than on macOS. Even if you can play the game natively in macOS, you might have a better experience running it through Boot Camp.
If that doesn’t appeal to you, you might be interested in NVIDIA’s new game streaming service called GeForce Now. Instead of running the game on your PC, NVIDIA runs the game on a high powered server somewhere and streams it to your PC. That way, its servers are doing all the heavy lifting, and you reap all the benefits—it’ll even let you play Windows games from macOS, no Boot Camp required.
This service is not available quite yet, but it will be launching for Mac in March of this year. This looks like it could be a promising way to game on your Mac without having to faff around with dual booting. Sony has a similar service for PlayStation 3 games, but there are currently no publicly announced plans to bring it to macOS.
Macs are not gaming computers, but they are computers you can game on—as long as you accept their limitations. If you’re looking for a computer that can play the latest games in high quality, look elsewhere. But if you already own a Mac and just want a way to kill a few hours, it can work. It has for me.