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Mac Gaming is Dead™ – 2021 Edition

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#1 Janichsan

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Posted 31 March 2021 - 01:57 PM

Mac gaming is dead. Or at the very least moribund.

From a very limited number of upcoming titles, I can't remember a time in the last 25 years or so where the outlook has been so bleak.

The major porting houses which had been responsible for most of the major games in the last decades have all but abandoned the platform: while Feral does not seem to have dropped the Mac completely, it's clear it's no longer their focus after diversifying and finding success on mobile platforms and the Switch.

Aspyr has taken that step even earlier, and has shifted towards consoles. After having bought by the Embracer group (i.e. THQ Nordic) earlier this year to develop completely new games, they cannot be expected to port games to the Mac at all.

Virtual Programming does not seem to have any new projects in pipeline as well.

MacSoft is long gone.

Blizzard obviously sees no real future for the Mac: while it's notable and laudable that they ported WoW to the new M1 Macs (so far the only major M1 game), upcoming games including Diablo IV, the Diablo II Remake and Overwatch 2 won't get a Mac version.

The number of other MMORPGs for the Mac is dwindling, as one studio after the other stops the development of their Mac client, like Guild Wars 2.

Indie developers won't be coming to the rescue. The most prolific developer responsible for a considerable number of ports of popular indie games (including all titles from SuperGiant Games, Celeste, OwlBoy, Towerfall Ascension) turned his back on the Mac. Other indie developers share his sentiment, most recently Nicalis, who won't port the latest and last Binding of Isaac DLC to the Mac. Originally announced Mac versions of indie games get cancelled left and right, like Amnesia: Rebirth.

Apple's Arcade somehow seems to have fizzled out. While there is a steady stream (or rather trickle) of new games, not all of them seem to support the Mac. Also, after the first batch of annoucements with a handful of titles standing out like The Pathless (which was a showcase title for Sony on several occasions) or Beyond a Steel Sky, very few notable games have been added. In addition, no one outside the Apple community still seems to take note of Apple Arcade, after it made quite a splash when the service launched.

The "bright" future of iOS games on the new M1 Mac, of which at least some people seem to have dreamed, has failed to materialise, as a significant portion of iOS developers deliberately chose not to make their game available on Macs.

Who's to blame here?

All signs point at Apple. Forcing a proprietary graphics API and two major architecture changes in rapid succession (dropping 32 bit and the switch to Arm CPUs) on the developers, which all are by far not as easy to follow through as Apple claims, in addition to extra hurdles such as notarisation, absolutely did not help. Many of the developers I mentioned above cite specifically these things as reasons why they are dropping Mac support.

Epic in addition poisoned the climate with their idiotic crusade for Fortnite's earnings.

Will Mac gaming ever be reborn?

Maybe, but right now, I'm not optimistic.

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#2 nick68k

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Posted 31 March 2021 - 02:10 PM

Hey, there's always Apple Arcade! (and iPhone gaming is still going strong).

But yeah, I generally agree with your hypothesis. I get most of my games through GoG, and the number of Mac releases has fallen off precipitously in the past couple of years. I'm particularly bummed about the absence of D4 and the Diablo II remaster on the Mac. And the irony is that the M1 is one of the most exciting processor releases in recent memory and yet...are Apple even talking about it to anyone other than the faithful? Where are the ads?
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#3 jeannot

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Posted 31 March 2021 - 03:03 PM

I think Mac gaming will recover in the long term, after more developers get familiar with Metal (which is a de facto standard thanks to iOS) and Apple silicon (good riddance, intel GPUs).
M1 Macs are very successful, according to market analysts.

#4 Cougar

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Posted 31 March 2021 - 03:08 PM

I don't think it's purely Apple's recent decisions. Siracusa addresses this question in the latest ATP. It's worth a listen. (12:15). I really agree with the main point there--that it's not these technology decisions, it's the simple observation (or belief on the account of developers) that gamers don't buy Macs. Developers put up with notarization, Metal, and all the rest on iOS because the audience is there, so it's worth it.

I do wonder what's different about this transition. More people own Macs today than in 2005. Apple's OpenGL implementation was always out of date and probably more more difficult to use than Metal. There were fewer cross-platform engines like Unity. Yet Mac gaming, though small, survived, and remained healthy enough to support a few dedicated porting houses.

Gaming on the Mac has always persisted in spite of Apple's decisions and lack of effort. If they turned things around and actually courted game developers (or even buying them, like Microsoft) things could change. I wouldn't write off the Arm transition just yet, either. Let's wait and see what happens when we have Arm Macs with discrete-tier GPUs.

#5 Atticus

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Posted 31 March 2021 - 03:10 PM

There will be many surprise gaming related announcements at WWDC this year, everyone will be pumped and then......Apple's support for all of them will dwindle over the next couple of years and finally die and then....Mac gaming will go back to dying.
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#6 Tacohead

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Posted 31 March 2021 - 04:50 PM

I guess I will finally have a real chance at working through that monster backlog, which also will include a few upcoming titles like Rome Total War Remastered and Baldur's Gate 3.

If this really is the beginning of the end all I can say is it's been one heck of a ride since the mid-1980s!
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#7 Boland

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Posted 31 March 2021 - 07:07 PM

View PostJanichsan, on 31 March 2021 - 01:57 PM, said:

The most prolific developer responsible for a considerable number of ports of popular indie games (including all titles from SuperGiant Games, Celeste, OwlBoy, Towerfall Ascension) turned his back on the Mac.

Ethan has NEVER cared about macOS, his passion is Linux. If he starts saying no to macOS ports, I think he's going to find developers aren't going to be enthusiastic about Linux only.
He wants macOS to be exactly like Linux, and it's just not going to happen.

The titles he's porting are built around XNA, and use his open source implementation (FNA). The funny this is, FNA has a metal backend that was written by one person over a couple of months, they've been trying to add Vulkan to it now for almost a year (with 3 developers working on it). He's hoping to replace the working metal backend with MoltenVK as some kind of middle finger. It's all rather bizarre.

#8 Matt Diamond

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Posted 31 March 2021 - 07:57 PM

Agree, there are some big holes in the Mac game lineup. It's been bad for a while though so it's hard to quantify how much worse its gotten.

Note that there is bound to be a lag. It's way too soon to expect M1 to turn things around, particular since the desktops haven't arrived yet. If those come with decent GPUs then we *might* see an game uptick... two years from now.

On the plus side, Mac HAS gotten some wonderful games like Hades and Spiritfarer. (Airborne Kingdom is pretty good too.) I bought copies of all of those. But we are definitely even more a niche market than before. Will it turn around one day? No idea.

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#9 UmarOMC1

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Posted 01 April 2021 - 02:39 AM



I can "game" on any Mac…but I'd like to have hardware behind it to play AAA titles with good frame rates at 2560x1440…the "Apple Tax" has gotten SO damn much higher. With the financial bar set so high for end users I understand Aspyr hedging their bets elsewhere.

It's sad to see the dwindling of discussion here. This is Inside Mac Games Forums. I used to come here for news too. I loved getting IMG CDs with cool demos to try…I write this while booted into Linux and do all of my gaming on Linux (I really only boot into macOS to let the kids play Roblox :yuk: and I'm not going to deal with Windows again) I can only hope Apple turn tides. Apple did a much better job with Metal than they did with Sprockets (in design and support, so far) but I feel devs make more money utilizing Metal for iOS games. Would Apple bat an eye if Aspyr or Feral went under? They all know the answer. No one here has an idea what the true numbers are but I feel developing games for macOS is the experience of the law of diminishing returns. At least there are a few titles to look forward to, and more surprises I'm sure. M1 Macs? I'm talking gaming. What money is there to be made in porting a back catalogue? Were I porting contemporary AAA games to macOS I think I'd be feeling the pinch when my customers have to purchase extra hardware for decent GPU power/performance coupled with the high likelihood that they aren't going to game on their hardware anyway.

As I peruse my Steam library I'm saddened to see all the games I know I can and do play very well via Steam's Proton if not a native version—and I'm bewildered how well they run, the vast majority that do run. Games I also found out I could no longer play after updating to Catalina I can run in Linux. Proton is based off of WINE…but we can't use WINE to run 32bit games on newer versions of macOS. I still like to get my CoD:MW TD on, that's not possible for me on macOS any more if I want to use the latest macOS. Is 32bit support that much of an overhead? You can throw numbers around but I don't notice the difference. How do I know a game's 32bit on macOS? Now I just can't run it.
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#10 Frigidman™

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Posted 01 April 2021 - 08:06 AM

Something we saw on the MacGameStore side of things, is with that rash of new OSX and macOS pushes, that kept going out like gatling gun development, where each new version killed support of games after games and more so because Apple doesn't believe in backwards compatibility. We lost a ton of customers who were just fed up with the gamble that a game they buy today, will even work tomorrow.

It has dwindled down to basically: The Casual Market now. Their games are short-time consumables. Where you buy it, play it for a couple weeks, then toss and buy the next one. There are so many of them coming out from multiple developers and publisher houses, the fuel exists for that casual market. It certainly doesn't server the more serious gamer market though... where there is maybe one notable release (that isnt a damned DLC), every 6 months.

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#11 nick68k

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Posted 01 April 2021 - 08:13 AM

I'll add that the (current) absence of Windows virtualisation on the M1 is also an issue, not just for gaming, but for productivity in general. (And yes, I know, I could just buy a PC).
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#12 galad

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Posted 01 April 2021 - 09:49 AM

Windows for arm already works on Parallels and Qemu on the M1 Macs, and can run 32bit and 64bit Windows apps. CrossOver can do the same. I don't know how well or bad.

#13 Homy

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Posted 01 April 2021 - 10:13 AM

At least Metro Exodus + DLCs are coming to Mac on April 14. That and the other Metro games, Borderlands 2-3, Bioshock Collection, Deus Ex MKD, Dying Light, Alien Isolation and Tomb Raider series should keep me busy for many year to come. :)

#14 Matt Diamond

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Posted 01 April 2021 - 10:15 AM

View PostUmarOMC1, on 01 April 2021 - 02:39 AM, said:

we can't use WINE to run 32bit games on newer versions of macOS
Incredibly, Crossover actually solved this. I don't know if/when they will be contributing that support to WINE. Either way I will continue subscribing to Crossover for a few years.

Quote

Is 32bit support that much of an overhead?
I suspect getting rid of it greatly simplified the M1 transition.

One good thing about the 64-bit transition is that there is unlikely to be a 128-bit transition. And while Apple Silicon might go the way of PowerPC one day, it would take at least 10-15 years. So I think the worst migrations are over for the time being. If Mac gaming is ever going to expand again, the next few years are arguably the best time for it to happen.

Realistically, I think Mac gaming will continue as it is. But a man can dream..

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#15 nick68k

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Posted 01 April 2021 - 11:04 AM

View Postgalad, on 01 April 2021 - 09:49 AM, said:

Windows for arm already works on Parallels and Qemu on the M1 Macs, and can run 32bit and 64bit Windows apps. CrossOver can do the same. I don't know how well or bad.

Aye, but Windows for ARM on the M1 is currently unsupported, no?
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#16 jos

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Posted 01 April 2021 - 11:49 AM

View PostMatt Diamond, on 01 April 2021 - 10:15 AM, said:

One good thing about the 64-bit transition is that there is unlikely to be a 128-bit transition. And while Apple Silicon might go the way of PowerPC one day, it would take at least 10-15 years. So I think the worst migrations are over for the time being. If Mac gaming is ever going to expand again, the next few years are arguably the best time for it to happen.

That's exactly what I was going to say. We've now had three different transitions in just a few years time:
- OpenGL > Metal
- 32-bit > 64-bit
- Intel > ARM

After these three transitions, what kind of secret transition has Apple still left for us? I don't think we'll be seeing yet another transition this current decade. I think all three transitions were just part of Apple's big ARM transition. They're not going to say: "These are our ARM Macs and unlike our Intel Macs they'll only run 64-bit applications and Metal." It'd be too big of a step to do this transition in one massive step. So, they did it little by little in three smaller steps.

Of course, this sucks for developers who get fed up with one transition after the other. They've just switched from OpenGL to Metal and then they suddenly have to transition to 64-bit and then they also have to port their software to ARM. It sucks for us when developers decide they've had enough of all of these transitions.

Yes, we've now lost a big chunk of software and many of our beloved games. However, the way I see it Apple has paved the way for us and laid the groundwork for a brand-new start. I think the foundations on which to build Mac games have never been stronger and more powerful. We've now got Metal which is much better than OpenGL, we've got rid of all of the old 32-bit code and even those first ARM Macs are very impressive. Of course, these M1 Macs can't compete with recent Intel Macs with an AMD GPU, but don't forget we're talking about the very first batch of Mac Mini's here. For such machines the performance is amazing. Can you imagine the performance of upcoming Pro machines?

I don't know about gaming on classic Macs, as I only started using Macs with Intel Macs with Leopard. I've never used Tiger or earlier. However, I think developers haven't had such a good foundation to build their games upon as they currently have. If Apple is only going to use its own GPUs in the future that'll will be even less headaches for developers. No hassle having to support GPUs from Intel, nVidia and AMD. Developing software and games for Macs will become just as easy as developing for the iPhone.

Anyway, that's the way I see it. Now it's just a matter of regaining trust from developers who are fearing yet another apocalypse might be coming and have them embrace these new and powerful technologies. Of course, this can take some time. The way I see it, we've currently reached the bottom and from now on it can only become better. More and more people will be buying ARM Macs, these ARM Macs will become even more powerful, specifications of Macs will become much less diverse (just like iPhones were specifications are all very similar), which all means the Mac as a platform to develop for becomes more attractive.

One more thing: How about Windows games? We're all complaining about the Mac not getting any new games, but what's Windows currently actually getting? Besides Cyberpunk 2077 and Doom: Eternal I don't think I've heard about many big, amazing, impressive games that we should have on the Mac. For as far as I know, it's just the newest Call of Duty that's released every year and one remaster after the other. So, what are we actually missing out of?

Well, luckily I've still got enough games to keep me busy until some new and good games are being ported to (or even better: being specifically developed for) the Mac.

#17 nick68k

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Posted 01 April 2021 - 12:09 PM

View Postjos, on 01 April 2021 - 11:49 AM, said:


One more thing: How about Windows games? We're all complaining about the Mac not getting any new games, but what's Windows currently actually getting? Besides Cyberpunk 2077 and Doom: Eternal I don't think I've heard about many big, amazing, impressive games that we should have on the Mac. For as far as I know, it's just the newest Call of Duty that's released every year and one remaster after the other. So, what are we actually missing out of?


I'm actually a pretty lazy gamer, and I tend to stick to a very limited number of games (and/or developers). Blizzard seem to be moving away from the Mac. Overwatch never arrived of course, but more recently, Diablo IV and the upcoming Diablo II re-master won't be coming either. Bethesda has never been Mac-friendly. And there's a load of console ports; arguably these were never coming to Mac in the first place, but it seems they're even less likely to arrive now (for example, the PC GOTY edition of Horizon Zero Dawn is currently on sale for $30).

Now, I agree with you that it's not all doom and gloom (and, as a masochist, I've been gaming exclusively on Macs since 1991), but it's going to take a lot of input/support from Apple to swing the tide in our favour again.
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#18 galad

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Posted 01 April 2021 - 12:24 PM

Metal has always been available only for 64bit apps. No developer had to switch to Metal and then to 64bit…

#19 Janichsan

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Posted 01 April 2021 - 12:35 PM

View PostBoland, on 31 March 2021 - 07:07 PM, said:

Ethan has NEVER cared about macOS, his passion is Linux. ...
He still did the job. And without him, there never would have been several major indie titles available for the Mac-

View PostMatt Diamond, on 31 March 2021 - 07:57 PM, said:

On the plus side, Mac HAS gotten some wonderful games like Hades and Spiritfarer.
Sure, but Hades might as well be the last SuperGiant title that will be available for the Mac. Why? Because that guy ported all of them.

View Postgalad, on 01 April 2021 - 09:49 AM, said:

Windows for arm already works on Parallels and Qemu on the M1 Macs, and can run 32bit and 64bit Windows apps. CrossOver can do the same. I don't know how well or bad.
Several compatibility and performance issues aside, CrossOver for M1 Macs depends on Rosetta 2. Whenever Apple removes Rosetta 2 (and that will only be a question of time), CrossOver will no longer be an option as well.

View Postnick68k, on 01 April 2021 - 11:04 AM, said:

Aye, but Windows for ARM on the M1 is currently unsupported, no?
Not officially and it's not freely available. You can get it for Parallels/VMware via Microsoft's Insider Program.

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#20 Cougar

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Posted 01 April 2021 - 12:36 PM

View Postjos, on 01 April 2021 - 11:49 AM, said:

One more thing: How about Windows games? We're all complaining about the Mac not getting any new games, but what's Windows currently actually getting? Besides Cyberpunk 2077 and Doom: Eternal I don't think I've heard about many big, amazing, impressive games that we should have on the Mac. For as far as I know, it's just the newest Call of Duty that's released every year and one remaster after the other. So, what are we actually missing out of?


I can only speak for myself but there are more games that I'm looking forward to than almost any point in the past:

Stray
Homeworld 3
Myst VR
STALKER 2
Next Metro game
Deathloop
Wolf Among Us 2
Age of Empires 4
System Shock Remake
Asylum
Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2
It Takes Two
Little Nightmares 2
Life is Strange: True Colors
Avowed

That's just on the top of my head. And of course there are many, many more on my backlog.

There's even a decent-sized list of upcoming or recently-released games on the Mac that I want to play:

Psychonauts 2
Firmament
Wasteland 3
Disco Elysium
Baldur's Gate III
Bard's Tale I-IV
Beyond a Steel Sky
Manifold Garden

I will concede the point that the AAA space does not look that interesting. But that's been true for years.