Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Cracking the Mac Gaming Market

Oliver Mackenzie (in August 2022, via John Voorhees):

Let’s take a look at our gaming benchmarks, calculated via video capture as is the Digital Foundry way.


It’s not a particularly large table because, unfortunately, there aren’t many high-end Mac games that we can actually test, particularly when it comes to big-budget games. But we do have a few titles here - and the results are intriguing.


This is a full-bore Apple Silicon version of Blizzard’s long-running MMO, but despite running natively, the same pattern emerges with the M1 Ultra yet again falling squarely between the two PC systems, falling well short of the 3090 but still delivering performance in line with a high-end PC GPU. The Max is borderline unplayable while the 3080M hovers around 30fps. All of these systems would be perfectly fine with the game at remotely reasonable settings, of course - we are running the game essentially maxed out at a whopping 8K internal resolution to create a proper stress test.


Gaming on Mac has historically been quite problematic and that remains the case right now - native ports are thin on the ground and when older titles such as No Man’s Sky and Resident Evil Village are mooted for conversion, it’s much more of a big deal than it really should be.

Matthew Panzarino:

One arena still holds fascination for any of us who have found a home on the Mac for nearly every part of our digital life — save one: gaming. The M-series Macs are undoubtedly more gaming capable than any previous Mac due to the inclusion of much-improved onboard GPUs across the lineup. But even with big titles popping up on Mac in spurts, there still is a fairly large section of “here there be dragons,” where you would think Apple would like to map in the multi-billion-dollar gaming market.

Borchers says that Apple is feeling like the Apple silicon gaming story is getting more solid release by release.

“With Capcom bringing Resident Evil across, and other titles starting to come along, I think the AAA community is starting to wake up and understand the opportunity,” he says. “Because what we have now, with our portfolio of M-series Macs, is a set of incredibly performant machines and a growing audience of people who have these incredibly performant systems that can all be addressed with a single code base that is developing over time.


Millet says that Apple’s work on cracking the gaming market started with the early days of the Apple silicon transition.

Peter Cohen:

Reading this interview from last month, I was struck by the fact that I’ve heard the same basic line from Apple since they released the blue and white Power Mac G3 in 1999: “Now we have performant gaming hardware.”

The problem isn’t the hardware. The problem is getting an entire industry of developers and publishers on board to support the platform, and consumers to buy them with this purpose in mind. Apple can’t fix this with new game-savvy senior management.

Also, pointing out the amazing GPU performance of the M2 isn’t helpful, because most of us don’t have one. And won’t be goaded to buy one based on how well it plays games that have already been out on PC and console for years. It’s “Field of Dreams”-level magical thinking: Build better silicon and they will come.

Cabel Sasser (Hacker News):

A short story. We once submitted Untitled Goose Game to the Mac App Store. It was rejected by the reviewer because they thought you couldn’t skip the credits. (?!?) We explained that you could skip the credits by holding space. It was then rejected for something else and at that point we just gave up and never bothered to resubmit.

John Gruber:

Untitled Goose Game, of course, is one of the funnest and most original games of the last decade. And Panic is a company that has made a couple of decent Mac apps over the years.

Isaiah Carew:

i think the most damning evidence is that the goose game is on a bunch of other really strict platforms, like Nintendo Switch, and not of the app store.


Update (2023-03-14): Wraithe:

I will say, my primary gaming system for the past 5+ years has been the same Mac.

I play AAA titles, relatively high end FPS, and it’s a MacPro 2012, albeit with upgrades (video cards, SSD drives) so it’s over 10 years old, still doing the work.

Of course (and you knew there was an “of course :)) it’s running Windows.

So, the issue isn’t the hardware….

It’s also been a wonderful reminder of what I don’t like about windows. 😂

Update (2023-04-22): Amaar Chowdhury:

Mac is not a system designed to run games. We’ve already seen that with Hogwarts Legacy, which was too intensive of a game to run on a non-gaming rig. Sons of the Forest will also be facing a similar fate, as the game will definitely be too much for a Mac to handle.

Via Thomas Clement:

Funny that Apple executives are saying the exact opposite. Yet games like Sons of the Forest are not available for macOS. So what's the problem? Inadequate hardware? Improper APIs? Lack of interest from the developers in the platform?

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The silicon isnt the only thing holding back Mac gaming. Support for gaming controllers is great, but otherwise bluetooth is an awful standard to use for anything gaming due to the poor latency. Then there is the poor refresh rates on almost all Macs, including the Studio display. And then the difficulties in using audio connections for discord or streaming... and so on.

Choosing a Mac to play games is the same as buying Brunello Cucinelli and then hang out with friends at an outlet village.

"Game developers have never seen 96 gigabytes of graphics memory available to them now, on the M2 Max."

That's a MacBook Pro that starts at $4100. What's the addressable market there?

Mac as a gaming platform went through at least 3 recent, destructive transitions: Metal, killing 32-bit (and the vast majority of its existing library), and moving to Apple Silicon. Apple can make iOS developers jump through moving hoops because that's where the audience is, but high-end gaming studios won't put up with that (without "encouragement") just to access the tiny Mac base.

There's a rather big cultural gulf to bridge if Apple really wants to get serious about gamers. I doubt the very lively indie scene has any patience for that App store nonsens, and as opposed to iOS app devs they already have a well functioning eco system of stores.

Then there's the pure aesthetic divide. Not just angular black and rgb leds versus sand blue squircles. But also having keyboards with mechanical switches (few of the prebuilt have mac layout) and mice with more than one button. I've tried to program a gaming mouse on a Mac and it was not a pleasant experience, it ended in me giving up.

The Mac App Store is a red herring here. It’s not even used by Mac apps much anymore, so why world it be a reason gaming isn’t happening on the Mac.

Steam is available on Macs. Everybody is already on Steam. So distribution isn’t an issue, except perhaps for the most casual of casual gamers.

That little story about "Untitled Goose Game" is a perfect little microcosm of how stupid and arrogant Apple is when it comes to developers. All of the other gaming platforms have enticed developers to it by creating a platform they actually want to work with, or made a platform that has such a glut of users that the developers will deal with a *reasonable* amount of extra work and restrictions to get their game on to it, such as gaming consoles. Or both.

Apple has *neither* of those things. It's a small userbase of non-gamers -- no one buys a mac for gaming. And their platforms are some of the most developer hostile in existence right now. The fact that a major game release got tossed for the mac because of their shitty, pointless, and terrible app store review just goes to show how little Apple actually cares. And they have done so much else to make it hard for games to release on the mac, like to name one example, assuming everyone else is just going to jump on board with their proprietary APIs that are harder to work with than the competition.

I am reminded of the words of Captain Pellew from the Hornblower series: "I judge a man by what I see him do, not what others have tell me he has done." And in spite of everything Apple tells us, what we see Apple doing is being actively hostile and malevolent to developers, including game developers, and not actually caring about making the mac a gaming platform, or really any of its platforms other than maybe iOS, and in that case they seem to care the most about getting a cut of the unethical free-to-play money.

Right now, to write a game for Mac hardware, you have to use Metal APIs. Meanwhile, to write a game for PCs, you use a completely different set of industry standard APIs. Game companies aren't going to port their games to Mac if they have to do a massive rewrite to make them perform properly. And for all their talk about how powerful their GPUs are and how good the gaming experience is, Apple has shown no interest whatsoever in implementing an industry-standard API for MacOS.

Apple talks the talk, because it makes their silicon sound good, but they don't care to walk the walk, and until they do, there won't be a lot of games for the Mac.

Old Unix Geek

Apple's hope is obviously that it will be sufficient to convince iOS devs to make their games available on Macs.

Anyone remember Game Sprockets?

The promise of gaming coming the Mac has always just been around the corner.

If gaming exists at all in Apple’s DNA, then it is very much a recessive gene. Apple execs just don’t get it.

This is actually really simple: is Apple developing first-party games in-house? More than one? Ongoing support, fully funded? If YES, Apple execs finally get it. If NO, nothing’s changed and you can continue to ignore anything Apple says about gaming. Every successful game platform vendor needs original IP, and until Apple’s willing to make that commitment, gaming is not happening for them. Apple is willing to do this for TV+, it boggles the mind that they don’t perceivethe same need for gaming.

Re: Wraith’s comment — there is simply no way anyone’s playing 2023 AAA games on a 2012 Mac Pro unless you’ve replaced the motherboard. You can’t run something like Cyberpunk 2077 reasonably without a modern graphics card and memory bandwidth. AAA games from 2015 don’t really count.

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