July 12 update below, post originally published July 11.
For decades, gaming has been at the forefront of computing prowess. Bigger, better, faster, more fluid, more immersive, the big games of the day have been the perfect illustration of what can be achieved.
Except for Apple Mac owners. That’s a situation that is not going to be changed by the radical move to ARM hardware. In fact it’s going to make it a lot worse.
July 12 update: One approach that Apple is taking to entice game developers on Windows 10s’ Intel architecture is offering software tools for Metal, Apple’s interface for coders to access the graphics processing unit (GPU). Hartley Charlton reports:
“Many game development studios have established game or graphics asset production pipelines that use the Microsoft Windows infrastructure. One of the key final steps in the asset creation process is compiling the graphics and compute shaders for inclusion in the game.
“…Although it is not possible to develop games for Apple devices on Windows entirely, since a Mac is still needed to sign software and for testing, the availability of gaming-oriented Apple developer tools for Windows marks a significant step in gaming on Apple devices.”
While this will be welcome, it still involves Developers making a positive decision to learn a new platform. While the addressable audience will include not only ARM-powered Mac machines but also the iPhone and iPad, the mobile audiences have not been enough to bring over key AAA gaming titles. It’s hard to see right now how a new secondary tool for Windows will change that.
Apple’s move away from an Intel-based system offers the company a number of advantages, not least in performance and efficient use of power, but it will make it even harder for anyone serious about gaming to consider the Mac platform.
Porting an Intel-based PC game to an Intel-Based Mac is not a trivial operation, and a comparison of the top selling games for Windows 10 and MacOS on Steam shows a distinct lack of key titles for Apple’s machines. By moving the platform to ARM, Apple introduces another barrier. Given the market for major games is minimal at best for MacOS under Intel. don’t expect any improvement under ARM.
That does not meant here will be no gaming on Macs, but by following the ARM route the Mac range – which will start with the MacBook Pro later this year – is going to be far better suited for developers used to mobile gaming on the existing ARM platforms of iOS and iPadOS. There are some absolutely cracking games, but are they the AAA titles beloved of gamers on high-end PC and console machines?
No. We’re going to see many of the top-tier mobile games come through to Mac, hopefully with additions and extra that make for a better desk-bound experience. And the occasional global phenomenon will be able to gather enough of an audience that makes it viable (yes, I’m looking at Fortnite), but in general the new paradigm for MacOS will make porting mobile games much easier than porting desk-bound games.
Many gamers live in both MacOS and Windows 10, thanks to the use of Boot Camp and the ability to switch to alternate operating systems on a Mac machine. A feature that is being removed by Apple for the upcoming MacOS Big Sur. This will place more emphasis on emulation and virtual machines. It remains to be seen if this will be sufficient for the voracious gaming market.
The answer may lie with streaming. Google’s Stadia service will run on lower-end machines, notably its own Chromebook platform, but this places two gatekeepers between the player and the developer. Apple needs to allow Stadia full and unfettered access to the system (and let’s see how much friction there will be with the billing systems of Apple and Google clashing), and Google needs to allow the developers’ titles to be accepted on Stadia (which will no doubt come with a raft of ‘suggested practices’).
Neither of those offer confidence to gamers at the moment. Apple talks a great game about power, development tools, and flexibility; but Intel-powered Macs have not attracted top games for many years. Not only is it unlikely to change in the move to ARM, but Apple has made it harder to bring big titles to the platform.
Now read why your next Mac might cost more than you think…
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