Opinion: Despite bold pronouncements at WWDC ’23, Mac remains back of the pack for gaming

Mac announced a few new features for gamers at their recent WWDC event, but Apple's improvements aren't enough.

June 14th 2023

As WWDC 2023 draws to a close, it’s an opportunity to look back at the conference and see what was added for gamers. Apple dropped a bunch of new features and surprises for both developers and consumers, with a new Game Porting Toolkit, Game Mode, and even the reveal of Death Stranding: Director’s Cut coming to macOS this year. Despite the big talk and splashy announcements however, the rest of the conference was a classic example of how actions spoke louder than words and demonstrated just how little the Mac makers value gaming.

Macbook with Playstation controller – courtesy of Apple

First, to paint you some context: as an ex-Mac gamer myself, I understand that the idea of gaming on macOS has been a constant source of memes, mockery, and mirth from the non-Mac community. You got used to adjusting your gaming to focus in on what you COULD play, rather than what everyone else was playing. It ultimately meant being a few years behind the curve, and joining when most other folks had moved on – with some small exceptions like World of Warcraft. While it’s hard to say that this is by design, it has always seemed that gamers are the afterthought – from dodgy driver support to more recent developments of just plum not supporting GPUs, the idea of playing games on a Mac has always been a bit of a struggle. Apple never forgot to bring gaming up, but they’ve never truly valued that community – despite it being a market where some are happy to plonk down thousands to get the best experience from their hobby.

WWDC 2023 has been no different. Their announcements – wedged into their keynote speech alongside other new macOS features – were later undermined by the focus of their hardware. Take the Mac Pro as an example – PCIe lanes for days, but no ability to use them with graphics cards, even despite them being a cornerstone of an emerging industry in AI and machine learning. Even outside of gaming, GPUs have massive utility, and removing that option for is a huge blow, for gamers and pros alike.

Designed without play in mind

Apple appears to be pursuing a design philosophy throughout its product line that maximises efficiency above all else. When you control the whole makeup of a product, you can realise benefits that a catch-all system like any Windows machine simply cannot – by tightly integrating hardware, software, and even the layout of the internals in a device. Their latest chips – the M2 range – are finally coming to the Mac Pro which means all Apple computers now run on their custom silicon.

Relatively speaking, these things sip power when compared to other processor and/or GPU combinations. It’s a big part of what allows Macbooks to run long on battery, and keep cool while doing so. But it does mean – in a gaming context – that they have limited headroom to draw additional juice when they need to be pushing the fastest of frames, and Macs are designed with limited cooling options to help keep things in check when the processing gets tough, as it does running games. Macs end up underpowered for gaming when compared to the best (or even mid-range) gaming PCs.

Death Stranding reveal – courtesy of Apple

All this leads to the game support being poor. Not only are there additional complexities for porting to a relatively small user base (which Apple is seeking to address through their Game Porting Toolkit), but even if you did go through that effort, the latest, boundary-pushing games are unlikely to be able to run at their highest settings. It’s a poor pitch to a dev trying to recoup their costs by accessing the biggest markets possible. Bringing Hideo Kojima on for the Death Stranding reveal was meant to be portrayed as a massive coup for gaming on Mac. What it really illustrated was just how far behind it was – bringing a nearly-4-year-old game to the platform that was made for last-gen consoles and has been free on PC in recent memory. Apple is essentially saying they’re a last-gen machine when it comes to gaming – which isn’t great for a company that likes to paint itself as being at the bleeding edge.

Why go Mac?

Devs are simply not incentivised to develop for Mac. The power isn’t there for next-gen experiences, with developing features like ray tracing (RT) barely getting a mention in their technical documentation. Top developers want to push boundaries and build games that use the latest and greatest innovations to show off what modern kit can do. The hardware isn’t up to that, and the software support in Metal 3 (Mac’s equivalent to DirectX/Vulkan) isn’t able to help bridge that gap. And without developer support, we as gamers are not incentivised to adopt Mac as our platform of choice. It’s become a vicious cycle – one that Apple admittedly seems happy to leave be – but one that leaves gamers few options to wholly commit to the Mac platform.

None of this will likely surprise the gaming community. There’s a good reason why the aforementioned jokes are told at “Mac gamers'” expense. In the Apple world, it seems like gaming is a feature of their computers, not a core reason why you might buy one as it can be when you buy a Windows machine. It’s a convenience for the creatives and pros who purchase their devices, a bonus rather than part of the core offer. And as another WWDC passes by, this doesn’t look like changing any time soon. For gamers, Macs continue to offer form but no function.

Are you a Mac gamer? Have we missed the point with Apple’s latest announcements? Hop on over to the Gaming.Buzz Community Discord and share your thoughts about the latest Mac efforts in gaming!

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