Modern Apple computers are viable alternatives to Microsoft Windows computers in just about every way, except in one lucrative market: Gaming. Historically, Windows has been the only choice for computer gamers–until now. Steam is officially rolling out Mac support, and they’ve single-handedly removed a major selling point for Windows machines. This is big.
Gamers, and the industry that supports their habit, have chosen Windows in the past. Apple has been steadily increasing marketshare, but in the ’90s, the beginning of serious PC gaming, Macs were far less popular than Windows equivalents–and Mac OS, due to its lack of support for Microsoft’s DirextX, was already a less appealing platform for game developers. Since Apple made the switch to Intel chips, both virtualization (running Windows on Mac hardware) and emulation (porting Windows software to Mac) have become popular and easier, making Mac gaming a possibility–but Windows is just too entrenched in the field as the PC gaming platform, with gamers dedicated to the OS and its cheaply upgraded hardware. So Mac gaming, as of early 2010, barely exists. If you like gaming, you buy Windows; it’s just how it is. But Steam is changing all that.
Steam, for those who don’t know, is the premiere digital distribution service for games. Run by Valve, a publisher known for creating Half-Life, it nonetheless carries games from just about every major publisher (and a hefty number of independent publishers as well) and thanks to excellent prices and ease of use has become a one-stop-shop for gamers. Steam, until today (excluding a recent beta), was Windows-only, which made sense, since gamers are pretty much Windows-only. But by launching a Mac client, Steam is sending a huge message to developers: Mac is a legitimate gaming platform that can no longer be ignored.
Says John Cook, director of development at Steam:
We are treating the Mac as a tier-1 platform so all of our future games
will release simultaneously on Windows, Mac, and the Xbox 360. Updates
for the Mac will be available simultaneously with the Windows updates.
Furthermore, Mac and Windows players will be part of the same
multiplayer universe, sharing servers, lobbies, and so forth. We fully
support a heterogeneous mix of servers and clients. The first Mac Steam
client will be the new generation currently in beta testing on Windows.
When the Mac version is launched in April, Valve will be releasing its entire catalog alongside it, with native (rather than emulated) Mac support. There will be little distinction between Mac and Windows in gameplay; multiplayer games will allow players on either platform to play directly against each other, and the system even allows a player to save a game on one platform and continue it on another. Say you’re at work, playing a little Team Fortress 2 with the coworkers, and you want to continue your game at home, on your Mac. No problem, just sign in and you’re on your way.
This is a major shakeup for both the computer industry and the gaming industry. Windows now has one less selling point, and you can expect Apple to start touting this new gaming capability in ads. Hardcore gamers will probably still choose Windows, as it’s much more easily and cheaply upgraded with the newest and best components. But this is a big change for everyone else. Casual gamers can now choose Mac–and Mac users can now choose to game.