No one gets a Mac to play games on it. I’ve heard this argument like a million times already. And I know the very reason behind it, and for sure, you as well know why. But have you ever tried to dive deeper into where it all started?
The humble beginning of the Apple Macintosh
In 1984, Apple released the Macintosh 128K (Apple Macintosh), one of the most revolutionary computers of all time. According to The New York Times, the Apple Macintosh “presages a revolution in personal computing.” Unlike any other computers at the time, Apple Macintosh uses a graphical user interface (GUI), which allows users to interact with the computer using graphical icons. With this in mind, it could easily make it a one perfect gaming machine. However, a number of Apple marketing executives refused to the idea of adding a game to the final operating system. This is, according to them, to avoid the Macintosh being labeled as a “toy” computer rather than a real computing machine.
Furthermore, the limited RAM (and that is a non-upgradeable 128KB) and its monochrome CRT monitor were also put in consideration. Eventually, computer scientist Andy Hertzfeld created desk accessory for Apple Macintosh called Puzzle. It is so light that it only occupies 600 bytes of memory, giving users more free space from their 64KB ROM. At the time, that’s the closest thing to a game the Apple Macintosh could offer. But is memorable because it was the first game to fully utilize the mouse.
During the development of the Apple Macintosh, a chess game similar to Archon based on Alice in Wonderland was shown to the team. The game was initially written for the Apple Lisa system but could also be easily ported to the Macintosh system. The completed version of the game was shown during the launch of the Apple Macintosh and released a few months later as Through the Looking Glass. Apple didn’t bother to market the game (obviously, it’s not their priority), and so it never became a bestseller.
A couple of titles related to entertainment starts to emerge, and software ports for Apple Macintosh computers came almost immediately. Original titles like Balance of Power and Dark Castle came to the platform, and gaming community for Apple Macintosh computers continues to burgeon. That isn’t to say that Apple is supporting the idea.
Apple computers are capable as a gaming machine, but they are not simply designed and built for it. Apple markets Macintosh computers as a productivity machine best suited for emerging desktop publishing field. Mac gamers would often miss out on many high-profile arcade ports and other commercial twitch-based games. Instead, the only games any Macintosh users have access to were a slow-paced adventure, strategy, and role-playing games.
Interestingly, despite Apple’s rejection of the gaming community, impressive original titles still continues to emerge on the Macintosh system. In 1987, titles like Scarab of Ra, The Fool’s Errand, Beyond Dark Castle, and Crystal Quests were among the first games users can play on the Macintosh in color. More original titles arrive on the Macintosh system, and some are even visually superior to its PC version.
Mac continues to receive support from the software publishers, but the decline of the Apple II took a hit on Apple computers. Instead of vacating to the newer Macintosh system, developers shift their focus to the Amiga, Atari ST, and IBM PC. All but featuring a new Windows operating system.
During the 1990s, Apple realized its poor game plan (pun not intended) and redesigned the Macintosh with color monitors and higher-resolution graphics. But it is already too late. Windows computers are now much popular than Apple Macs, and Microsoft’s acquisition of the UK Company RenderMorphics has paved the way to the Windows we know today. This acquisition brought Microsoft its proprietary DirectX, which as we all know, is currently the world’s most preferred graphics engine by developers. During this time, Macintosh computers were stuck to using an alternative solution: the open graphics API, OpenGL.
The Macintosh, the HyperCard, and the Myst
From 1987 onwards, Macintosh computers were bundled with a hypermedia system called the HyperCard. It is an all-purpose software platform, which takes advantage of the graphical user interface (GUI) on the Macintosh computers. HyperCard base its operation on “stack” of virtual “card”. Wherein each card contains a set of interactive objects including text fields, check boxes, buttons, and similar common graphical user interface (GUI) elements, which users could later browse and navigate. Users can build new stacks or modify extant ones by adding new cards. Developers can place GUI objects on the cards using an interactive layout engine based on a simple drag-and-drop interface.
HyperCard, due to its “stack” and “card” concept, became a perfect platform for the easy creation of games. Notable games created using HyperCard include Cosmic Osmo, The Manhole, and Spelunx. All of which were designed by the Miller brothers, Rand and Robyn Miller, who would later go on to create the revolutionary puzzle adventure game called Myst. Myst first debuted for the Macintosh system in 1993, but the popularity of the Windows platform has demanded a port.
Myst follows a story of a single character moving around the interactive world. Critics praised video game for its graphics, but some ridicule its slow-witted puzzle design, lack of characterization, and interaction. Nevertheless, Myst set the standard for the medium we know today and has gone to sell 6.3 million copies worldwide. Some also consider it as a killer application that accelerated the sales of the CD-ROM drives during its era.
Sadly for the Apple Macintosh, it is the Windows PC that benefited the most from the Myst. Majority of the sales came from the Windows platform (two-year-old port of the Macintosh version), propelling Myst as the bestselling PC game throughout the 90s. Only for The Sims to dethrone it in 2002.
The success of Myst has resulted in “Myst clones”, and games with better graphics, sound and voice characters started coming out on CD. For the Apple Macintosh, the system contributed little to the then-booming market for computer games, and it is not helping that the Apple Computers are spiraling into a large financial crisis.
An attempt to depart from the original game plan
If the question is about which is better for gaming, the Macintosh or Windows? The answer may startle you. Hardware and software-wise, older Macintosh computers have a way better gaming performance than its PC counterparts.
However, due to Apple’s business model, gaming is deprioritized, and business computers were at the top of the hierarchy. With this in mind, Macintosh hardware was made inconsiderate for gaming but is designed to handle powerful software that caters schools and businesses. That is also the reason why the Macintosh system is far more common than the Windows machines in schools in the United States.
Ironically, Windows PC was first marketed as a business computer. At this point in time, Macintosh computers have all the chance to capture the market for computer gaming, but the company’s prior business model rejects the idea. Apple computers are also expensive, and gaming community, which is booming at the time, has a way cheaper alternative: the Windows PC.
Mac’s sales fell, as Windows rose. Apple has tried to license hardware-clones to other manufacturers, finally replicating IBM (IBM story below). But it’s no success. They also attempted to upgrade their operating system, but it never came to fruition. Apple’s mismanagement, wrong business decisions, and poor financial situation make it hard for them to go head to head with Microsoft.
Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1996, with plans to restructure the company and make it profitable again. Apple, under Jobs management, also attempted to promote Macs for gaming. They even released a series of game-enabling APIs called Game Sprockets, just before the WWDC 1996. It never took off, or more fairly, not given a chance to. Game Sprocket was discontinued just a year later as part of Apple’s restructuring and vacation to a Mac OS X based future.
In 1998, Apple launched the first multi-colored iMac. This marks Apple’s redesign of the Mac hardware. Going back to the Mac gaming, game choices for Macs users were pretty slim. In 1998, for example, only 28 games were released for Macs compared to 479 on the PC of the same year. And it only consists of lame “edutainment” software or a one to two-year-old ports of the PC games.
Despite this horrible situation, Jobs still attempted to promote Apple’s Power PC G3-based computers as a gaming machine. On an interview with Arcade in 1999, Jobs said that Apple was “trying to build the best gaming platform in the world so developers are attracted to write for it” whilst also “trying to leapfrog the PC industry”. It is reasonable; as Mac’s new hardware is powerful enough to run the latest games. But the installed base on Macintosh computers is low enough to justify continued support from big publishers.
How did Windows PC able dominate the market for computer gaming?
The graphical user interface (GUI) on Macintosh, as said a while ago, could easily make it a one perfect gaming machine. But it never happened. During the 1980s to early 90s, Apple was able to lead the market with the Apple II and Macintosh line of computers. IBM, on the other hand, joined the market a little too late. However, IBM’s smart business decisions help it gain space in the computer market in just a short amount of time. This is despite the inferiority of their early hardware to that of the Apple’s.
Apple continues to maintain the control over its own software and hardware, restricting any third party to install the Mac OS to hardware other than theirs. IBM did the exact opposite. The company allowed third parties to clone its hardware, and it has made a deal with Microsoft to install MS-DOS with every PC made. IBM’s decision sparked hardware diversity, and the competition between different companies permits rapid hardware innovations. PCs were also way cheaper than Apple computers, which is a thing to consider for most people.
It is Microsoft that benefited the most though. It continues to improve the MS-DOS, but it is getting old and it needed to change. That’s why it released Windows, a hardware-agnostic GUI-based operating system. Windows’ modularity has made it a more preferred platform by many during the early days of computing.
This modularity also gave PC manufacturers a freedom to choose whichever market they want to target their computers. Others choose to build business computers (where Apple is in), some went to create PCs for gaming and creative workflows. This was a success for IBM and Microsoft, and a somehow failure on Apple’s side. Well, not really. Apple still continues to dominate the market during these years.
Instead of replicating IBM and Microsoft, Apple continues with their old way (well, they also tried to license hardware-clones to other companies but it’s too late). They try not to compete with PCs, but rather focus on their prior goals. The Mac OS platform is not a failure, but Windows is such a strong contender in the market. And they are now competing against other manufacturers, which has a way cheaper alternative to Apple II and Macs.
Nevertheless, Mac OS continues to attract artists, creators, and gamers due to its innovative and much better graphic user interface (GUI). It is also worth noting that prior to 1995, most PC games were written for DOS, and not for Windows. This makes Mac OS a better choice for gamers, but Windows popularity is rapidly growing.
Then comes Windows 95, the platform that changed it all. The operating system combines all the features from both the Mac and Amiga. Microsoft understands how bad Windows is for gaming, but they know how to fix it. In September 1995, about a month after Windows 95 came out, Microsoft released a proprietary set of libraries known collectively as DirectX. They wanted to rework its goal and make the Windows 95 as the largest platform for gaming.
Instead of continuing writing games for the Macintosh, most developers switched to Windows 95. Windows PCs are more popular now and are way cheaper than that of Apple. Meaning, more people will have access to their games on the Windows than on the Mac. Microsoft’s DirectX is also more attractive than the Mac’s OpenGL. It comes with way better tools, always gets an update with new features and most of all, it allows developers to write the code without having much to worry about which graphics card or hardware to support. Also, to strengthen Microsoft’s gaming credentials, it created the DirectX-based gaming platform known as Xbox.
So, why the current Macintosh computers are not good for gaming?
Even from the start, Apple never truly consider gaming as an option for their computers. Except for a single unsuccessful attempt. After finding no success against Microsoft, Apple has gone to design Mac computers as to what it was before: a user-friendly computer for students, professionals, and creative individuals to share.
Also, reworking the code and optimizing it for the current macOS machine is not very cost-effective for developers. Considering how little to no support they get from both Apple and the gaming community. That is not to say all Macintosh computers sucks for games. They’re not, at least for a casual gamer’s perspective. Mac hardware can still run decent games.
So, what’s the bottom-line? Well, current Mac computers are not for hardcore gamers, and will never be. If you plan to play graphics intensive games, get Windows (at least a more high-end one). But if you are a student, a working professional, or creative individual who wants a machine to do average to high performing tasks such as video editing, get a Mac. The Mac hardware will never disappoint you. After all, it is what it really designed for.
The current status of the macOS
Apple has already dropped the OpenGL in favor of Metal. There are some hopes that Metal will soon come close to DirectX in terms of raw performance. But some says that Metal will unlikely to offer a much better performance than DirectX or Vulkan. Considering the years Microsoft spent building up DirectX.
DirectX is also getting frequent updates, unlike the OpenGL and Metal. And even if the Metal beat DirectX in terms of performance, there will always be an issue of availability. Being a more popular gaming platform, developers will always prioritize Windows over macOS. It is not until the entire Windows gamers switch to Macs that we’re seeing some changes. And obviously, it’s not going to happen anytime soon (perhaps, will never be). Gaming on Macs will still remain dead frozen, but it is not like Apple cares though. (Again, pun not intended.)