Apple 2020: is a Gaming Mac coming for Macbook Pro and Macbook Air fans?

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For the last couple of years, Apple has been more focused on the Mac than they have been before. We've seen the scissor keyboard making a comeback, while the Mac Pro and iMac Pro have been a great success for pro-users.

We've also seen a new Macbook Air and iPad Pro announced this year, as well as keyboard and mouse support for iPad that will turn your trusty Apple tablet into a proper laptop alternative.

But throughout all of this, games have been slowly rising on macOS, partly thanks to the Mac App Store, and third-party eco-systems such as Steam and Origin.

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Which is why at the start of this year, rumours had begun to grow about a gaming Mac that may or may not be released later this year.

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Plus, considering that Sony has the PS5 due to launch and Microsoft is readying the Xbox Series X, now would be the ideal time for Apple to up its game in the gaming world.

With that in mind, here are a few thoughts on why the world needs a Gaming Mac right now...

The history of gaming on Mac

For a long time, you would hear the cries of ‘You can’t game on a Mac’. It was the Noughties-equivalent of ‘You can’t do work on an iPad’, another outdated mantra which Apple is working on disproving.

Indeed, because of the early days of Mac OS X running on PowerPC CPU hardware, there was little benefit for developers at the time to spend resources on porting games to the Mac.

Having to make sure that their game would work for that unique CPU, while not having an application like Steam to easily distribute it on the Mac, was a challenge.

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When I first bought my iMac in 2006, this was just after the Mac transitioned from PowerPC to Intel. You could see the first flashes of change.

Apple had a way to emulate games and applications on this new chipset with ‘Rosetta’, and accessing games was even easier now.

‘Boot Camp’ was their utility to have Windows on a Mac and many people, including myself, used a partition to use this feature and create a ‘gaming corner’ on my Mac. 

If Portal can run on a Mac, imagine what else could...
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If Portal can run on a Mac, imagine what else could...

The times they are a-changin'

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In 2010, the tide seemed to change, when Steam was made available on the Mac!

Native ports of Half-Life 2, Portal, and much more, with other games to come. It was fantastic.

Then the Mac App Store appeared a couple of years later, and games also started appearing there. Confusion began. Some games would appear on the store, and then some on Steam.

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For example, a fantastic port of Tomb Raider 2 was made available on the Mac App Store in 2012, but to this day it hasn’t appeared on Steam, and because of macOS Catalina’s release last year and its enforcement of 64-bit apps only, it’s been made unavailable.

Up to now, there are around 4,500 games available on the Mac, and it can be hit and miss as to what can be played. Those that do work can play really well, regardless of what Mac model you may have.

Other storefronts such as EA Origin have appeared, but games like 2017's Star Wars Battlefront II are nowhere to be seen, which seems odd.

Star Wars Battlefront II is a strange omission.
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Star Wars Battlefront II is a strange omission.

Gaming on Mac currently has issues

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When Apple announced that macOS Catalina would only allow 64-bit apps to be run, it shut off hundreds of apps to be used.

The ones that were always reliable, but hadn’t been updated in years, would cease to work in your Applications folder. This was very bad for gamers.

Many games in the Mac App Store ceased to work overnight, including the mentioned Tomb Raider 2, which is why my old Macbook Air hasn’t been updated for now. But it’s also worse for Steam on Mac.

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A lot of Steam games that have been ported to the Mac over the years do not work because of this. Team Fortress 2, a game made by Valve, was a favourite of mine, and it doesn’t work because it’s still a 32-bit app. Indeed, a few forum posts are venting their frustrations at this.

With people complaining about this change, the time is right for a gaming Mac that will answer everyone's prayers.

Half-Life: Alyx on Mac - it needs to happen!
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Half-Life: Alyx on Mac - it needs to happen!

What would Gaming Mac specs look like?

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The power of the Mac has grown considerably over the years thanks to Intel’s advancements and Radeon's graphics cards, which can easily play games such as Arkham Knight on Windows and even VR applications.

But gaming on Mac can be so much more. First of all, Apple should work in-tandem with Steam to bring back the games that are currently inaccessible because of the 64-bit rule.

Apple should also work with Steam to find a way of making games ‘universal’, so they work on both macOS and Windows.

Half-Life: Alyx, the amazingly well-reviewed VR game, would be a perfect proof-of-concept if Apple and Valve can get it to work on Steam for macOS.

After these pieces of housekeeping are done, the stage would be set perfectly for a ‘Gaming Mac’ or ‘GMac’ to be introduced. 

Have it as an option at the ‘checkout’ screen when you are customising your Mac purchase at the Apple Store, and perhaps make them stand out with a ‘Space Black’ option.

I doubt RGB would be on this variant, but I’m sure manufacturers such as Razer could bring out their own versions of a MacGaming device. A whole range of Gaming Mac options - who wouldn't want that?!

Apple Arcade running on a Macbook Air.
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Apple Arcade running on a Macbook Air.

What about a Mac Gaming Mode?

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Of course, Apple may go down a whole other route and perhaps have a ‘Gaming Mode’ option on all Macs in the next release of macOS. This could evolve your current Mac into a gaming laptop.

Also, the Apple Arcade service exists. Apple could introduce retro-games and current games there instead of working with Steam, but that could alienate a bigger market. Perhaps Apple Arcade and Steam could merge somehow?

All in all, there are plenty of opportunities here for Apple to make its mark in desktop-gaming. iOS has had a huge market in this and there’s always a new game being launched each month.

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Apple Arcade only launched last year but the number of games available for a monthly fee is fantastic, especially because they can be played across iOS and tvOS.

Also, Streamlabs has announced that its streaming app is coming to Mac, so the time for a GMac seems like now.

It’s time for Apple to make its mark in gaming, and if that’s announced in some way at WWDC in June, that would be fantastic.

It would be especially great to be donning a VR headset to play Half-Life: Alyx on a Macbook by the end of the year...