Gaming support on Macs isn’t close to what it is on the best gaming PCs and best gaming laptops. It’s not a matter of hardware, given how Macs running on Apple M1 and Apple M2 chips frequently outperform many Windows 11 PCs. Instead, it’s a lack of support from game developers who don’t wish to expend extra resources to develop on Apple’s computers.
Mac gaming could eventually become viable, however. During this year’s WWDC 2023, Apple announced a new Game mode coming to Mac devices with macOS Sonoma, which prioritizes system resources for gaming. We also saw announcements regarding lower latency for third-party controllers and a new game porting toolkit meant to facilitate porting Windows games to Macs.
And I had a chance to check out some of these new Mac gaming features. While I didn’t see anything beyond what the company announced during WWDC 2023, it was good seeing and trying some of these features first-hand. As when I saw No Man’s Sky and played Resident Evil Village, I have hope that Mac gaming will one day be as good as PC gaming. That might take a few years but I'm excited about the possibilities.
macOS Sonoma Game mode and low latency on controllers
To test Game mode on macOS Sonoma, I played the Guitar Hero-esque rhythm game Spin Rhythm XD both with and without Game mode enabled. I did well with Game mode off using a PS5 DualSense controller, though I noticed I had to press the button prompts somewhat before the screen indicated to. That’s pretty standard for me when playing rhythm games, so it wasn’t a big deal.
With Game mode switched on, Spin Rhythm XD felt smoother to play. To be specific, I didn’t need to compensate for any perceived input lag. I earned a 97% rating for the song I selected, which isn't too shabby for someone who sucks at rhythm games. I first played on easy but bumped it up to normal, which upped the difficulty by introducing more complex button prompts and joystick controls. Despite the added challenge, I managed to get an 87% rating, which I think isn’t bad despite my ineptitude at these games.
One thing to note is that Game mode automatically switches on when playing on a Mac running the macOS Sonoma public beta. During the demo, the Apple rep manually enabled and disabled it. I asked if players would be able to do this and got a confirmation that they would, which is awesome.
New Game dev toolkit
The brief presentation I saw for Apple’s new developer toolkit for macOS Sonoma was impressive — and the one aspect that truly gives me hope for the future of Mac gaming.
The toolkit has been designed to let developers run DirectX 11 and Direct X12 Windows-based games on macOS almost instantly. In essence, the toolkit acts as a translation layer for games, letting them run on macOS and tap into the power of Apple's M-series of chips. With this approach, Windows games should be able to run on macOS without the need for developers to do any extensive porting or modification of their games.
I saw The Medium on two separate 16-inch MacBook Pro laptops packing the M2 Max chip. One machine had the Windows DirectX12 version of the game that developer Bloober Team could run on macOS without additional modifications. In a room filled with complex lighting effects, the frame rate had trouble getting above 25 frames per second — which is clearly below the 30fps minimum gamers like myself would accept.
On a version of The Medium optimized for Apple silicon, the game hit an impressive 75 frames per second in that same room. During this portion of the demo, a low battery warning appeared. That wasn’t part of the demonstration, but it proved that games optimized for MacBooks can hit high frame rates even when the laptop is running on battery power. Needless to say, I was very impressed by the results.
During my preview, it was shared the Bloober Team said that the new game dev kit saved them months of work when porting The Medium. That being the case, perhaps we’ll see more developers port their Windows games to Mac. We already know Death Stranding is coming to Macs — as are Stray and Layers of Fear. Maybe we’ll see the steady trickle of PC games inbound for Mac eventually become a flood.
If you’ve been disappointed with Apple’s Mac gaming offerings, the company is giving you reasons to get excited about the future.
Based on my brief experience, Game mode and low latency on third-party controllers make a noticeable difference when playing. The game toolkit should also make it possible for more Windows games to land on Macs. If that happens, perhaps Apple’s computers will be as great for gaming as they are for video editing and everyday computing.
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Tony is a computing writer at Tom’s Guide covering laptops, tablets, Windows, and iOS. During his off-hours, Tony enjoys reading comic books, playing video games, reading speculative fiction novels, and spending too much time on X/Twitter. His non-nerdy pursuits involve attending Hard Rock/Heavy Metal concerts and going to NYC bars with friends and colleagues. His work has appeared in publications such as Laptop Mag, PC Mag, and various independent gaming sites.