Every month, Valve updates its Hardware & Software Survey that compiles and sort information gathered from various users of Valve's Steam game service. While it's supremely useful for analyzing the preferences and behavior of PC gamers, the data on Mac users hasn't always been available.
However, with the inclusion of Steam For Mac in Valve's distribution service, Mac user data is now available. The October 2010 edition of the Steam Hardware & Software Survey displays various charts and graphs collected from both PC and Mac user accounts. Taking a look at the Mac-specific data actually reveals a few interesting patterns, especially in terms of the type of Macs that are used for gaming. (The following analysis is based on data provided in the Mac Only category of the most recent hardware/software survey as of November 17, 2010.)
Mac users prefer portable gaming
According to Valve's survey, of the Mac owners that use Steam, approximately 49 percent use MacBook Pros. iMacs make up 27 percent of hardware ownership. MacBooks comprise 16 percent, the Mac Pro clocks in at 5 percent, and the Mac mini takes the smallest share of the pie at roughly 2.5 percent. (For those keeping count, the remaining less-than-1-percent isn't listed.)
Most Mac users on Steam prefer to use laptops for gaming--the portables outnumber the desktop Macs almost 7 to 1. That alone runs counter to the behavior of most PC users, who generally like to take advantage of more powerful desktops; of all of Apple's products, only the Mac Pro is built with customization in mind. The MacBooks and iMacs are generally powerful enough to satisfy the average Mac gamer.
No need for extra RAM
That same large majority of MacBook Pro users on Steam also don't see the need to add extra RAM for their gaming experience. About 61 percent of Mac users run systems with 4GB of RAM, the standard for MacBook Pros and iMacs. Another 24 percent use 2GB of RAM, which is likely divided between the MacBook and Mac mini crowd. In the lowest share of users, 2 percent use 3GB of RAM and another 2 percent are (somehow) using Macintosh systems with just 1GB of RAM. Most Mac owners using Steam purchase their computers with the minimum specifications and simply don't bother (or need) to upgrade them after the fact.
Roughly 11 percent of Mac users run Steam with more than 5GB of RAM, and it's anyone's guess to which systems those are. Only the MacBook Airs can be excluded from that puzzle, as they can only be upgraded to a maximum of 4GB of RAM.
Most Mac gamers are running older systems
Out of all the various graphics cards and chipset being used among Mac users on Steam, 27 percent have an Nvidia GeForce 9400M card installed. That specific detail alone indicates that many MacBook Pro gamers on Steam are running systems from 2009, while iMac owners are using the 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo model released in 2009. In fact, various Nvidia cards make up the bulk (about a whopping 69 percent) of the Mac crowd's graphics lineup, with the GeForce GT 330M, 8600M, 9600M, and 320M topping the charts evenly behind the 9400M.
As the data shows, many Mac users on Steam have yet to purchase new systems. While this may change later in the year, the most common ATI card in the data (at a 6 percent share) is the Radeon HD 4850, which was a standard part in the configuration of the 27-inch Core i5 and Core i7 iMac models from late 2009. Oddly enough, the next most common ATI Radeon cards are the HD 2600 (about 6 percent) and the X1600 (4 percent), which indicates the use of 2007/2008's 20-and-24-inch Core 2 Duo iMacs, as well as 17-inch and 20-inch Intel Core 2 Duo iMac models from as early as 2006.
Valve has yet to update their survey with specs on the most commonly shared applications among Mac users (on the Window side, 100 percent of PC users use Steam, for example), but once that data comes, it'll show exactly what else the vast majority of MacBook owners on Steam are using their laptops for.
[McKinley Noble is a Macworld editorial intern. His favorite Mac video games are still the Journeyman Project series and You Don't Know Jack.]
This story, "Valve Survey: Most Mac Gamers Use Laptops" was originally published by Macworld.