Like most Mac-slinging gamers, I'm forced to resort to Boot Camp to satiate my penchant for playing hero, monster, and zombie apocalypse survivor.
I've thought a lot about the doors that Steam, Valve's online store for Windows games, could open for gaming on the Mac, and now that it's all but confirmed to be on its way, I'm thinking even more about it. Why is now the right time? Why did Valve tease this specific handful of games? Will 2010 go down as the year the Mac finally plays with the big dogs?
The reasons behind Valve's move aren't necessarily cut and dry. "The Mac is finally popular enough for game-makers to take notice," you might say, but I don't entirely buy that. The most optimistic numbers I've seen for the Mac's market share, from a web statistics firm of all places, are 11 percent in the U.S. Apple is said to have about five percent in the UK, and total worldwide market share is estimated to be around 4.5 percent. That might be high for Apple, but it's clearly small potatoes when positioned against Windows.
Furthermore, a glance at recent Mac sales shows that Apple CEO Steve Jobs wasn't kidding at January's iPad launch when he described Apple as a "mobile devices company." According to Apple's fiscal Q1 2010 report, about two-thirds of its recent Mac sales are notebooks which, aside from a few exceptions, are not typically known as gaming powerhouses, no matter who makes them. While Apple does not break down Mac sales by model, it does boast in in its stores that the 13-inch MacBook and 13-inch MacBook Pro (both wielding the same comparatively weak NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics card) lead the pack.
So I asked myself again: why did Valve pick a time like this to embrace the Mac?
Apple bridged the gap years ago
Thanks to Apple's transition to Intel CPUs in 2006, these days a Mac's interior hardware has more in common with a PC than ever, making gaming in Boot Camp a popular workaround for Mac users. But getting cozy with the same chips that power PCs has also made platform conversions easier.
From a technical perspective, technology like
Fewer hurdles to jump through also means porting games to the Mac looks better from a financial perspective. So, instead of waiting five to six years for a major title to be ported to the Mac, games like
The PC game industry is thirsty for new blood
With the rise in popularity of frightfully powerful gaming consoles like Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360, a ton of gamers have dropped their mice and keyboards in favor of wireless controllers and HDTVs. Combine this exodus with the above hardware transition and the fact that Apple's sales have done nothing but go up the last few years, and it's not hard to see a perfect storm brewing.
The opportunity is apparent. Not only can Valve plant its flag for serious gaming on the Mac, but with Steam, it has the potential to to become
Valve, on the other hand, sees a chance to expand its vast empire of PC gaming to an entirely new audience: Mac users who want to both work and play in the same OS. And in that case, even a paltry single-digit percent market share means possibly hundreds of thousands of new customers for Valve.
This is the first baby step
While the arrival of Valve and its Steam store on the Mac is good news just about any way you slice it, this is still a baby step for Mac gaming.
And Valve is still playing a cautious game.
But as of yet
All said, Valve's arrival on the Mac is great news for all involved. Now really does seem like the right time to "get in on the ground floor," as the 2 a.m. infomercial salesmen are so fond of saying. There are plenty of other questions to answer, such as whether customers will need to re-purchase games they already bought through Steam on the PC in order to play them on Mac OS X.
But already it seems as though Valve could not have chosen a better time to go full steam ahead on the Mac.
This story, "Why Is 2010 Is Right for Valve and Gaming on the Mac" was originally published by Macworld.