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How to play Windows games on Mac

It’s so common to hear Macs suck for gaming. “There’re no games to play!”they say all the time! But the real problem isn’t trolls saying this. What bothers me is that most people (and even some Mac users) believe Mac gaming is non-existent too! Well, this guide is meant to clear things up. Macs are perfectly capable gaming machines, if you know how to use them. You will be surprised with all the ways you can use your Mac to play pretty much every PC-games out there.

In this guide, we will cover all the methods available to play games on your Mac, from the easiest, better known methods, to the more “obscure”, yet highly efficient ones. I will cover:

  1. Playing native Mac games on your Mac
  2. Playing PC games with Bootcamp
  3. Playing PC games using virtualization software
  4. Playing PC games using a wrapper (Wine)

Let’s get down to it!

 

1. Playing native Mac games on your Mac

Mac games native

It can’t get easier than this… Plug and play!

This one is quite obvious, but I did say I would cover all methods! The easiest way to play a game on your Mac is with native Mac games.

Simply put, this means the game was created and coded to work on Mac OS X, out of the box. No tweaking required. You just need to:

  1. Get the game
  2. Install it
  3. Play!

Native Mac games can be either coded during the game’s development or afterwards.
To give you an example, Blizzard will work on both a PC and a Mac version of their games from the get go. This is why they always release PC and Mac versions of their games at the same time.

In most cases though, games are ported to the Mac afterwards. They are usually released on the PC first and then the game is translated to work on the Mac. This is either done by the game’s developer (like ArenaNet did with Guild Wars 2), or by Third-party companies which specialise on  porting games to the Mac. The main two Mac porting companies are Feral Interactive and Aspyr.

 

Are there really many Mac games?

In spite of popular belief, there’s a ton of great games available for the Mac! You have hundreds available today, including heavy-hitters such as StarCraft 2, Civilization V, Call of Duty games, Borderlands 2 and more. Every year, more and more games come to the Mac. Still not convinced? Just check Mac Gamer HQ’s older posts and see all the game announcements happening all the time!

 

Where to get them?

Some people still think you can only find Mac games in obscure stores. This couldn’t be further from the truth. You can buy hundreds of Mac games from the comfort of your home thanks to the many internet stores out there.

Don’t know what to get next? Check our Top 100 Mac Games resource page for the best Mac Games available.

Here are the most popular stores offering Mac games:

Steam: Steam not only offers thousands of PC-games for digital download, they also offer but hundreds of Mac games too! Some of these games are even Steam-enabled, meaning you buy them once but get both PC and Mac versions. Some Steam-play enabled games also include cross-platform multiplayer between Mac and PC!

Mac App Store: Apple’s Mac App Store is also a great place to find hundreds of Mac games. Mac App Store’s games also include Game Center support, giving you leaderboards, achievements and more.

Mac Game Store: This one is a Mac-exclusive digital game store. I really like the presentation and information they have for every single game they offer. Good store.

GOG.com: Last but not least, GOG.com is different from the rest. They offer both PC and Mac games too but they focus on older games. If you like old-school games such as System Shock or the original SimCity, this is the place to shop!

Benefits

  • Easiest solution: works out of the box
  • Performance is usually optimized
  • You support Mac gaming

Drawbacks

  • Some games can be more expensive on Mac (compared to PC)
  • Smaller selection compared to PCs
  • Several high-profile games don’t make it to the Mac

 

2. Playing PC games with Bootcamp

Mac Games BootCampBut even if more and more games are released on the Mac, some high-profile PC-games just won’t make it to the Mac. Ever. What if you want to play Crysis 3 or Dishonored?

Do not worry, all is not lost. The Mac offers many, many methods to play pretty much every PC-game available today. Let’s talk about the easiest one: BootCamp.

What is BootCamp?

Boot Camp is a free utility that allows you to install and run the Windows Operating system.  Once Windows is installed on your Mac’s hard drive, you can restart your machine and use either either Mac OS X or Windows. It may force you to restart your Mac every time you want to play a Windows game, but BootCamp lets you run Windows natively. This is why many Mac gamers chose this method: there’s no virtualization or emulation involved. You Mac runs Windows using all it’s power, just like any other PC. The bottom line, BootCamp will give you the best performance possible, which is why it is the best way to play high-performance games.

How to install it?

BootCamp is very straightforward. You just need to open the BootCamp application in your Utilities folder and follow the assistant:

BootCamp install

You can check Apple’s support page for FAQs and guides on how to install and use BootCamp.

Benefits

  • BootCamp gives you access to all PC-games out there
  • Straight-forward method (if you are familiar to Windows)
  • You get the best performance possible

Drawbacks

  • Unpractical (you need to restart your Mac just to play a game)
  • Only works on Intel-Macs
  • Requires a Windows license
  • Requires lots of hard-drive space (for the Windows installation and its games)

 

3. Playing PC games using Virtualization software

Mac games using ParallelsFor those who find BootCamp tedious and just don’t want to have to reboot in order play a game, Virtualization software can be a good option. You have two main virtualization solutions in the market: Parallels and VMware Fusion.

As most tests and benchmarks found Parallels to offer better performance for games, we will focus on Parallels only.

 

Using Parallels

Parallels allows you to install Windows on your Mac too (or even use your BootCamp installation if you have it) but it offers something BootCamp can’t: You can have both Mac OS X and Windows running at the same time! With Virtualization, you can run two (or more!) operating systems at the same time. As a gamer, you can be using OS X  for all your everyday activities, but also have Windows 7 running at the same time for occasional gaming. Overall, you have most of the benefits of Boot Camp but without the need to restart your Mac. Is it a perfect solution? No, it also has some drawbacks, including a performance decrease (your Mac needs to run two operating systems at the same time!)

Mac games using Parallels

Rocking Mountain Lion and Windows 7 simultaneously!

Benefits

  • Parallels gives you access to all PC-games out there too
  • Straight-forward method (if you are familiar to Windows)
  • Practical: You don’t need to reboot to use Windows
  • Allows you to use Mac and Windows apps at the same time

Drawbacks

  • Requires a Parallels license (costs $110.97!)
  • Requires a Windows license
  • Requires lots of hard-drive space (for the Windows installation and its games)
  • Hurts graphics-performance significantly (modern games will suffer a lot)

 

4. Playing PC games using a Wrapper

Wine logo

For those who still want to play PC games but do not want to have to deal with Windows (and pay for it!), one last method exists: using a Wrapper . In this guide, we will focus on Wine.

What is Wine?

According to Cult of Mac’s tutorial:

Wine actually runs as more of a translator between the instructions in the PC program and the Mac operating system. It basically fools Windows into thinking they are running in a Windows environment, without actually emulating that environment (and taking the same performance hit) like Parallels does. Wine has the benefit of a large, open-source community for support as well, which means it will continue to get better and improve compatibility for a lot of games along the way.

For a complete guide on how tu use Wine, check out Cult of Mac’s great tutorial here.

Benefits

  • Wine gives you access to most PC-games
  • Doesn’t require a Windows license (or any other paying software)
  • Doesn’t require you to use Windows at all
  • Practical: You don’t need to reboot to play PC-games

Drawbacks

  • The most complex method of all
  • Requires a lot of tweaking
  • Not all PC-games will work
  • Performance will not be as high as with BootCamp

 

Your turn

Hopefully, after these almost 7000 words, you are a believer. There are many ways to play games on your Mac. When you know this, your Mac truly becomes a more than capable gaming machine.

However, when it comes to gaming, the “it just works” isn’t accurate. You have to read on, investigate and decide what is the best solution for you.

I cannot tell you which one is the best, because it depends on you: How often you want to play PC-games? Does it bother you a lot to have to reboot? Are you willing to pay for Windows licenses or third-party software?

For me, BootCamp with Parallels work wonders. I only use BootCamp when I know I will play a high-performance game for a couple of hours. The rest of the time I use Parallels (which I configured to use the same partition as BootCamp) to install games, tweak them or play light games without having to leave my precious Mac OS X. 🙂

Now I’m going to ask you 2 things:

  1. Tell me in the comments what method do you use
  2. Share this guide with all your friends who think Macs can’t play games 😉
  • …or build a hackintosh I suppose. 😀 I’m starting to lean towards that option, mainly because I don’t want to have to install a huge partition of Windows via Bootcamp on my Mac. You still have to use the slower more ancient OpenGL, but at least you can use a monster graphics card.

    • Well you know I love Hackintoshs so I can only agree with you there 😉 Technically I wouldn’t call Hackintosh a different “method” to play games, but more of a special kind of Mac. For example, with my Hackinstosh, I still use the combination Windows (ok, you don’t need BootCamp but it’s the same principle) + Parallels.
      The biggest advantage of a Hackintosh for gaming over most Macs is that you can easily upgrade it and put monster Graphics cards indeed. The main advantage over a Mac Pro is the price….
      Go for it, but only if you don’t mind some tweaking (the initial setup is not always hassle free)!

      What Mac are you currently using?

      • I’m using an early 2011 2.2GHz i7 15″ Macbook Pro with a AMD Radeon HD 6750M, Scorpio Black 750GB WD and 16 GB of RAM. I’m also hooked up to a 30″ Cinema Display. I’m mainly looking at a hackintosh now, because like you said, the price is much more affordable. And you can upgrade more easily.

        Not to mention, I just started play Heart of the Swarm, and I’m very saddened by the performance under Mountain Lion. I’m still considering a Windows 8 Bootcamp partition for a stop-gap measure though, seeing as how Wineskins are buggy and VMs are too sluggish for me. Perhaps retina displays will nudge Apple into improving their graphics engine and cause them to implement better graphics cards.

        • I plan on getting Heart of the Swarm this week end, I will let you know how it runs on my Hackintosh 🙂

          BTW, nice rig you have there!

          • Thanks! I still wish it had a better graphics card, but I think it will last me awhile.

            Heart of the Swarm is so awesome! Blizzard really stepped it up this time. It’s definitely way more fun and interesting than Wings of Liberty. I only wish the campaign was a little longer.

          • We will have to play Heart of the Swarm one of these days thenlol, BTW, I tried to reach you by mail but the address didn’t work, can you send it through the “contact” page?

            Cheers man!

  • Pavel

    > Requires a Parallels license (costs $110.97!)

    Where did the cost come from?

    Normally it costs $79.99, right now – $64.99.

    • Hi Pavel, the price comes from the website actually at buy.parallels.com… Unless they change the price for each country (even if I ask to have a price on dollars) – I’m in France

  • Bootcamp all the way for me. Everything else is just to long and complicated. Playing games is meant to be fun and “easy” why I always try to find the game on OSX first if not Bootcamp will suffice.

    • I have to agree on that, gaming is supposed to be about having fun 🙂 and BootCamp also gives you the most performance you can get…. It’s also my number one source when the game doesn’t exist on Mac and I know I’ll play for a while.
      Thanks for the comment!

  • Mac only for me, sometimes I use Crossover which is getting better and better 🙂 IMHO every user who rely on Bootcamp should bother the game developer for a OS X version 😉

    • We just need to get their personal cellphone numbers and start harassing them for more games on the Mac 😉
      How well does Crossover work for you? Haven’t really tried it myself…

  • Eric Carter

    Thanks a lot for the article. It really helped a lot.

    • Always a pleasure! I think most people don’t know about this, which is one of the reasons Mac gaming struggles to gain more interest….

  • Ryan Williams

    Where do I get a windows license? How much does it cost and is there a preferred license?

  • Tim Race

    I’m looking into getting a MacBook Pro to replace my laptop. I would like to be able to play games like Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty but I don’t know I’d it would work well. What Mac laptop do you suggest to surf, do school work, and play games?

    • Hey Tim, a MacBook Pro is a pretty good choice, they are great all-around machines.
      Regarding which one, man that’s a hard one, as I would basically say “get the most expensive one” but not everybody has an unlimited Mac budget!
      Focus on the graphics card, you can get a “standard” 15 inch MacBook Pro and bump up the graphics card on the Apple Store website, that should help you run games faster 🙂

  • Robby

    Hey, I have a MacBook Pro, and want to play PC games, but don’t know the “best” and least expensive way. I already have parallels, and it came with windows 8, however quality does suffer. Would I be better getting Windows 7, or getting 16 GB of RAM for parallels? Thanks!
    P.S. I don’t plan on playing too many games, mostly PlanestSide 2 and possibly Star Wars the Old Republic. These games can be heavy-hitters on a pc, so Parallels with only 4 GB of RAM isn’t an option.

    • What I did was to use BootCamp to install Windows and then use that BootCamp installation to use Parallels when needed.
      In your case, use your Windows copy and install it with BootCamp. That should give you the best performance.
      If restarting your Mac each time annoys you, than you can buy Parallels and during setup, chose that same BootCamp partition.

      Try to optimize the software before buying more RAM. If Bootcamp + Parallels still give you crappy performance, than upgrade the RAM.
      In any case, Parallels will hurt your performance…

      • Robby

        I used the free Windows 8 file that now comes with Parallels 8. I run Lion, so I don’t think I can run Windows 8, however, if I upgrade to Mountain Lion, can I somehow obtain the ISO file from the Windows 8 copy? Thanks!

        • Check out this FAQ on using Bootcamp with Windows 8. You will probably find everything you need 😉 If not let us know, perhaps someone around has managed to solve a similar problem!

  • Dan Hayward

    Hi – I chose the bootcamp option prior to reading this post so am pleased it is a ‘known’ or even ‘common’ way of accessing the many brilliant titles out there on a Mac.

    However, having successfully played a good few games on my boot-camped version of windows to date, I have recently come across a problem with BioShock Infinite.

    I was going great guns on this game until I got to the loading screen of one specific level (Plaza of Zeal) and it simply hangs. No music, no movement, no cursor – just plane stuck.

    I trawled the internet for solutions, and tried a good few, but I could only find those that related to people that have altered there .ini files etc – needless to say I haven’t (I’m not that smart!).

    I also updated my graphics card, validated the game files through steam and a few other bits and bobs – all to no avail.

    As a last ditch attempt to get the game going again (and relinquish the sense of guilt I now have over buying the game in the first place!), I approached 2K Gaming support for help. This proved futile as all they were able to tell me, in a nice but totally unhelpful way, was “you’re running it on a Mac right?”. “Yes” I said. “We don’t support Mac’s”. [End of conversation].

    No help coming from there then.

    So – long story short time – can you offer any advice for troubleshooting this issue? Surely there is something I can do to revive my game and get it past this seemingly troublesome level? Considering I have been playing this game issue free for a good many hours so far, I refuse to believe it is solely related to the fact I am running it on a Mac!

    Any ideas/help/advice welcome!

    Thanks

    Dan

    • Hey Dan, I’m still waiting for BioShock Infinite to come on the Mac so I cannot help you “directly” with this problem.
      In my opinion you have 2 solutions and I would do them on this order:
      1. Find the most detailed guide possible on how to modify those .ini files (which can be intimidating but not THAT hard once you give it a shot)

      2. Contact 2K again and not say you are running it on a Mac. Probably they think you mean Mac OS X. But you are using Windows and Macs using Windows through Bootcamp natively, the same way a Dell would.
      Tell them your Windows version, Graphics card model and software version and that’s it.
      Don’t even mention you are on a Mac. Why bother trying to explain the whole thing when you are running the game natively just as everyone else!

      • Dan Hayward

        Thanks for the advice Mac Gamer Ric – I will take a look at the ini files again then to see if there is anything that can be fixed that way.

        On the last point, which is a good one, I didn’t tell them anything about the fact I was running the game on a Mac partition as I thought exactly the same thing – why waste the time trying to explain it? Sadly they asked me to send in my dxdiag and config32 files and I think they got it from there.

        This is my concern – I don’t think they even tried to resolve the problem. They just saw it was a Mac and replied accordingly. Really frustrated with that approach.

        So now my options are to either give it up as a lost cause and wave goodbye to my dosh or, wait for it to come out on Mac in a few days and start all over again – neither are appealing to me to be honest!

        Any further suggestions/advice most welcome!!

        • Damn, they put you on a though spot there. You should really try the .ini files hacking, something tells me it shouldn’t be that hard. Otherwise you will have to “fight” with them and make your point that the Mac is running Windows natively so they have to support it (explaining you meet the Windows minimum requirements too).

          Last thing would be to start all over again on Mac. The game is coming out tomorrow and is Steam-play enabled so you don’t need to buy it again 😉

  • Aden

    I like to get a Mac for school. However, I like to use the Mac as a gaming laptop. But in the previous comment it looks like it will be frustrating to play PC games in bootcamp?

    • The ideal would be to play mostly native games on the Mac, with no Bootcamp needed….
      In all honesty, once Bootcamp is set up, it is as straightforward as simply restarting a computer.

      • Aden

        If it is easy y is the previous commenter having a lot of problems
        ?

        • Dan is having a lot of problems because his BioShock Infinite is messing around…. That’s more an exception than a rule…

          • Aden

            If I run bootcamp in Mac it will work like an ordinary windows pc?

            What do u think it is the suggested memory for both windows and Mac OS X

          • That’s the seliing point mate. At the end a Mac is a PC, it uses the same components as a Dell or whatever and it can run Windows nately, so yes it is really the same.
            The only thing is that the drivers come from Apple and can sometimes be slightly old.

            I would suggest at least 4gigs RAM in any case, the more the better… Are you picking up a Macbook or iMac?

          • Aden

            I’m want to get a MacBook Pro

            What is your suggested hard drive size for both windows and OS X

          • Aden

            Is it possible if you could give me you email address and I could talk to you further by emailing you rather than in the comment section

          • Sure, you can get in touch with me through the contact form here: https://www.macgamerhq.com/contact/

  • Nawmi

    This is totally out of topic…but i downloaded Counterstrike: GO for my Mac. I played it using steam for a few days. And then this new armsdeal update for the game came and after updating I cant play the game anymore! If i start it, it crashes on the first page. Any solution to this problem?

    P.S. I have tried deleting and restoring it from backup, I tried downloading the game again, I tried verifying integrity of cache!

    • Wow, very specific problem you got there. I am sorry to say I haven’t played CS on Mac so I won’t be of much use. I did have a similar problem with another game and I honestly tried everything and never found a solution The game wasn’t that interesting so I left it to rot on my Steam library…. Sorry!

  • Nosferatu

    Bootcamp only gets interesting on a Mac Pro with a spare hard drive. Since High End gaming requires a rig like the Mac Pro anyway, that’s the solution I use. I am more interested in Wine though, didn’t know that one.

    • You would be surprised with how good the latest iMacs can be. In some cases they are faster than current Mac Pros (which is understandable given their age).
      Wine is very interesting indeed but damn tricky, I don’t like spending too much time messing around with that.

  • Tomasz

    Kind of an old topic I know… I’ll still try to revive it. I own a B&W 2 for Windows copy of a game. Naturally there is a licence key on the back of manual (or somewhere). I was able to digitalize a ton of DVD games by simply typing product key on Steam (or else), some of which were available also on Mac. Does anybody know whether I could do that with B&W2 (or other old windows games) and where?

  • Jim

    The biggest problem for me is that the amount of unused disc space is relatively limited. I have a 2012 MacBook Pro Retina but my disk utility tells me I only have 52 gigabytes free space. Thats not much. A new MacBook has some 2 tetrabytes, easy to run modern games on. I’ve always wanted to play Elder Scrolls Online, but its the relatively little free space on my mac that limits me. But I love my mac and modern MacBooks are so crazily expensive! I make do with playing drakensang online.