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 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 at 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 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 games on your Mac

Mac games native

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 games.

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

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

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

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

How many are there out there?

In spite of popular belief, there’s a ton of great games available for 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 make it to macOS.

 

Benefits

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

Drawbacks

  • Some games can be more expensive
  • Smaller selection compared to PCs
  • Several high-profile games will never make it to OS X

2. Playing PC games with Bootcamp

Mac Games BootCampBut even if more and more games are released on Mac, some high-profile PC-games just will never make. What if you want to play Crysis 3 or Dishonored?

Do not worry, all is not lost. There are 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 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 gamers chose this method: there’s no virtualization or emulation involved. Your 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 top alternative 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 with Windows)
  • You get the highest performance possible

Drawbacks

  • Unpractical (you need to restart your machine 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

For 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 OS X and Windows running at the same time! With Virtualization, you can run two 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 machine. 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!)

Benefits

  • Parallels gives you access to all PC-games out there too
  • Straight-forward method (if you are familiar with 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
  • 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


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 CultofMac’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 to use Wine, check out their tutorial.

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 OS X.