There are a lot of myths about the Mac, and a lot of them are pretty much bollocks, but if there’s one that I, as a Mac-only user, find it hard to argue with, it’s that the platform is rubbish for games. Warcraft III, Tales of Monkey Island, World of Goo, DEFCON, and a large ScummVM library is as far as my Mac’s current selection goes, and all but one of those was either long after its Windows counterpart or emulated.
It’s not something I miss, to be honest, because I consider myself predominantly a console gamer, but the announcement of the Mac version of Steam is a great thing, and the biggest shot in the arm for Mac gaming since… well, ever.
Valve has a deserved reputation for going above and beyond for fans, with seemingly endless support and free updates for its games, but what has been announced for the Mac version is a phenomenal move. Not only will the Steam Cloud allow settings and saves to be continued across different computers running different operating systems, but Steam Play means that if you own the Windows version, you own the Mac one too. Blizzard’s done this on disc for years, and Telltale allows you to download either version of Tales of Monkey Island once you’ve bought it, but I can’t remember it being done retrospectively on such a scale before.
It’s also an extremely astute business move for Valve. The Mac gaming scene has been moribund for a while now, but OS X has been gaining market share, particularly among groups like students – not many gamers there, obviously – and, with Steam, Valve will not only encourage growth but be in on the ground floor to take a huge chunk of the market as it expands. Steam is already the de facto standard for digital distribution of gaming on Windows, and that’s with competition from the likes of Direct2Drive. With Steam Play, Valve will go from a Windows-only studio to the most prolific developer on my Mac, at no cost to me and with no real competition, and that’s smart.
Steam genuinely is a gaming platform in itself now. It bridges two separate operating systems and allows complete integration between them: stop playing Half-Life 2 on your Windows PC and pick it up where you left off on your MacBook, with all your saves just there; do the same with Team Fortress 2 or Counter-Strike and your custom key bindings will make the transition transparently.
That sort of interoperability has been promised for years, such as between the GameCube and GBA or PS3 and PSP, and now it’s available on two rival computer platforms. Not every publisher is Valve, admittedly – I woudn’t expect to see ‘free’ other versions of Activision games, for example – but Newell’s company has shown the way. It’s down to the others to follow it.
One console future? Could this be how it happens? How long before we get a Steam box under the TV? I’m intrigued already…