How to play Windows games on your Mac without Windows

(Image credit: iMore)

The Mac has plenty of games, but it'll always get the short end of the stick compared to Windows. If you want to play the latest games on your Mac, you have no choice but to install Windows ... or do you?

There are a few ways you can play Windows games on your Mac without having to dedicate a partition to Boot Camp or giving away vast amounts of hard drive space to a virtual machine app like VMWare Fusion or Parallels Desktop. Here are a few other options for playing Windows games on your Mac without the hassle or expense of having to install Windows.

GeForce Now

Battlegrounds

PC gaming on Mac? Yes you can, thanks to Nvidia's GeForce Now. The service allows users to play PC games from Steam or Battle.net on macOS devices. Better still, the graphic power of these games resides on Nvidia's servers. The biggest drawback: the service remains in beta, and there's been no announcement when the first full release is coming or what a monthly subscription will cost.

For now, at least, the service is free to try and enjoy. All supported GeForce NOW titles work on Macs, and yes, there are plenty of them already available (opens in new tab)!

Request Beta Access (opens in new tab)

The Wine Project

Wine Project

(Image credit: Wine Project)

The Mac isn't the only computer whose users have wanted to run software designed for Windows. More than 20 years ago, a project was started to enable Windows software to work on POSIX-compliant operating systems like Linux. It's called The Wine Project, and the effort continues to this day. OS X is POSIX-compliant, too (it's Unix underneath all of Apple's gleam, after all), so Wine will run on the Mac also.

Wine is a recursive acronym that stands for Wine Is Not an Emulator. It's been around the Unix world for a very long time, and because OS X is a Unix-based operating system, it works on the Mac too.

As the name suggests, Wine isn't an emulator. The easiest way to think about it is as a compatibility layer that translates Windows Application Programming Interface (API) calls into something that the Mac can understand. So when a game says "draw a square on the screen," the Mac does what it's told.

You can use straight-up Wine if you're technically minded. It isn't for the faint of heart, although there are instructions online, and some kind souls have set up tutorials, which you can find using Google. Wine doesn't work with all games, so your best bet is for you to start searching for which games you'd like to play and whether anyone has instructions to get it working on the Mac using Wine.

Note: At the time of this writing, The Wine Project does not support macOS 10.15 Catalina.

Download Wine

CrossOver Mac

CodeWeavers took some of the sting out of Wine by making a Wine-derived app called CrossOver Mac. CrossOver Mac is Wine with specialized Mac support. Like Wine, it's a Windows compatibility layer for the Mac that enables some games to run.

CodeWeavers has modified the source code to Wine, made some improvements to configuration to make it easier, and provided support for their product, so you shouldn't be out in the cold if you have trouble getting things to run.

My experience with CrossOver — like Wine — is somewhat hit or miss. Its list of actual supported games is pretty small. Many other unsupported games do, in fact work — the CrossOver community has many notes about what to do or how to get them to work, which are referenced by the installation program. Still, if you're more comfortable with an app that's supported by a company, CrossOver may be worth a try. What's more, a free trial is available for download, so you won't be on the hook to pay anything to give it a shot.

Download: Crossover

Boxer

If you're an old-school gamer and have a hankering to play DOS-based PC games on your Mac, you may have good luck with Boxer. Boxer is a straight-up emulator designed especially for the Mac, which makes it possible to run DOS games without having to do any configuring, installing extra software, or messing around in the Mac Terminal app.

With Boxer, you can drag and drop CD-ROMs (or disk images) from the DOS games you'd like to play. It also wraps them into self-contained "game boxes" to make them easy to play in the future and gives you a clean interface to find the games you have installed.

Boxer is built using DOSBox, a DOS emulation project that gets a lot of use over at GOG.com, a commercial game download service that houses hundreds of older PC games that work with the Mac. So if you've ever downloaded a GOG.com game that works using DOSBox, you'll have a basic idea of what to expect.

Download: Boxer

Some final thoughts

In the end, programs like the ones listed above aren't the most reliable way to play Windows games on your Mac, but they do give you an option.

Of course, another option is to run Windows on your Mac, via BootCamp or a virtual machine, which takes a little know-how and a lot of memory space on your Mac's hard drive.

Read: Best way to run Windows on a Mac

How do you play your Windows games on Mac?

Let us know in the comment below!

Updated October 2019: Updated with the best options.

Bryan M Wolfe
Staff Writer

Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.

1 Comment
  • WINE doesn't work on Catalina, or at least when I tried it it didn't, most likely related to the drop of 32-bit support, and presumably that means CrossOver won't work either. They'll most likely get updated at some point though, but for now the best way for WIndows games is… to run Windows. The best performance will be a dual-boot with BootCamp, but otherwise for virtualization I hear that Parallels is the best for gaming performance