Oculus Rift: Another example of the Mac's gaming deficit

Last week Oculus VR chief architect Atman Binstock said that the company put the brakes on Mac and Linux development in favor of focusing on Windows. Oculus is the maker of the Rift, a forthcoming VR headset expected to ship in the first calendar quarter of 2016.

Oculus is focusing on Windows initially for the same reason that legendary thief Willie Sutton supposedly targeted banks: Because that's where the money is. But this underscores an important point. OS X has always been at a disadvantage compared to Windows when it comes to gaming, and efforts like this underscore just how much of a disadvantage Macs continue to have against Windows PCs.

Let me say at the outset that there are plenty of games available for the Mac: Too many for me to keep track of anymore, and I used to write about nothing but Mac games.

We've gotten plenty of lip service from Apple over the years about how they "get games."

The number of Mac games is steadily increasing year in and year out, thanks to a few factors. Steadily rising market share against the PC is driving more and more people to Macs, and they want to use their computers to play games. What's more, "middleware" developers — companies that make the core components used in game development, like Unity and Unreal Engine — have targeted the Mac among their supported platforms. This improves the chance that developers will create Mac titles. Valve's introduction of a Mac version of Steam a few years ago certainly helps, as do perennial Mac boosters like Blizzard, which produces Mac versions right alongside their PC versions.

All of this has happened externally to Apple, however. It often happens with Apple's direct support and assistance, mind you, but ultimately, they're not Apple-led efforts, or efforts that Apple has any direct control over. They're happening because Apple is selling more Macs than before, but they're not happening because of any major effort Apple is making to appeal to game buyers or game developers.

We've gotten plenty of lip service from Apple over the years about how they "get games," but that hasn't translated into any sustained effort to make the Mac a competitive gaming platform. It's a bit ironic, given how much effort Apple has put into making iOS the best gaming platform it can be, including last year's introduction of Metal.

No such efforts have marked Apple's development of OS X. Apple does what it has to when it comes to updating its graphics drivers with support for necessary OpenGL functions. It doesn't seem interested in chasing any parity with Windows when it comes to features, functionality, or performance, however. Macs march to the beat of their drummer when it comes to hardware specifications, too.

Oculus' Binstock was careful to note that they weren't stopping Mac and Linux development forever but were putting it on the back burner until things were right with Windows. Obviously it makes sense: Most of the early users of the Oculus Rift will be Windows gamers, and just about all of the developers are heavily entrenched in Windows. Still, it's disappointing news for Mac users hoping to get an early crack at the Oculus Rift, which we've heard about since 2012.

Back in 2012 Oculus started a Kickstarter campaign to get funding for prototypes of their VR headset, which generated enormous interest among the developers who were lucky enough to get their hands on the early tools. Among those developers was John Carmack, co-founder of legendary game developer Id Software, an expert in 3D gaming. Carmack was impressed enough to join the company in 2013, which gave it further credibility. Then Facebook swooped in and gobbled up Oculus in a $400 million deal in 2014.

Since then, the entire gaming market has been holding its breath waiting to see what will happen with the Oculus Rift. Now we know. It's coming in early 2016, but it's coming first to Windows. Developers creating games for the system are going to have to target a fairly beefy Windows PC. Specs call for a Haswell-based Intel Core i5 processor running at 3.3 GHz or faster, with AMD 290 or Nvidia GeForce GTX920 or better 3D graphics, and 8 GB of RAM.

What sort of Mac you'll eventually need for the Oculus Rift is still an open question.

That's not an extreme spec for a gaming PC running Windows, but let's put that into Mac context. The only machine that comes even close is Apple's 5K iMac, which uses a 3.5 GHz Core i5 processor and AMD's R9 M290X graphics. But even that's not the same as the desktop variants of the same chip.

What sort of Mac you'll eventually need for the Oculus Rift — if and when they ever get around to finishing Mac drivers — is still an open question.

Binstock explained that the beefy system specs were in part because of Oculus Rift's high rendering requirements: The device has to run at 2160×1200 resolution at 90 Hz, split over two displays. That means that any computer powering an Oculus Rift will have to push a lot of pixels every second. Rendering errors and slowdowns are markedly more obvious when you're wearing a VR helmet, Binstock said, so they're targeting a fairly beefy machine to make sure it's up to the task.

I'm not brokenhearted over not being able to use the Oculus Rift on my Mac as soon as it comes out. Even if the hardware and drivers were ready on day one, few software developers would have titles ready to go on the Mac. Installing Boot Camp or another Windows usage tool on the Mac would be necessary before I'd be able to enjoy the range of games that will be available for the device.

Despite the Mac's growing market share, despite some positive movement among middleware developers, Mac support is still too often the exception, not the rule.

The focus of a lot of game development has even shifted away from the PC in favor of console systems like the PS4 and Xbox One. But Windows game development still represents a huge market — big enough that most game developers will focus on it before they'll give the Mac any consideration whatsoever.

I doubt Apple will ever make games a priority for future OS X development. As a result, I don't see it becoming the priority for the game development industry any time soon, either. In the interim, I guess we Mac users will have to take what we can get.

25 Comments
  • Ah, the irony. I'm old enough to remember when it was the other way around. "PCs are for real work," they cried. "Macs are game machines!" Thankfully, Boot Camp allows me to run Windows if and when I desire. To paraphrase The Most Interesting Man In The World, I don't always run Windows on my Mac, but when I do, it's to play games. Otherwise, it's all business, baby.
  • Kudos.
    ... and exactly. Now you're playing with power. Besides who cares about Oculus. They're struggling to get going.
    RV is a time off. And a machine that is going to be a gaming platform for it is going to have to be solely dedicated to it and gaming only. People just have no idea the input involved with VR. The computation is huge just to watch a shark float past you.
  • I had to copy some files to my friend's Macbook once. That was the most convoluted method I've ever seen just to copy a file - something like 4-5 steps. On Windows, I just Copy the folder and Paste it to anywhere I want. If that's business efficiency, no thanks. That and the two button mouse that comes by default on PCs.
  • When the **** was that? For as long as I can remember it has been Windows for games, Macs haven't become a thing until the late 00's. Windows has dominated and Macs never got a look in...
  • The Mac is certainly a terrible platform for hardcore gamers. But WWDC might see the new Apple TV sporting the latest GPU from Imagination. If that happens the product could become a $150 games console.
    In power terms it would sit somewhere between the 360 and the Xbox One. A very capable games device indeed. It would not be the fastest on the market, but could be very disruptive. Especially since the current console market has abandoned casual gamers. The hardcore gamers are insatiable in their lust for pixel power. But we now have a crop of products which are expensive to buy and unattractive for smaller scale game developers. A mass-market, inexpensive, casual gaming console might actually put Apple back in the game-game.
  • "A mass-market, inexpensive, casual gaming console might actually put Apple back in the game-game." like the Wii? yeah, we saw where that went.
  • The Wii has no third party software support, because Nintendo wants it that way.
    Console gaming originated because a $200 console would play games better than a $2000 pc. Today that console costs $400 and a viable gaming PC costs $800. So the real hardcore gamers are migrating back to the PC. The cost differential has eroded.
  • I'm a complete noob (and happy that way) when it comes to the state of gaming. But my (perhaps) obvious question is *why* does Nintendo want it that way? Is it because they know that they can't compete with the kind of games that third-parties could make if they had a public SDK, so they keep it closed for that reason? Or do they want to be "gatekeepers" so they can prevent a "family-unfriendly" games like "Mega Mutilation Part 3" (Harry Potter reference - hypothetical *as far as I know*) from being created for Nintendo?
    Mega Death 3"
  • It went to families with young children. "Hard-core", graphics-intensive gaming is just a segment of the gaming market.
  • This is a very negative article. Apple is advertises big name games on the Mac App Store and there's quite a large amount of supported games now. Unless you're an Apple Developer, I fail to see how you have any knowledge that Apple aren't working on making the OS more optimal for gaming, you seem to be basing this solely upon the fact that they advertise iOS gaming more and because of Metal. I'm also pretty certain that for most games the performance difference between Windows and OS X is negligible, of course there are a fair few games out there that have been badly ported from Windows to OS X
  • I have setup up machines with Boot Camp and the gaming experience was great.
    I would wager it is the old mind set. Macs VS PCs and developers are still a bunch of diehards when it comes to creating or even porting games to the Mac. It's not Apple fault but the creators and developers that just refuse to create on the Apple platform.
  • "It's not Apple fault but the creators and developers that just refuse to create on the Apple platform."
    This sounds like the Windows Phone dilemma. Windows Phone would certainly gain a lot more traction if apps were available.
  • My thoughts exactly
  • More to it than that. Apple themselves need to embrace gaming and the technology that goes with it. They won’t.
  • It's a pretty accurate article. While Apple does put more resources towards gaming than it used to (i.e. more than 1 person), it's nowhere near what's needed to keep video card drivers, Game Center or anything to do with generally promoting the Mac as a gaming device on a par with what's going on in the Windows world.
    Video drivers are one of the biggest bugbears for Mac game devs. It's not horrific if you're working at the more casual end, but for the big name titles it's a major struggle to get the Mac version anywhere close to the capability of the PC version.
    I still plan to work on our Rift versions of our Mac games, but it's now more of an experimental 'beta' project than a mainstream push.
  • I'm glad this article was written. I really wish Apple would be called out on its unwillingness to update to the latest versions of OpenGL. The fact that we're all still on OpenGL 4.1 is pretty much negligence at this point.
  • Called out for what?
    Why is Apple being unwilling when it doesn't do everything everyone wants. That is like buying a car and saying it doesn't offered well. A handfull of hardcore doesn't not make market share sense.
  • "Why is Apple being unwilling when it doesn't do everything everyone wants."
    When a company like Apple limits you to what they want you to do with their devices (see jailbreaking), the users will go elsewhere.
  • It's all about the specs from what I've read. And interestingly enough, I was on the hunt for about a week for something to replace a 9 yr old desktop that the rest of the family uses (I have my own). Mac Mini? No way. For the cost, what you get kinda sucks. It would have worked but dual core on a desktop makes little sense to me. Imac? Already had a good monitor, kb, mouse, etc. Even then, the cost was too much again for what you get compared to the PC side of things such as a dell xps 8700 (which I did get. for 480 on the dell refurb site, i7, quad core, 16gb ram, threw in my own SSD and 4tb harddrives from old one, good enough video card til I upgrade it). Retina imac? Now we're in the 3k range if you want i7. Nice screen but can't stomach the cost since performance is bad and has a limited future. If I'm going to spend 2-3k (and I didn't this time), then gaming PC's start looking good too. Perhaps later. While I would appreciate the screen and foam at the mouth thinking about it, my family wouldn't care or notice. Not one bit. So it's a waste as a family PC. Mac Pro? Perhaps. Maybe. Not for family but maybe me. But not right now given its limitations. I feel like there's a transition going on right now. To 5k. To USB-C? I'm in no rush yet. And as many online love to say, this machine is targeted to a select few. So which of these are demanding gamers going to buy? Apple doesn't seem interested in solving that problem which is the root. (And if they did "solve" the problem, imagine what Apple would charge..lol) I don't blame them as PC gaming doesn't look worthwhile for Apple to focus on. As a (bleeding edge) gaming dev, why would you want to focus on the Mac when your core customers simply aren't there? I do know i'll spend around 2 to 3k on mine sometime in future. I'm still uncertain what I'll get. I think retina imac or a gaming PC which really means specced out, room to upgrade, future proof, well built case, easy to get into, etc. I have thought of a cheap mac mini if only to get photos app to help manage icloud library or serve media and simply have access to mac OS. I could plug it into same monitor I use with my PC.
  • Appears you put a lot of thought into but I think many forget about "Boot Camp."
    Best of both world and depending on what machine you get, Boot Camp has proven to run Widoze better then MOST PCs out there on the Apple platform. I have done it with gaming machine in the past and it surpassed my expectations. But truly just buy a PS4 or Xbone. Save yourself the headache.
  • It’s nothing to do with Bootcamp. That’s just the icing on the cake regarding drivers for the Apple hardware.
    My old Mac Pro 1,1 ran Windows8 like a champ. WITHOUT Bootcamp, (Bootcamp only actually supported up to 32 bits versions of 7 and Vista and Apple put code in the software to prevent 64 bit versions of anything installing. https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT204048). I did install Bootcamp drivers in the end to allow use of the Magic Trackpad, but under the skin Mac hardware is the same as Windows hardware.
  • PS4 and Xbox One rule the gaming world anyway.
  • You'll probably need one of those new Mac Pros, spec'd out to the max, if Oculus ever comes to the Mac platform. Zuck has his priorities (Money) and that's just the way it is.
  • Actually, for me, the Mac has always been at a disadvantage even since OS version one. The great irony for me also has been all the noise about how Macs are for kids and Windows is for real work, and yet, the bulk of gaming development is done for Windows OS. Personally, I think the main issue remains what it always has been, since version one of Mac OS, namely, that video card manufacturers just do a lot more for the Windows platform then they do for the Mac. We still very much get the trickle-down from windows GPU development. In this regard, almost everything gets done for windows first and then a tiny fraction of that development gets handed over to the Apple OSs. It's bullshit basically. I'm not a big gamer so I don't feel the pinch too much in that regard, but I am a seasoned editor of film and video and have always well felt the pinch there. BTW, Adobe feeds right into this crap by providing entire sets of customizable tools to address various installed graphic cards and their respective capabilities, on a Windows machine, where as on the Macintosh, virtually none of these tools exist.
  • This might be, (speculating here), because Apple have specific and stringent requirements that make the GPU manufacturers baulk?