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What Final Fantasy XIV's aborted Mac launch says about Mac gaming

Square Enix's release of Final Fantasy XIV for the Macintosh seems to have been blunder after misstep after blunder. It's becoming a textbook example of how not to release a game for the Mac. There's plenty of blame to go around here, and not all of it is at Square Enix's feet.

Square Enix first made waves earlier this year when they announced that Final Fantasy XIV would come to the Mac. That alone was remarkable because the Mac is not a platform Square Enix has demonstrated an interest in. Then the company made waves of an entirely different kind in late June by releasing it only to have Mac users screaming at them about performance and stability problems.

The problem, ultimately, is that people who are buying Macs are, by and large, not gamers.

The company responded over the weekend by pulling the Mac version of Final Fantasy XIV temporarily. The game's producer and direct, Naoki Yoshida, accepted responsibility for the problem in a lengthy explanation posted to the Final Fantasy XIV forums.

Yoshida lays the problem at the feet of changing system requirements late in development. He said that he plans to keep the Mac version from being sold until the company can better articulate Macs system requirements. They're offering refunds to those Mac users who don't want to wait.

There's a lot more to this than just a case of mistaken system requirements, though. Yoshida went pretty far down the rabbit hole to explain.

Among the problems Yoshida cited is Final Fantasy XIV's reliance on Cider. It's a translation technology developed by a Canadian outfit called TransGaming, which recently sold Cider to Nvidia. Cider has been used for years to make Mac game ports.

Square Enix knew from the start that not a lot of Mac users were going to play Final Fantasy XIV compared to their Windows counterparts, so they wanted to do the Mac version's development on the cheap. That's why they did a Cider port, according to Yoshida. They made it someone else's problem in the process.

Mac gamers often look down their nose at Cider-based games. They have the reputation for not running as fast as a game that's been programmed with native support for OS X's graphics drivers. Yoshida confirmed this but went further, throwing under the bus OpenGL, the graphics technology employed by OS X:

If FFXIV were to be developed in native OpenGL for Mac OS, it is expected that there would be a performance gap of approximately 30% compared the DirectX version.

Thirty percent is a big nut, and it's a pretty good indication of just how bad things are on the Mac today when it comes to performance parity with Windows games. And mind you, Yoshida's talking about if FF XIV was remade as an OS X native game. The actual performance delta between Mac and Windows currently is much bigger, and that's why Square Enix pulled the game for sale right now.

Yoshida also noted that Mac graphics performance varies widely depending on the model, and low-end Macs wouldn't be able to run the game nearly as well as low-end PCs would. That's another nagging problem: Apple specs its machines for what it wants them to do, not for gamers or performance enthusiasts.

You really can't argue with Apple's success over the years at building great hardware that consumers will buy in droves. Game companies like Aspyr and Feral have managed to eke out a niche for themselves by making Mac games. Blizzard supports Mac gaming with its efforts like the recently released Heroes of the Storm. But Mac game development isn't growing proportionally to Apple's increased market share.

The problem, ultimately, is that people who are buying Macs are, by and large, not gamers. And never will be gamers. Mac users who are gamers are left with a couple of choices: Buy a Windows PC or console to play games on, or install Windows in Boot Camp and run games there. Either way, running games in OS X is only a solution for a small percentage of players.

There is hope: Apple is making big changes in OS X with the upcoming release of El Capitan, OS X 10.11. "Metal" in 10.11 is a fundamental change to make graphics draw much faster than they do now.

I'd rather see Square Enix not waste Mac users' time bringing a half-assed product to the platform.

Yoshida mentioned Metal, although he inaccurately paired it with the "adoption of DirectX 11 for Mac," which is something that is not, to the best of my knowledge, happening, from Microsoft or Apple or anyone else.

If Metal's promise of much faster draw calls fixes a key performance area for FF XIV, maybe the right solution is to wait until 10.11 is released. That won't fix the hardware spec issues Yoshida mentioned. That won't change Square Enix's decision to use crappy middleware and to make it someone else's problem in the process, rather than adopting good OS X development processes from the start.

Good Mac game development can be done. Ask Aspyr, ask Feral, ask Telltale Games, ask Blizzard. These are all companies whose Mac game products don't suck. These are also companies that have staff who know what they're doing when it comes to the Mac.

Speaking frankly, I'd rather see a company like Square Enix not waste its time and Mac users' time bringing a half-assed product to the platform. It's bad for business. Sometimes it's worse to have a bad product than it is to have no product at all.

19 Comments
  • Yeah, as someone who is both gamer and MacBook Pro user (before you start attacking me for that, know I use a custom build desktop PC for gaming), I find this very frustrating. I was looking forward to having Final Fantasy 14 on my Mac. Since I enjoy playing it on my desktop, why not play it on the go. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like that is gonna happen. I hope they do make a proper Mac version though, and not just some crappy port that even an entry level Windows 3.1 PC will play better.
  • Yeah my Macbook Pro is my "computer" and I built a Windows machine that is primarily for gaming.
  • So, they go with Cyder, (basically is a highly customized version of WINE) that relies completely on OpenGL... and then blamed OpenGL.. You easily loose 30-50% when using WINE based ports to begin with ON TOP OF the slower OpenGL so what did they expect? If they developed for OpenGL directly the game would have likely run just fine.. /sigh... The cool thing about developing for Metal is that most Mac's will likely be upgrading soon.. I expect El Capitan will have a very high adaption rate.
  • That depends on how easy it'll be to port OpenGL to Metal, if at all possible. I doubt any of the AAA studios will seriously consider Metal-exclusive development with the current percentage of Mac gamers. iOS is different and has a big enough install base for studios/devs to profit from platform exclusive titles. OS X commands nowhere near the same marketshare among PC gamers. Heck, I'd much prefer studios dedicate OpenGL resources to Steam/Linux games.
  • All the main gaming engines are going to support metal on OSX
  • Releasing a game engine with a Metal API is very different from releasing an actual game built using that API.
  • Cider depends on OpenGL because OpenGL is the Mac's native graphics library. More to the point, both Cider and OpenGL, at least in its current implementation in Yosemite, are both performance bottlenecks.
    If they developed for OpenGL directly the game would have likely run just fine.. /sigh...
    The producer said that even if they went native, there would still be a 30 percent performance delta between the Mac and Windows versions. I also anticipate that El Cap will have a high adoption rate, but according to Apple, Metal is something that will only benefit Macs made since 2012, which represent a smaller subset of the potential El Cap user base.
  • But a 30% delta means it's probably still playable. Not, perhaps, at the highest settings, but it's not unplayable like the Cider port is.
  • EA had the same problems with the Sims 3 on Mac. They used Cider and the game was unplayable for some times even on the most recent Mac.
    Cider was emulating an old Windows XP PC with the minimum requirements for the base game.
    They solved the problem the best they could by lowering graphics.
    They learned from that and The Sims 4 is a native game. And there's almost no difference with the Windows version.
    Sim City 2013 is native too !
  • "Good Mac game development can be done. Ask Aspyr, ask Feral, ask Telltale Games, ask Blizzard." Yeah, but are those games comparable to Final Fantasy XIV? If those games don't require the processing power or graphics, it is an apples to oranges comparison. It is akin to claiming that because some developers are able to make excellent mobile games for iOS then other developers could make PC or console quality games for the iPad if they were good enough at iOS. Bottom line: if the hardware and graphics are underpowered, they are underpowered. That is the same that Oculus stated when they announced that they were not going to bring their VR products to Macs. "That's another nagging problem: Apple specs its machines for what it wants them to do, not for gamers or performance enthusiasts." Yeah ... that is no different from what people who needed resource-intensive or specialty work done said in the Windows versus Mac debates in the 1990s and 2000s, and what a lot of Android (and Linux) enthusiasts say today. Apple's huge profits, influence and market-leading position hasn't changed that. It is just that when folks state this, they get accused of being irrational Apple haters. You can blame them for doing the Cider port, but their reasons for doing so were no different from the same with independent developers on mobile who do iOS-first development and then port an inferior copy to Android months later, or who simply skip Android entirely: Square Enix had no guarantee that dedicating the resources to building the game the right way would be profitable. Apple is #1 in PC profits due to their high margins on device sales, but they have only 15% of the PC market with very few of those being gaming enthusiasts. "Speaking frankly, I'd rather see a company like Square Enix not waste its time and Mac users' time bringing a bad product to the platform." Attitudes like that are really unhelpful. It is not the fault of Square Enix that their likelihood of making a profit is low because there are so few gamers on Macs. It is especially not the fault of Square Enix that Apple chooses not to make their products fit for gaming. And as stated earlier, using the experiences of other companies and their far less powerful games to claim that it is Square Enix's fault is unfair. It is as if you are throwing a temper tantrum because Square Enix made it apparent that Apple hardware isn't the best at everything. But it has long been known that Apple hardware and software is only designed to do what the folks in Cupertino want you to do, not to accommodate what developers and users want or need. Folks with other needs have always gone to Windows and Linux and are now increasingly going to Android. It is not a big deal, but Apple enthusiasts really need to stop attacking developers and users for not wanting to restrict themselves to the confines of what Apple is willing to provide, especially considering that Apple - for all its merits - really does only offer a small line of products and takes their sweet time when it comes to expanding it, and even then often offers new products at the expense of discontinuing old ones because Apple prioritizes offering a few great products to offering a wide array of products to try to meet more market needs. So big deal: if you are a gamer, then buy a Linux or Windows rig for your gaming and use Apple products for everything else. (Please do not encourage people to install Windows in Boot Camp and run games there, because that will not help matters when the issue is underlying hardware ... see "Yoshida also noted that Mac graphics performance varies widely depending on model, and low-end Macs wouldn't be able to run the game nearly as well as low-end PCs would"). But hey, that is pretty much what everyone is already doing anyway.
  • I can argue many reasons to buy a Mac. But gaming is not one of them. I do fine with gaming on steam, and playing blizzard games. But anything more intensive than that may be a problem. Sent from the iMore App
  • Makes me wonder how much better things should/could be for professional video work on the Mac. "Fast" graphics on the Mac has always been an issue, since day one, which is an incredible irony since Macs, from "day one", have always had graphics and multimedia capabilities built in that early pcs did not - you had to buy those abilites as an after-sale feature set. (Including monitors that were graphics capable.) Macs had that all built in from the get-go. High-end gaming has always been enigmatic for developers on the Mac for the same fundamental reasons pointed out in the article, and my understanding, over the decades, has been that, developers of video graphics processors and firmware engines that run them, almost never develop with the Macintosh platform in mind. Furhtermore, it is my understanding that, video graphics card developers will begrundginly provide a port so Macs can use a specific, high-end graphics card only after lots of howling from the Mac community ensues about a specific game, and/or, after special, one-off, behind-the-scenes deals are made direclty with Apple. As an aside, but demonstrating the same mechanics at work: The Pro video industry suffers from these same effects. One poignant for-instance is Adobe Premiere: I've used this product off and on since version 1. Adobe started off as Mac only, then added Windows, then dumped the Mac and only after a huge outcry, brought development and support back to the Mac. Utterly amazing in my estimation. But, behind the scenes what we're left with is this: Adobe Premiere on Windows allows for user customization of various parameters across one or more istalled and qualified video cards, thus enabling the user to allocate VRAM and GPU resources in ways that are more suited that workstation's work flows. Adobe Premiere on the Mac - NOPE ... Nada ... Nicht ... Ain't happening. I'd really like to have a clearer and deeper understanding of why high-end graphics on the Mac is always second-best, at best, (because often it's just non-existant). and why does it continue to be so. Is there somethig inherently limiting within all Mac OSes that have ever existed that make it this way, or is it tired old arguments with graphics engine developers that, they can't make enough money developing equitably for both Mac and Windows-lovin pcs? And, if the later is in any way true, then why, by now, doesn't Apple develop its own graphics engine technologies? In the arena of high-end graphic engine hardware and software, there is need for change that is long overdue - like all of the way back to the beginning of personal computers.
  • Don't forget Valve in the list of companies whose games don't suck...
  • Quote: "That's another nagging problem: Apple specs its machines for what it wants them to do, not for gamers or performance enthusiasts." Wrong. It's not about performance enthusiasts. FFXIV is a fairly casual MMORPG game. Their market isn't to WoW eSport Arena PvPers... It's to fairly casual players who just get online to do PvE stuff, quests, raids, etc. A $1,299 buys you an iMac with an i5 CPU, a 5400RPM SATA Drive, 8GB RAM, and an Iris Pro GPU. $1,299 Buys you an entry-level gaming rig in the Windows Market. For ~600 you can buy a machine as powerful as an iMac with a similar (or better) CPU and iGPU, and then add on a 240GB SSD for ~$100 and a mid-range Discrete Graphics card for ~$50. For the price of a 13" MBA or rMBP you can eek into the entry level of Windows Gaming Laptops. The issue is the hardware is too expensive for the gaming ecosystem to really grow, because when people who care even about fairly casual games do the price comparison - especially those who want a machine with some future profess - there is simply no value in a Mac from that perspective. The machines are shipped fairly underpowered, and they lack the ability to be easily upgraded in even the most basic ways (like adding RAM). If you go the AMD route, the price disparity goes up even more. One doesn't need to build a Windows PC specifically for gaming, when a Mac is the other option. They simply need to buy one. Almost any mid-range Windows PC is better than most Macs for gaming due to the ability to upgrade them, and Windows Laptops can fly past Macs in gaming proficiency due to the price disparity. You simply get WAY MORE for your money with a Windows PC than a Mac. The Hardware choices are also superior. Windows PC OEMs offer superior Discrete GPUs with their PCs than Apple, and their laptops can be customized to a level that isn't even close to being available with Apple's machines. --- Once you get past that, you have to deal with Apple's woefully outdated OpenGL implementation on Macs, and I'm not sure how many AAA game developers are going to want to perform double duty targeting Metal on OS X and then DirectX or OpenGL on Windows - just to avoid huge performance disparities between their Windows and Mac clients (which shines a bad light on them more than it does on Apple, since most casual games are not so concerned with the underpinnings of an OS and how it implements certain graphics APIs. They only care whether or not the game runs well or not for them, and it's always the developers' fault when it doesn't.).
  • "Wrong. It's not about performance enthusiasts. FFXIV is a fairly casual MMORPG game. Their market isn't to WoW eSport Arena PvPers... It's to fairly casual players who just get online to do PvE stuff, quests, raids, etc." Performance here means the graphics capability not the gameplay. When 1.0 was released, it bogged down most top end gaming rigs. They lessened the requirements in 2.0, but still it remains one the most graphical intense game on the market. It's extremely detailed and the actions players take are incredibly flashy. FF games have always been like this.
  • funny that valve doesn't have any such problems with OpenGL on the Mac. I think the author is placing a little too much faith in square on this.
  • I think this may be less to do with Yoshi-P and more to do with Square Enix trying to squeeze out another quick buck. It's been shown time and time again that the Final Fantasy XIV team considered the game it's baby and places quality on the front lines. This is probably something they were forced to do and Yoshi-P is taking the hit for it. Hopefully they can get it worked out for Mac users, but I don't think all the blame should be placed on Yoshida-san's shoulders.
  • But you know there is an MMO that has a native Mac client that performs fine. It's World of Warcraft. I don't know what percentage of the WoW player base is on Macs but here's the thing - if developers don't give me the option of buying their game on the Mac then they can't really bitch that gee, no one on the Mac buys games. I can't because *you developers won't make the investment*. I played WoW for years on various Mac laptops from the black Powerbook to the current 11" Air. Yeah, a Windows machine might run it better, but I don't want to invest hundreds of dollars in a PC that I'll only game on. Sure, I could Bootcamp it... but that's 50gig or more than I can't use for anything else on an Air with a 256gig drive to start. The funny thing is, I've gotten tired of WoW and went to try the Mac version of FF14... only to read the thread I linked in another comment about the crap performance. Oh well, I guess SE doesn't want my business.
  • "The problem, ultimately, is that people who are buying Macs are, by and large, not gamers." Absolutely rubbish. Mac users aren't gamers, but iOS users are the most frequent game players on the planet? It's unfair to generalize Mac users into a bucket of gamers. Many of us use a Mac for work (including making GAMES for iOS), or personal preference. Many of us have consoles at home for gaming. Many of us have figured out how to "get by" with lacking support, and end up giving business to the little guys that have the guts to include Mac support. Currently, on Mac, I play Final Fantasy XIV, Guild Wars II, DOTA 2, League of Legends, and a dozen other smaller steam games. Final Fantasy XIV has also gotten significantly better since it's initial release, which didn't just have Cider problems, but was untested and full of bugs. It's perfectly playable at medium-ish settings after a couple of updates. Yes, they jumped the gun on the release, and yes a Metal port would be nicer, but I'd still rather turn down the settings a little then reboot into Windows. Especially when I have many other Mac gaming options.