Let’s face it, folks. Gaming on the Mac has sucked for a long, long time. Oh sure, Mac gamers get ports of Windows games here and there. But usually it takes forever for them to appear and, in some cases, they never do. Mac gaming has been a sad, sad story that has gone on for far too long. Well those days are over, thanks to the excellent folks at Valve.
Steam is Valve’s online gaming service and it’s just been released for the Mac (a Linux version is reportedly in the works too, so stay tuned). I couldn’t wait to sit down with it and start playing some games. Frankly, Steam is just what the doctor ordered for Mac gamers!
If you aren’t familiar with Steam, here’s some background from Wikipedia:
Steam is a digital distribution, digital rights management, multiplayer and communications platform developed by Valve Corporation. It is used to distribute a large number of games and related media entirely over the Internet, from small independent efforts to larger, more popular games. Steam is set apart from similar services primarily by its community features, completely automated game update process, and its use of in-game functionality.
There are over 1,100 games available through Steam, and in January 2010 Valve announced that it had surpassed 25 million active user accounts. It regularly services in excess of two million concurrent users. Although Valve never releases sales figures, Steam is considered by its competitors and clients to be the market leader, controlling an estimated 70% of the digital distribution market.
Many major publishers have catalogues on Steam, including Electronic Arts, Activision, 2K Games, Ubisoft, THQ, Sega, Codemasters, id Software, LucasArts, Capcom, and Bethesda Softworks.
I recommend reading the entire Wikipedia article. There’s quite a bit there that will help you understand and appreciate Steam. It goes beyond the scope of this review to delve into all that but it’s worth knowing so bookmark the Wikipedia article and peruse it later at your leisure.
Suffice to say that Steam offers Mac gamers some great advantages. You don’t need to drive to a store to get a game, your games will run on Mac or Windows, and games automatically update themselves. You never, ever have to fumble around trying to find a patch for your games. This last feature is a terrific time-saver for busy people. I remember what a pain in the ass it used to be to download and install patches for games. I won’t miss doing that at all.
Here’s what you’ll need to use Steam on your Mac:
Intel Mac, OS X version Leopard 10.5.8, Snow Leopard 10.6.3, or later.
Two-button mouse strongly recommended
1GB HD space (recommended)
Internet connection (broadband recommended)
My test iMac has the following configuration:
Model Name: iMac
Model Identifier: iMac10,1
Processor Name: Intel Core 2 Duo
Processor Speed: 3.06 GHz
Number Of Processors: 1
Total Number Of Cores: 2
L2 Cache: 3 MB
Memory: 4 GB
Bus Speed: 1.07 GHz
Resolution: 2560 x 1440
Pixel Depth: 32-Bit Color (ARGB8888)
Chipset Model: ATI Radeon HD 4670
PCIe Lane Width: x16
VRAM (Total): 256 MB
My iMac has a 27-inch screen, so it can run games at a very high resolution. The weakness in my iMac is the video card, however. It’s only got 256 MB of video RAM. It can definitely run games at 2560 x 1440, but it can’t always do so at a very high frame rate. This is unfortunate but, even so, it usually runs World of Warcraft well at the highest resolution (except in very crowded places like large RAIDS or the awful city of Dalaran).
How did it do with games from Steam? Read on and find out.
Since I installed Steam on a Mac, it was easy and fast. The Steam install file (steam.dmg) is a 2.8 MB download. The install file is quite petite, to say the least. Once I downloaded the file, I just double clicked the .dmg file and then dragged and dropped it into my Applications folder. Voila! Steam was installed with no problems or headaches on my end.
In the next section, I’ll show you how to set up your Steam account and profile.
Setting Up A Steam Account
If you don’t have a Steam account already, you’ll need to sign up for one.
Don’t worry about this at all; it takes just a couple of minutes. I thought I had an old Steam account from a few years back but I could not remember it. And, since I was going to do this review, I decided to set up a new one to see what it was like from that perspective. I had no problems setting up my new account at all.
The screenshots below take you through the process of setting up a Steam account. After I set up my Steam account, I decided to edit my profile (see the last screenshot).
The profile is a great way for people to find you on Steam. You can use your real name, provide links to your web sites, and even upload an avatar of yourself. After you get your Steam account setup, definitely take a few minutes and work on your profile. One of the best things about Steam is playing with other people, so make it easy for people to find you and connect to you.
The best gaming is done with friends, for sure.
The Steam Interface
The Steam interface is easy to navigate. At the top there are four main links:
The store itself is broken down into the following menu links:
You can also search for games.
When browsing games you’ll see the familiar Windows and Mac logos that let you know a game will run on both systems. Or you can click the Mac link in the menu to see all of the games available for Mac. I found this to be an easier way to find games than browsing genres.
The library page has four subcategories:
You can get all of the latest & greatest information about Steam from the news page. You can view full stories or headlines only. It’s definitely worth checking out once in a while.
There are also news channels that more easily let you filter the news, including the following:
And the news page has a list of syndicated content links such as Kotaku and PC Gamer too.
The community page lets you access your profile, groups (you can create your own or browse existing groups), friends and games.
As I noted earlier, it’s worth taking a few moments to fill in your profile. It’ll help your friends find you on Steam and it will facilitate playing together on your favorite games.
Available Games and How To Install Games
After getting Steam installed and my account setup, my next step was to start playing some games. The game selection at launch wasn’t overwhelming but there seemed to be a reasonable selection, given that it was the first day for Mac gamers. The total number of games listed in the Steam store for Mac was 64.
Here’s a sample of some of what’s available in the Steam store for Mac:
Steam Play Indie Pack (5 indie games for one price) – $19.99
Telltale Steam Play Pack (5 games from Tales of Monkey Island, and Sam and Max: The Devil’s Playhouse) – $29.99
Guns of Icarus – $9.99
Max and the Magic Marker – $19.99
World of Goo – $19.99
Zuma Delux – $9.99
And Yet It Moves – $9.99
Braid – $9.99
Torchlight – $9.99
Civilization 4: The Complete Edition $39.99
LucasArts Adventure Pack – $9.99
Football Manager 2010 – $39.99
Quantz – $3.00
Machinarium – $19.99
Parking Dash – $6.99
Toki Tori – $4.99
My Tribe – $9.99
Wandering Willows – $14.99
Dream Chronicles: The Chosen Child
Chocolatier: Decadence By Design
Portal (Free until May 24, $29.99 after that)
Bejeweled 2 – $9.99
Galcon Fusion $9.99
Here’s what Valve had to say in a press release about future Steam games for Mac:
On subsequent Wednesdays, additional collections of Mac titles will become available, each designed to highlight specific functionalities of Steam on the Mac.
The first collection of Mac titles will demonstrate “Steam Play,” which allows customers to purchase a game once and play it on all Steam supported platforms.
Portal, in addition to supporting Steam Play, will be the first of Valve’s Source engine based games available on the Mac. Native OS/X support for the Source engine is also available immediately to licensees for use in their games.
Among the initial titles available on Wednesday will be Runic Games’ critically acclaimed Torchlight. “We’re very excited to be bringing Torchlight to the Mac,” said Max Schaefer, co-founder of Runic Games. “Having Steam for the Mac solves so many problems for us as a developer. We look forward to our future games coming out on the Mac as well.”
In addition to bringing the online functionality of Steam to the Mac, Valve will also make its Steamworks suite of publishing and development tools available on the Mac platform. These include product key authentication, copy protection, auto-updating, social networking, matchmaking, anti-cheat technology, and more. The features and services available in Steamworks are offered free of charge and may be used for both electronic and tangible versions of games.
So it looks like we’ll be seeing an ongoing supply of games being added each week. Cool! I’ll definitely be checking the Steam store every Wednesday.
How To Install Steam Games On Your Mac
The first game I decided to install was “Portal,” since it was free. I’ve included screenshots below to show what a game install looks like, step by step. It’s quite painless and easy. I also decided to install the demo of a game called “Torchlight.”
After I did the install for each, I was able to track the download progress for each game in the Downloads menu in Steam. I got a very good transfer rate for each game. Steam seems significantly faster than the iTunes store. Perhaps Apple could learn a thing or two from Valve about speeding up the download of large files? I hope Steve Jobs is paying attention; iTunes is as slow as dirt sometimes.
My iMac’s Performance
So how did my 27-inch iMac do at running Steam games? It did pretty darn well; I was pleasantly surprised.
Before playing a game, go to your System Preferences and then click on Universal Access. Then make sure that you click the checkbox for “Enable access for assistive devices.” I got a popup when I first tried to play a game in Steam. So it’s worth a few seconds to make sure you enable access for assistive devices before you try to play anything.
The first game I tried was the Torchlight RPG demo. The game loaded quickly and looked gorgeous at 2560 x 1440 resolution. It seemed silky smooth and I didn’t notice any slowdown or lag while moving around. I was not able to figure out how to display FPS in the demo version. There didn’t seem to be a control setting for it anywhere that I could find. But the game looked and sounded great.
The second game I tried was Portal. Portal defaulted to a lower resolution so I upped it to 2560 x 1440. But I noticed it seemed a bit choppy, so I set anti-aliasing mode to “none” and the game seemed significantly smoother. After changing the setting, I didn’t notice anything different about the quality of the graphics either.
Portal ran very well on my iMac. I didn’t see any slowdown or lag at all while moving around. The game itself probably isn’t my cup of tea per se, but I can’t complain about it’s performance (even with my meager 256 MB video card).
Neither game crashed on me or otherwise displayed any odd or buggy behavior. Frankly, I was somewhat surprised at this. I’d expected to encounter significant problems in one respect or another. But both games ran well at my high resolution, and I didn’t have any problems downloading or installing them.
The Fun Factor
It’s hard to quantify the “fun factor” after having just run two games. But I have to say that I really enjoyed the comfort of being able to browse Steam for games, and then the ease with which the games were installed. Steam makes gaming less work and more fun. You don’t have to drive to the store to get a game and you don’t have to store game boxes, manuals, etc.
And there was little or no work on my end to configure games to run on my system. I downloaded the games and then they just worked. That’s pretty much how things should be; gamers should be able to focus on fun. So I definitely give Steam a thumbs up in terms of the fun factor and overall gaming experience.
Problems With Steam
For the most part, I had a great experience with Steam. But here are a couple of minor nitpicks anyway.
I was very disappointed to find that Unreal Tournament 3 – a game I have waited for ages to play on my iMac – wasn’t available for Macs at launch. I understand that I’ll probably be able to play it at some point, but I would have LOVED to have it be the first game I played on Steam for Mac. Oh well, I’ll keep checking to see if and when it’s available for my iMac.
Right now the limited number of games is really the biggest issue with Steam. Mac gamers who download Steam are going to stare wistfully at all the Windows-only games (for now) in the Steam store. While this sucks in the short term, in the long term Mac gamers will most likely have access to most of those games. So more patience is required on the part of Mac gamers while Valve releases more games.
Some might think that Steam’s interface is too “Windows-like.” I’m going to give Valve a pass on that though. I didn’t have any awful flashbacks to Windows Vista while using Steam for Mac. People need to put away the silly platform rivalry or Mac snobbery. Right now the Steam for Mac interface is quite usable; Valve can always tweak it later to make it more Mac-like. The important thing was getting Steam for Mac released and that achievement has been accomplished.
Final Thoughts About Steam for Mac
I’m very, very happy that Steam is finally available for the Mac. It’s been a long time coming and now it’s finally here.
This is a time for Mac gamers to rejoice! The Mac has long been a second-rate gaming platform, but those days are now at an end. The first salvo of games for the Mac is modest, true. But more and more games are coming, and Mac gamers have many delightful hours of gaming ahead of them.
I give Steam for the Mac a big thumbs up. Thank you, Valve. I look forward to watching the supply of Mac games grow in the days ahead.
What’s your take on Steam for the Mac? Tell me in the comments below.
|Product:||Steam for Mac|
|Price:||Varies By Game|
|Pros:||Easy to install Steam on the Mac and easy to install games in Steam. Game prices are reasonable. Downloads are quick. Steam service was very stable. Games update themselves automatically.|
|Cons:||Selection of games at launch doesn’t match what’s available for Windows. Unreal Tournament 3 not available for Mac…yet.|
|Summary:||Steam is just what the doctor ordered for Mac gaming. Mac gamers should be ecstatic that their gaming platform is finally and truly coming of age. Steam is only going to get better and better for Mac gamers. Huzzah, Valve!|