How to Play PC Games on a Mac: GeForce Now, Stadia, Shadow and More
Having a Mac is fantastic, although sometimes we Mac owners are left in the dark by game developers that choose not to make a game Mac-compatible. It’s understandable, since most Macs are lacking in the graphics department when compared to their PC brethren, but now more than ever there seems to be a lack of decent macOS-supported AAA games.
Don’t worry Mac gamers – there are still ways to play your favourite PC games on your Mac. From the reliable Boot Camp method to cloud-based streaming services for Mac, here’s how you can play PC games on Mac.
GeForce Now for Mac
Pros: Easy to use, no downloading required, provides access to an existing library of games.
Cons: No 4K HDR support, RTX capabilities exclusive to paid subscribers.
One of the easiest and best ways to play PC games on a Mac is to use Nvidia’s cloud-based game streaming service for macOS users, GeForce Now. GeForce Now for Mac is available right now across Europe and the US following a three-year closed beta. The service allows users to play a range of games from their Steam, Uplay or Battle.net accounts instantly, without any need to worry about the graphical power of their machines.
Why? All the processing is handled by Nvidia at sites scattered across Europe. The game is powered remotely and is sent to your Mac at high speeds via the internet – so high, in fact, that the lag isn’t noticeable on a decent internet connection, even in online multiplayer games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. All the games have been optimised for streaming, meaning you’ll get the best visuals possible without tweaking any in-game options.
Oh, and because it’s streamed and Nvidia stores a cached version of each of the 300+ available game on the servers, there’s no need to wait for downloads either – once selected, you should be playing the game within 30 seconds. There are over 1000 older Steam games available, but you’ll have to wait a few minutes for these to install before you can play.
It’s the perfect solution if you’ve already got an existing library of games on Steam as you don’t need to re-purchase the games to enjoy them on Nvidia’s platform. And with both a free tier and a reasonably priced £4.99/$4.99-a-month Founders plan, it’s certainly not an expensive option. You can sign up via the GeForce Now site, and take a look at Tech Advisor’s What is GeForce Now?explainer for more details.
Pros: Great performance, controller-focused UI and no need to download software to access the service.
Cons: No free tier yet, so you’ll have to pay a monthly sub to access games you’ve bought on the Stadia Store.
Stadia is Google’s answer to cloud gaming, offering a full console experience without the console. Like GeForce Now and Shadow, Google powers the game experience remotely, relying on a decent internet connection to provide a lag-free experience. That means you can access Google Stadia on both Windows and Mac via Google Chrome – with no install required – and you can easily play on the big screen via Google Chromecast. There’s also support for specific Pixel phones, but there’s nothing for iPhone users just yet.
Unlike GeForce Now, Stadia provides 4K HDR gameplay at decent quality and it’ll only get better as the backend hardware improves – Google claims it could theoretically provide [email protected] gameplay, but with a lack of 8K TVs on the market, it’s not something we’ll see anytime soon. You need a Google Stadia controller to use the service right now, priced at £119/$129 with a free Pro trial and a Chromecast Ultra, but Google has said that you’ll be able to use a range of third-party controllers in future.
Stadia offers unique features compared to other platforms, including the ability to set up picture-in-picture in multiplayer games like Ghost Recon Breakpoint, allowing you to view a feed from all players on your team as you coordinate your attacks. There’s also talk of heavy YouTube tie-ins, especially with tutorials and challenges, but these features are yet to launch.
But while GeForce Now and Shadow allow you to play games you already own, you’ll have to purchase everything you play on Stadia via the Stadia Store, and frankly, it’s a bit pricy right now – especially when you add on the £8.99/$9.99 monthly cost for the Pro service. There’s also a question of general game availability, as the service only has 26 games available at the time of writing.
The issue right now is that if you decide you don’t want the Pro subscription, you’re then locked out from games you’ve already purchased on the store. That is until the free-to-access Stadia Base is launched later this year, anyway.
Pros: Full cloud-based Windows 10 experience. High-end specs for gaming.
Cons: Requires a high-speed internet connection. Expensive monthly subscription.
If you like the idea of a cloud-based service but want the full Windows experience, Shadow is the ideal solution for Mac gamers. Unlike Nvidia’s service, Shadow provides users with a full copy of Windows 10, allowing you to install a variety of launchers (Steam, Origin, Epic Games Store, etc) and change settings as you would on a PC.
It’s tailored for gaming, offering a GTX 1080 equivalent and 12GB of DDR4 RAM, providing up to [email protected] gameplay, and it’ll be upgraded free of charge as technology improves. There’s also 256GB of storage on offer, allowing you to install multiple games at once. There are apps available for not only macOS but Windows 10, iOS and Android too, allowing you to access your virtual PC from almost any device.
Another benefit of Shadow is internet speeds; the virtual computer offers 1GB/s download speeds and 100Mb/s upload speeds, providing lightning-fast game downloads and updates.
It starts at £14.99 per month, and activation wait times can vary, but we are very impressed by the high quality, low-latency cloud gaming experience that Shadow offers.
Pros: Cost-efficient Windows experience on a Mac.
Cons: Takes more hard drive space.
If you truly want the authentic Windows experience on a Mac without paying for Shadow’s cloud gaming service, you should partition your hard drive using Boot Camp and run Windows 10 on a separate partition or drive. This does mean you will have to sacrifice hard drive space from your Mac in order to run Windows.
If you’re going to be installing Windows on your Mac, we suggest running Windows 10, as you’ll soon be able to play Xbox Play Anywhere games too. Meaning you’ll be able to play both your favourite Windows and Xbox games on your Mac – as long as it’s powerful enough.
We also suggest allowing enough space on your Mac-Windows partition, as your games will take a considerable amount of space. For example, a game like Battlefield V can take in excess of 40GB, so be warned. You can always change your partition size once you’ve sectioned off the drive, but it can create problems. See our guide on how to partition your Mac’s hard drive or SSD.
For a full guide on how to use Boot Camp and install Windows, we suggest checking our dedicated article on how to run Windows 10 on Mac using Boot Camp.
Pros: Run Windows and Mac side-by-side.
Cons: Performance hit. Expensive.
Using virtualisation software allows you to run both Windows and Mac at the same time. This means you can switch between the operating systems at the click of a button.
The major downside to running virtualisation software for gaming is the performance hit you’ll experience. Unlike Boot Camp, which runs the operating systems on two separate partitions, virtualisation software use the same partition to create a ‘virtual desktop’. This means that gaming is severely hit by performance limitations, as your Mac still has to run another operating system in the background.
If you’re looking to play certain games casually or have games that don’t require a lot of processing power, then virtualisation software might be your best bet.
Most software costs money, alongside the actual Windows license you’ll need, so it’s not the most cost-effective solution, but it’s relatively hassle-free.
If you’re looking at which is the best virtualisation software, or want to know how to run it, see our dedicated article on Parallels, VMware, VirtualBox – the best virtualisation tools for your Mac.
Cons: Technical and not fully compatible with all games.
Wine is a way to have an additional layer on your Mac which essentially tells your Mac to run Windows Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). In other words, using your Mac to run Windows programs without any error messages.
Wine is not to be confused with an emulator, but works off the same principle – emulating an operating system within another, in this case, Windows in macOS.
Wine can be hard to get your head around -especially if you want to fully utilise it – and there’s no 100 percent guarantee that Wine will work with the game you want to play. Often you’ll find that newer games struggle to run without crashing, whilst older games that have a lot more support and patches run more smoothly.
On the plus side, this solution is completely free to try. If you’ve got some time on your hands and want to experiment, we would suggest trying Wine as a means to play your favourite Windows games on a Mac. There are other solutions, such as Boxer, which is for you old school DOS gamers out there!