Apple’s Growing Gaming Ambitions: From Proof of Concept to a Real Contender

A few years ago, I was invited to meet with Apple about their new push into gaming. Instead of showing me a flashy new product, they presented something more understated: ‘No Man’s Sky’ running smoothly on a MacBook. While impressive, it wasn’t groundbreaking—a 2016 indie game performing well on a laptop wasn’t exactly a revolutionary feat. I felt the demonstration wasn’t about showcasing a technological marvel, but rather a proof of concept with bigger ambitions attached. Years later, those plans are starting to take shape, even if they’re not fully realized yet.

Recently, I attended another showcase, this time experiencing several games, including brand new ones, running on a range of devices like the MacBook Air M3 and a 13-inch iPad Pro M4. While the App Store still has a long way to go before it reaches the level of Steam on Windows, I’m starting to grasp the direction gaming on iOS is heading—and Apple is getting there quicker than I anticipated. The gaming landscape on Apple devices is expanding. During my recent session with Apple, I got to experience several games running across iPhone, iPad, and Macbooks. Some experiences are more significant for Apple than for casual players. It’s impressive to see ‘Resident Evil 7’ running well on an iPhone, but it’s not surprising when the more recent ‘Resident Evil 4’ already does. I’m happy to see games like ‘Control’ and ‘Valheim’ looking great, but these are essential victories for Apple as they seek to attract more partners to expand their gaming efforts.

I don’t imagine gamers are jumping to play years-old games on Apple devices (according to reports, they haven’t yet). That’s not to say that what Apple is doing isn’t impressive. One highlight of my session came when I saw ‘Diablo Immortal’ running on the iPad Pro M4 with ray tracing, a feature set to launch later this year. It looked fantastic, with high-end lighting effects and deep contrast making a two-year-old mobile game look as sharp as ‘Diablo 4’. Similarly, ‘Zenless Zone Zero’s’ stylish action and vibrant colors pop on the iPad Pro M4, and ‘Assassin’s Creed Mirage’ hardly misses a beat. The key takeaway is that Apple’s latest devices are capable of running recent games, but that’s not the primary concern. The real question is whether Apple can convince enough partners to launch their new games on Apple devices alongside other platforms. It’s fine to have ‘Resident Evil 2’ on the App Store, but will Capcom take the next step and release ‘Monster Hunter Wilds’ on Mac at launch? That’s the real challenge.

Apple seems aware of this, which is why a significant portion of the showcase focused on newer games. I got to play an early build of ‘Palworld’ on a MacBook Air M3, and it already felt optimized. Considering ‘Palworld’ is currently available only on PC and Xbox, a smooth transition to Mac at this stage would be a huge partnership. The survival crafting RPG is a phenomenon (even if its growth has slowed since launch), and securing it before it’s available on PlayStation helps reinforce the idea that Apple could be a major gaming platform. The most critical demo I saw was ‘Frostpunk 2’ running on a MacBook Pro M3. The strategy game is poised to be a hit among PC players in September, and MacBook users will be able to purchase it on day one. While I can’t speak to its performance yet as I saw an unfinished build, it doesn’t appear that Apple’s machines will struggle to keep up. In fact, they do the snowy city-building game justice by showcasing the contrast between the stark whites of its landscapes and the dark machinery driving its civilizations. This is the kind of game Apple has needed for years to sell its vision—a new, powerful release available on Apple devices alongside other platforms, keeping pace with them.

One game isn’t enough, however. Apple needs to replicate this success consistently if it wants to sell its gaming ecosystem, an enticing one that allows players to share game progress and ownership across all iOS devices. ‘Frostpunk 2’ will be the first major test, but the real event will be later this fall when ‘Assassin’s Creed Mirage’ launches on iPad and MacBooks simultaneously with PS5 and other platforms. Will gamers embrace it, drawn to the idea of seamless switching between Mac and tablet? Judging by the reportedly weak sales of ‘Assassin’s Creed Mirage,’ I don’t imagine it will take the world by storm. But Apple has been playing a strategic game for the past few years, accumulating modest wins that are quickly adding up. We’ve gone from a single old game running on a Macbook a whole console generation after its release to two current-gen games releasing on Apple devices at the same time as they hit Windows PCs. Apple’s Game Porting Toolkit 2 is enabling this progress even faster. I saw a Windows version of ‘Control’ running through the tool on Mac, and it was already running smoothly from that environment without any modifications. The growth is more rapid than you might realize, and it becomes exponential with each passing year. Apple just needs to hope that its audience size grows at a similar rate.

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