Mac vs PC: How Apple Got Back In The GameS

For years - no, decades - games on the Mac have been a running joke, a constant source of derision from the dominant PC gaming community. But in a single move earlier this week, the Mac made a comeback.

In unveiling not only the release of its line-up of first-party titles - classic games like Portal, Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead - but of the company's Steam digital download service on the Mac, Valve has shown how antiquated and out of place its retail competitors on the PC (and even on consoles) have become in the digital age.

I'm not talking about the range of games on offer. The Steam Store's debut on the Mac later this year will no doubt contain only a fraction of the hundreds of games available on its PC counterpart. Nor am I talking about performance; the PC will always have the edge there, its ability to constantly be upgraded piece-by-piece placing it at a distinct advantage over Apple's Macs, which come "as is", and are rarely optimised for bleeding edge gaming performance.

No, I'm talking about convenience. About accessibility.

The real big announcement in Valve's move isn't' the fact Steam will be available on the Mac. It's the way that availability will be linked with a Steam user's PC account, via the new "Steam Play" service.

If you own a PC, and already have a Steam account, but also have a Mac - or work with a Mac, or have a Mac laptop - then you can bring any compatible games over. Bought Team Fortress 2 on PC? You can download it again on your Mac. For free. Same story if you own a Mac at home and work with a PC, or have a Mac desktop and a PC laptop.

As someone who works on a PC but has a Macbook for road trips, this is amazing news. Especially since it kicks sand in the face of Microsoft's under-performing Games for Windows Live initiative, which also sells PC games, acts as an online hub and features compatibly across systems (in GFW's case, the sharing of gamertag information across PC and Xbox 360).

As far as GFW Live is concerned, if I own a copy of something on Xbox 360, and want to play it on my PC (where applicable), tough. Even though I have the same Gamertag linked to both machines, I would have to buy the game twice to play it on both systems. The two copies of Fallout 3 in my house are testament to this. Even though I had a copy on 360 first, when I wanted to play it on PC, I had to go get another copy.

There are surely good reasons behind that, from a company perspective. That there are piracy risks, that it's not worth the effort (though surely it's not much harder bringing games from the PC to the Mac as it is the PC to 360). It certainly doesn't help Microsoft's cause on PC that it rarely publishes any games for the platform any more, something that affects the 360 as well since there are so few titles that are cross-compatible between the two systems. The first games Valve will be making cross-compatible between Mac and PC are, after all, its own titles.

But we shouldn't care about a company's point of view. We should care about what we want, and expect, as consumers. And if Valve can bring us Steam games that can not only be downloaded on two completely different systems, but played across those systems, then it should be applauded for doing so.

Any company not keeping up with Valve - with Microsoft being the key accused here - thus needs to lift its game. Because as soon as people start enjoying the ability to flit between their PC and Mac at will, the limited compatibility between other systems on the market will really start to show.