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Mac App Store vs Steam: The Ultimate Showdown

Published on December 23, 2012, by in All, Opinion.

As this year comes to a close, it’s time to take a look back and ponder on the state of Mac gaming. It’s taken some huge strides forward in recent years. Amidst 2010, PC’s biggest online distribution store, Steam, announced that it was going to start supporting the Mac. With the announcement came a small selection of Mac-compatible games which has only continued to grown. Right now, it includes some impressive titles like Borderlands 2, Portal 2, The Witcher 2, as well as many indie games like Super Meat Boy and World of Goo.

2011 then saw the arrival Apple’s own application store for Mac, the Mac App Store. Since its release, it has been going from strength to strength. With the support of large Mac publishers like Feral Interactive and Aspyr, it also has quite an impressible catalogue. Including such recognisable IPs like Call of Duty, Total War and the LEGO series of games. The low barrier to entry for the Mac App Store also means that many small indie developers have jumped on board, bringing with them classics like Briad, Limbo and Rochard.

As more and more gamers are switching their game libraries to digital, both stores have flourished. But choosing which one to go with can be tough for a newcomer to Mac gaming. We’re going to make your life a little bit easier by going through the details of both stores, what they can offer, and what they can’t.

Install and Setup

The Mac App Store comes pre-installed on every Mac, meaning you won’t have to install the program before you can use it. What’s more, your Apple ID also works with the Mac App Store, so you won’t even have to create a new account before going on a Mac app spree. Just log in with the same details you use for iTunes or the iOS App Store and you’re away. Easy.

Steam isn’t as convenient, but doesn’t go beyond a simple one-page registration and download. Setting up payment is a little trickier, but Steam has a number of payment methods available such as PayPal, and only requires you to put in your credit card information. Once you have done so, then you can save the information so you won’t have to enter it again later.

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Conclusion

It’s obvious that Apple have made it as easy as possible for Mac users to start buying apps from the Mac App Store, and it shows.

Interface and Navigation

Games can be discovered through the top games section and from the features lists. The tile design means that it’s easy to see 40 games on the same screen.  Buying a game on the Mac App Store is scarily simple. Depending on your settings, all it can require is a click and a password. The application icon flies from the page and into your downloads folder. Once downloaded, all you need to do is open it in your applications folder or from Launchpad and you’re straight in.

Steam’s interface is very similar in concept, but a little flawed when it comes to execution. The Mac games list is found on Mac’s own section of Steam. Here you’ll see the Top Sellers and New Releases list, but do I prefer the MAS’s icon design. Plus, being both a Mac and PC game store, you are mostly excluded from many of the front page’s big news, such as holiday sales or new releases. This can mean you’re outcast from many of Steam’s signature events.

Conclusion

The Mac App Store is aimed at just Mac gamers, and so it’s much easier finding games for your system. Steam’s PC offerings only seem to remind you how far away the Mac is from the PC gaming market, and it’s sometimes hard knowing what’s for either system from the front page.

Game Catalogue

There is a lot of overlap here, with both stores sharing games. However, the MAS has its fair share of exclusives. These include the Angry Birds franchise from Rovio, including Space and Star Wars. Gameloft have ported some of their most popular iOS titles to Mac such as Modern Combat and N.O.V.A. Feral Interactive has one of the biggest Mac catalogues around, and don’t publish their games to Steam. These include huge titles like Batman Arkham City, the BioShock series and Deus Ex among many others.

Steam certainly doesn’t falter here either. Valve, the owner of Steam, have some of their best games compatible with Mac, including Half Life, Left for Dead and Portal which are seriously awesome. But one huge benefit of Steam is that it’s notorious for ridiculous sales, and in general games are cheaper than on the Mac App Store. Take the example of Borderlands 2. On Steam it’s currently just £22.49 in the Christmas sale. On the Mac App Store, it’s still at its original price of £31.99. There also seems to be more problems with Mac and PC multiplayer. Borderlands 2 supports Mac to PC coop, whereas the MAS version will support only Mac to Mac coop with an update next year.

Conclusion

The Mac App Store certainly has some awesome exclusives, but Steam offers a lot more in terms of PC to Mac compatibility and value for money.

Community

The Mac App Store attempts to build a community through its Game Center app. This allows you to add friends share achievements and join them in multiplayer modes. However, it’s a very limited and half hearted attempt that lacks many key features that would make it compelling. Plus, it is only supported by games that choose to adopt it, which there aren’t many. Seeing as Game Center only came out this summer in Mountain Lion, it’s not surprising that there hasn’t been much support for it yet, but implementation and execution is still very lacking from Apple’s part.

Social networking features are ingrained into the very fabric of Steam. Pressing Shift + Tab in any Steam game brings up the Steam interface where you can chat with friends, check out your achievements and take screenshots. You can even go to the game’s hub, where you can interact with others in the forum, see other people’s solutions to a level, share pictures and the list goes on. When you want to go back to the game, press Shift + Tab and the Steam interface fades out. It’s sleek, and well implemented. And is automatically supported by all Steam games. 

Conclusion

Steam dominates when it comes to community. It’s built from the ground up to encourage the user to share content with their friends, and join in the online discussion through the forums.

Performance

The Mac App Store runs smoothly, and this is mostly due to its simplistic design. The MAS also supports the Apple’s multitouch trackpad’s two-finger swipe gesture to go back and forth between pages. If you’ve got a trackpad, then you’ll love it.

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Steam on the other hand has a lot more going on, and this does have an effect on performance. Steam can be stubborn at times, and has regular mandatory updates. Steam transfers a lot of data, and this can make navigating the store a little clunky at times. Plus, when launching a game, Steam is required to be open. This slows down the launch time considerably, but doesn’t affect in-game performance.

Conclusion

Steam is doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work, and this does have an impact on the overall performance of the store.

Extra Features

Following Apple’s general mantra for everything, the Mac App Store goes for simplicity. Therefore there isn’t much to say about extra features. With Mountain Lion, Apple announced a new feature called iCloud Saving. This is where game saves are stored in the cloud so you can resume where you left off on another Mac or even your iOS device. There’s also the option of cross-platform multiplayer between Mac and iOS gamers, which was seen in real Racing 2. But developers have been vary wary of implementing these features because they’re not quite water-tight yet. On the other hands, one great feature is that you can download any purchased game onto any number of your computers for no additional cost.

Steam is chock full of extra features. The previously mentioned forums and the Steam overlay means that you’re never unconnected with your online buddies. Plus Steam is a cloud-based service. This means that not only can you run your Steam games on any authorised machine, but your data is transferred between them seamlessly for all games.

Conclusion

Steam goes one step ahead by fully implementing its cloud service. And it works really well.

Round-Up

Both stores have their benefits, with the Mac App Store sticking to Apple’s ethos of easy to use, simple to navigate, while Steam offers a lot of functionality. While I personally prefer the Mac App Store, purely because I don’t feel  like I am being sectioned off to a small corner of the store, there’s certainly no shame in taking advantage of some of the great offerings over at Steam HQ.

  • Luke

    Hey, Adam; great round-up here! Just a quick question, how many clicks would you give Portal, or LFD2? I love those games. I can’t choose between those two platforms, Steam and the Mac App Store, but Steam is great for its community and selection of games; this was a very fair review of the two platforms, great job. It read my mind. What’s your Steam name, as I’m guessing you have one. If you aren’t comfortable sharing, it’s all good, and I can respect that, so don’t feel pressured. I’m rhombiii on there.

  • AdamBlades

    I’m madmud101. Added you. Anyone, feel free to add me and say you’re from OCM. :)

  • http://www.controlcommandescape.com/ Ninja Foodstuff

    Great article! But I think Steam’s big picture mode deserves a mention somewhere. There’s also a tab on the Steam store to show just Mac games, and also worth mentioning that most games are steamplay so you will also get the windows versions too.

  • Luke

    Yeah, that’s helpful, it’s true.

  • JakeEQ

    Good comparison, I was torn between Steam and the Mac App Store at first, but prefer the MAS much more now. The clincher for me was Steam’s incredibly annoying requirement to have to open and sign in to Steam to run a game. It slows down load time, but also makes you feel like you’re renting the game rather then buying it. I found it insulting and limiting. The MAS is specialized, easy to navigate, easy to install, and has a larger selection of games. AND you don’t have to connect to the MAS and sign in to play a game that you bought. Steam turned out to be mostly hot air.

  • JakeEQ

    Steam- great for it’s online community, bad for everything else.

  • AdamBlades

    Glad you like the article. I can certainly see your point of view, and it is one of the main reasons I went with the MAS. You just sift through some of the unnecessary crap and get straight to the game. But I guess it depends what you look for in a store.

  • AdamBlades

    Great suggestions. The big picture thing is pretty sweet. That’s just been implemented, right? I know about the Mac tab, but the interface just isn’t designed for Mac gamers. Especially when they host the crazy Christmas sales. You can’t even tell which ones run on Mac. But I can certainly see your point.

  • http://www.controlcommandescape.com/ Ninja Foodstuff

    Agreed. It’s completely daft how you have to click into each deal to find out which platform it runs on. They _used_ to have an icon on each deal, but they’ve removed that for the last couple of sales they’ve run for some reason.

  • MrCheese

    :/ this article is pretty biased around Mac users

  • WubWub201

    Yeah cheese is right

  • http://www.laugh-eat.com/ mdelvecchio

    its about the mac platform, dummies

  • VonMagnum

    There is no comparison for the titles that are on both storefronts. The Steam version in most cases gives you the Mac AND Windows (and in some cases Linux as well) versions for the same price AND on many games it will sync in the cloud between them so you can literally start on a PC notebook while on vacation and finish it on your Mac at home or whatever if you want.

    Many games on Steam allow controller support (e.g. I use a PS3 wireless controller which OSX has a driver in it right at the OS level), but the App Store versions do not (e.g. The Cave has controller support on Steam but not on the App Store and the developers promised to add it to the App Store version, but 10 months later it has never appeared so have fun playing the game with the crappy keyboard controls….)

    The Game Center from Apple on the App Store blows. You cannot get a match setup with non-friends very easily at all. On Steam, not only are there easy servers to set things up, but you can usually play against Windows users on many games as well (not going to happen with the App Store versions).

    Games on Steam are typically much cheaper than the same game on the App Store and Steam discounts games by HUGE amounts around Christmas time through New Years. Why pay $30 for a the Mac only version of Borderlands 2 when the game is on sale at Steam for $7.99 or the Game of the Year edition for $15 PLUS get the Windows version as well? Yeah, it’s a short time only at those kind of discounts, but I’d be crazy to give away an extra $22 for the same game and have crap online multiplayer and only the Mac version when I could have a good online multiplayer with Macs and PCs and the Windows version as well.

    The ONLY thing I will say for the Mac App Store is that it gives you a simple full application that you can run on your Mac without having to run some other program to start it (i.e. Most Steam games typically need the Steam application and a network connection to start; there are ways around this in some cases, but overall it’s a more of a bother). And since you don’t need to start Steam, you can run the same game on mulitiple Macs at the same time in your house whereas Steam only lets you log-in one computer at a time. So in cases where the price IS the same and there’s no online mulitplayer thing and I’m either unlikely to play it on Windows EVER and/or I already have the game for Windows from a long time ago and just want a Mac version, THEN I get the Mac App Store version for that reason.

  • asdf

    No, he’s really not.