Who Knew Mac Could Even Do VR?

Today’s news struck me as surprising. Apparently Valve is dropping SteamVR support for Mac. I had no idea this was even a thing! I mean, to be completely honest, even VR support on Linux is far from optimal – I usually say that if you are really into VR, the only OS you can consider is Windows and pretty much nothing else – at least for now.

In any case, the following comment on Hacker News, from one of the developers of Tiny Metal (an Advance Wars clone, but not even remotely as fun), was pretty on point:

Mac is a horrible platform to support for video game developers. Speaking from experience the issues are:

1. No cross platform builds allowed. We can compile to Windows, Linux, Android, Switch, PS4, Xbox One all from one windows build machine.

2. Shifting sand of non-backwards compatibility. Notice how of the above list everyone except Linux and Android have solid back compat stories. Video games are in development for 2-3 years, and stay on the market for 5+ years with no planned recompiles. So a 7 year period of support after inital build machine setup is expected, anything less is going to get your platform side lined.

3. Small market. Mac users make up a share of sales similar to Linux. “What are you talking about! Linux is 1% while Mac is a whole 4%!”, nope! Those numbers are the same insignificance per a video game business plan. Platforms with such low sales, like Stadia, might be support provided the platform owner pays porting costs.

4. Culture. Steve Jobs disliked games, it shows in Apple’s support.

5. Horrible hardware. Supposing you’ve decided to ignore all the downsides, and the small upside still appeals to you. Now you have to tune your game to run on hardware which would put cheap Wal-Mart machines to the test. Apple’s install base is almost all integrated older intel GPUs. If you do not support Metal, then you are forced to support these old intel integrated GPUs with bonus hacked up OpenGL drivers.

All points are ones I am speaking from experience on. We shipped TINY METAL on MacOS, the lack of cross build delayed the release. The horrible sales numbers meant carrying forward support was a net drag on the game. All further games I work on do not get MacOS ports for these reasons.

It’s kind of amazing that Mac still has 2-3 times the size of Linux gaming despite being so obviously bad for development and support. I could be wrong, but it’s probably a developer fetish: a lot of artists and programmers work on Macs, and want to see their games working on the same machines too, regardless if it’s even a good use of their time or not.

Anyway, let’s hope Valve put some real, sweating effort into SteamVR for Linux, because if VR ever takes off one day past a few inches of market share, we’d probably want to have it on our sweet OS as well.

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In the case of Rust, this seems the other way around.

I hope that both, Linux and Mac, will get further support from developers.