The game on Apple platforms is set up for some big changes: here are some

<em data-recalc-dims=Beyond a sky of steel, a sequel to a beloved game from the ’90s, hits Apple Arcade today. “
Enlarge / / Beyond a sky of steel, a sequel to a beloved game from the ’90s, hit Apple Arcade today.


WWDC 2020 is over, and that means it’s time to get some ideas from all the documentation, sessions, and other materials Apple released. We are going to do this on a few topics in the coming weeks, but to start, we are looking at new initiatives and features that Apple has announced for game developers on iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and macOS platforms.

We started here in part because this was a red letter week for games on Apple platforms (and also because some of the sessions focused on Apple games were among the first scheduled during the week). Some huge changes are coming, and playing games on Apple devices will look very different in the future.

The first change we’ll see is disaster: the Mac’s transition from a PC-centric gaming platform to a mobile-centric platform.

IOS and iPadOS games on macOS

In a hugely consequential change to the Mac platform, Macs running Apple Silicon will be able to run iOS and iPadOS games. Developers will be able to choose whether their iOS or iPadOS games are listed on the Mac App Store, but if they choose, the games will run natively, with minimal additional work required.

This is a seismic shift for gaming on Mac, and it may represent Apple giving up on a strategy that has never worked so well in the 15 years since Macs moved to Intel CPUs. Mac games have generally been Windows gaming ports. Not all games play, and games that often don’t work well.

Poor performance is not due to any problems. It’s a combination of Apple’s emphasis on its video drivers, the comparative weakness of mobile GPUs used on Apple Macs against PC gaming GPUs until very recently, poor OpenGL support on Macs, a dependency on technologies and frameworks specific to DirectX in modern games, and the widespread lack of experience in Apple’s proprietary metal graphics API among PC game developers, among other things.

Also, carrying triple A games is extremely expensive, and the market for them on Macs has always been relatively small. It has been difficult for many developers to justify the cost and effort. It seems Apple has decided that trying and not winning with that strategy is no longer worth it, so the center of gravity of Mac games is shifting from Windows PCs to iPhone.

From Apple’s perspective, this seems like a complete victory. IPhone app store dwarfs PC gaming by many metrics, the nature of Apple Silicon’s change means Apple will generally be able to ask for more revenue cuts from game-making developers than they would in the old ecosystem, and The effort and expense required to make an iPhone game work well on an Apple Silicon-equipped Mac compared to the amount needed to port a DirectX triple-A game on Windows to Metal on macOS.

However, we still have several questions about this. How will Apple handle games listed in the Mac App Store that have suboptimal mouse and keyboard interfaces? Do developers choose their iPhone applications? in to the Mac app store, or unsubscribe? It looks like we’ll have to wait until this fall to see the answers for many of these.

But in any case, this is a fundamental change in Mac’s relationship to gaming: a complete defection from one gaming ecosystem and culture to another.

Widely expanded input options

In 2018, we talked to game developers about what Apple had to do with Apple TV, and the first thing we heard was “introduce better support for the controller.” To that end, Apple announced last year that its various platforms could work wirelessly with Sony’s renowned DualShock 4 controller PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One controller.

That implementation worked perfectly for gamers, and it was pretty straightforward for developers to get started. Now Apple is expanding this feature significantly, and not just on tvOS. First, two new controllers are supported: Microsoft’s expensive and advanced Xbox One Elite Series 2 controller and Microsoft Accessibility-Oriented Xbox Adaptive Controller.

Compatible drivers are receiving support for all kinds of special functionality. Games can now access the gyroscope, accelerometer, touchpad, and lightbar on the DualShock 4, as well as the buttons on the rear paddle on the Xbox Elite controller. All compatible controllers will receive support for haptics (also known as rumble), and games will be able to read and report the charge status of the controller battery.

Additionally, Apple will offer a new configuration panel in iOS 14 that will allow full users to reassign their controller controls, either globally or by application, provided that developers have marked their games or applications as compatible controllers in the App Store.

Apple is also adding GCController with GCKeyboard and GCMouse for iPads. That means iPads running the new version of iPadOS will be fully mouse and keyboard compatible for game input. Apple gave developers guidelines on when the mouse / keyboard behavior should use GCKeyboard / GCMouse, and when it should use UIKit as standard for most applications.

UIKit is generally preferred for the game to work well with multitasking and other iPad features. But if developers want a full-screen focused experience with the direct keyboard and mouse character controller, like in a first-person shooter game, for example, that will be possible.