How to Play PC Games on Mac Without Installing Windows
Mac users have it rough. You get some of the best hardware on the market with super polished, stable software — and so few games to play on it. But just because developers aren’t releasing their games for macOS doesn’t mean you can’t get PC games running on your Apple-made machine. It just takes a bit of finesse.
If you really want to play PC games to the best of your hardware’s capability, you’ll want to install Windows on your Mac using Boot Camp (unless you have an ARM-based Mac, which won’t support Boot Camp). It’s the easiest way to get games running, and provides the best performance. It does, however, take up a lot of space on your hard drive, and it’s annoying to reboot your computer every time you want to play a game. You could install Windows via Parallels or VirtualBox, but you’ll sacrifice a lot in performance.
If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of installing Windows, though, we understand. Here are your alternatives for playing games on your Mac.
Look for Mac-Friendly Games
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way — there are plenty of Mac-compatible games out there. Steam, for example, shows a little Apple logo next to every game that’s compatible with macOS, and I was surprised to find a decent number of my own games were available on the platform, including Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Call of Duty Black Ops III, and Civilization VI. Just make sure you look for that Apple logo, or go to Browse>Mac OS X before you buy.
Also, remember that Steam isn’t the only place to find games — Blizzard offers Mac versions of its games through its Battle.net service, and you’ll find plenty of great Mac titles on GOG.com as well. Remember to search across the various stores when you shop, since you might be surprised what exclusives you’ll find.
Get PC Games Running Under Wine
Okay, so you’ve exhausted all the Mac-compatible games in popular stores, and you’re ready to tinker in order to get some other games running. Some Windows-only titles may run on macOS through Wine, a compatibility layer for Mac and Linux systems designed to run Windows programs. Wine itself can get rather technical to set up, especially when it comes to games, but there are a few third-party tools that make things easier.
Porting Kit is usually my first go-to, since it attempts to do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. Just search Porting Kit’s app or website for a game, like Among Us, and it’ll provide an Install Now button along with any quirks, patches, or extra steps you might need to take for smooth gameplay. It can still take a bit of fiddling, but Porting Kit has some built-in tutorials to help you out. Once you’re able to get a game working the first time, it’ll be easy to launch in the future, since the title appears in your Applications folder like any other Mac app.
While Porting Kit is the easiest and most up-to-date tool for installing games with Wine, other programs aim to do something similar, like PlayOnMac or the $40 CrossOver. Some may work better with certain games, so your best bet is to search for “the best way to get [the game you want] running on a Mac.” To browse Wine-friendly games before you buy, check out the Wine Database alongside Porting Kit’s library to get a feel for what might work on your system.
Go Retro With Emulators
If you want to relive games from your youth, there’s a good chance your favorite retro titles can be emulated on your Mac. There are plenty of emulators for retro game consoles out there, but Mac users have it pretty easy with OpenEmu, which can put all your favorite retro games in one place. Install the program, select the systems you want to emulate, and you’re off to the races.
You’ll have to grab a ROM file for any game you want to play — we’ll leave it to you to find those — after which you can just drag them into OpenEMU’s main window to add them to your game library. Or click the Homebrew tab to find free, newly developed games for those classic systems. You can read our full guide to OpenEmu here, and if you want to emulate a system it doesn’t support, check out our list of the best emulators for more options.
While OpenEmu focuses on classic game consoles, you can also emulate the DOS programs of yore with DOSBox. It isn’t quite as plug-and-play as OpenEmu — you’ll need to do just a bit of that command-line work you did in the actual days of DOS — but for many games, it’s pretty simple.
Download a game’s files to your Mac (again, we’ll leave it up to you to find them), put them in a folder (like ~/Documents/DOSgames), then open DOSBox and run mount c ~/Documents/DOSgames to turn that folder into your emulated C: drive. You can then launch your game by typing in the path to its EXE file (like C:\keendrms\start.exe) and pressing Enter. Some games may work with no extra effort, while others may require tweaking, so check out the DOSBox compatibility list or Google your games of choice to see what fiddling might be required.
Stream Games From the Cloud
If all those options sound a little too cumbersome, there’s one more method that’s far more plug-and-play: Cloud streaming. Services like Shadow, Nvidia GeForce Now, and Google Stadia allow you to play games on a number of different devices, including your phone, tablet, PC, or Mac. Each is set up a bit differently.
Shadow is the most expensive, starting at $15 a month ($12 a month if you pay a year up front), but it gives you a fully functional Windows PC in the cloud, allowing you to play any game you’ve ever purchased on Steam or other platforms, streamed directly to your Mac.
GeForce Now has a free option that includes some wait time before you can play a one-hour session, with a $5-per-month plan that eschews these limits and improves graphical fidelity. You can play games you already own, but only those supported by GeForce Now.
Stadia, on the other hand, is its own platform entirely, and while it doesn’t require a monthly subscription to use, you do have to buy games specifically for Stadia itself. If you do purchase a paid subscription, you get certain titles included.
While streaming is simpler to set up than, say, Wine, its effectiveness is highly dependent on the speed and latency of your internet and home Wi-Fi. If you can sit close to your router or wire your Mac up to an Ethernet port, you’ll likely get much better results. If your network isn’t up to the task, check out our guide to boosting your Wi-Fi. And if you find it still isn’t up to snuff, it may be time to bite the bullet and install Windows in Boot Camp — trust me, it’s worth it.