Mac Gaming 101: Steam Basics That Everyone Should Know

written by JMatula on March 7, 2013 in Mac Gaming 101 and Special Feature

Mac Gaming 101

Welcome to Mac Gaming 101! This will be an ongoing forum for discussion of the basics when it comes to gaming on the Mac. Both basic explanations and in-depth explorations will be included. We’ll start off by explaining the basics of the popular Steam platform.

Whether viewed as a Godsend or as a frustrating piece of middleware, the impact and presence of Steam on the world of gaming in the past 5 years or so has been undeniable. Originally launched in 2002, the Steam platform has grown to dominate the PC gaming landscape. It has also begun to leave its mark on the Mac gaming landscape as well since it began offering Mac support in 2010. While it may not be perfect, Steam is a great gaming solution with many highly desirable features. 

To make sure everybody’s on the same page, we thought it’d be good to explain Steam and how it works.

What Is It and How Does It Work?


In the most basic and technical terms, Steam is a digital distribution, digital rights management, multiplayer, and communications platform developed by Valve Corporation. First and foremost, this means it is used to distribute games and other software online. Whether from major game studios or small independent developers, you can find an incredible selection of games to play (and other software) on the platform.

In addition to acting as a simple distribution platform, Steam also provides security features important to publishers and community features important to you.

For example, the software provides a freely available API, called Steamworks, that developers and publishers can take advantage of to integrate many of Steam’s functions within their software products, including copy protection, networking and matchmaking, in-game achievements and micro-transactions, and support for user-created content through Steam Workshop

On the user side, Steam provides installation and automatic management of software across multiple computers, community features such as friends lists and groups, cloud saving (meaning saved game data can be accessed from multiple computers), and in-game voice and chat functionality. 

  • Minimum System Requirements: Intel Mac, OS X version Leopard 10.5.8, Snow Leopard 10.6.3, or later.

Steam Storefront MacSteam also offers an extensive marketplace where you can purchase a wide variety of games. After downloading and installing the Steam Mac client, any time you buy a game from Steam, it is saved in your game library. Once you purchase a game, it’s yours forever. As long as you have Steam installed and are logged into your account, you can download any game in your library to any computer. Each game is stored locally in one single, non-compressed file. When you start downloading a game, Steam will allot the HD space ahead of time to reduce potential problems when downloading large files.

**Pro-Tip**: If you already have some games on disc lying around, whether they are PC or Mac discs, look for the CD Key. Many games can be yours to play through Steam by inputting this key from your disc games (Caveat #1: these games must already be available through Steam–non-Steam games won’t work). No need to keep up with discs anymore, and you can play your old PC games on your Mac without Bootcamp (Caveat #2: your old PC game must be a Steam Play game to play it on the Mac), isn’t that cool? See a complete list of compatible titles here.  

Features Galore

In addition to the basics listed above, Steam offers tons of cool features that give gamers a very enriched experience. Here are just a few: 

  • Steam Play: Steam Play iconYou can tell is a game is a Steam Play game by the Steam Play icon on the game’s product page. Owning a Steam Play-supported game on one OS will get you copies of the game to play on other OSes, like Windows or Linux, for no additional charge. If you own a game that later supports Steam Play, you’ll get access to all supported OSes without any further work or purchase. Sometimes (though not always) this also means that you can play a game cross-platform with other players (meaning Mac and PC players can play together).
  • Friends: Grow a friend list of fellow gamers to play games with or compare stats. You can import friends from Facebook and even get notifications when they’re online so you can get your game on together. There’s also a robust community in the Steam forums where you can talk to other gamers and get troubleshooting help.
  • Auto update: Never be out of the loop on the latest bug fixes or patches. When you boot up Steam, it will see if there are updates for your games and download them automatically, making sure you’re playing on the latest version. This option can also be turned off.
  • Steam Sales: Everybody has sales, but these guys do it frequently and for unbelievable savings. The centerpieces are Steam’s big Summer and Winter Sales, but there are always mid-week sales and other smaller sales too. You never know when your favorite game will be 75% off (or more!) one day.
  • The Library: This is more than just where the games you own are displayed! For each game, it tells you which of your friends play it, what achievements you have and can get, and links to news about the game. Additionally, the Library lets you re-download a game on any machine you want, as many times as you want.

Steam Library Mac

This just scratches the surface of everything Steam has to offer. It’s a content-rich ecosystem that provides an experience above and beyond just playing a game. We hope this clears the air a little for everybody.

Look for more Mac Gaming 101 articles coming soon, where we will cover how to use Offline Mode in Steam and other Steam features; we’ll also go in-depth with Game Center functionality for those Mac App Store folks who want to understand how this new feature integrates the multiplayer experience.

Have questions about Steam? Are there certain Mac gaming topics you’d like us to cover in Mac Gaming 101? Let us know in the comments!