Steam for the Mac?

So, Valve relased a beta update for Steam. It has a lot of nice features. It’s faster, it’s prettier, it does nice community things, it has a clock on the overlay. That last feature alone makes the beta worth opting in to. Buried down the bottom of the feature list though, is something exciting. The HTML rendering engine has been switched from Internet Explorer to WebKit, the technology behind Apple’s Safari and Google Chrome.

At the point of reading that, the excitement started to rise. Aside from the immediate performance improvement, uncoupling Steam from Internet Explorer was the single largest step that needed to be taken to uncouple Steam from Windows. Starting the new Steam client, it’s a much more beautiful application, and it feels Mac-like in many respects. Noticing the “File” menu had been replaced by a “Steam” menu, the excitement meter was starting to overload. I hit the Steam forums, where it looks like some other people have had similar thoughts.

Discoveries there send me over the edge. I might die of excitement. The new update inlcudes graphics files for OS X interface elements. Today has been noteworthy already, but it’s now officially a good day.
This is about more than a few games on the Mac, though that alone would be good. In developing Steamworks, Valve have been building a platform. They’re the only company with a credible product in the marketplace that can present the PC as an alternative to the consoles. Games downloaded with the ease (and occasionally, price) of the iTunes App Store? Yes please. Networking and social gaming features? Yes please. Sensible DRM? Yes please.

If Valve stick with the “games you buy can be played anywhere” philosophy that has defined Steam in the past, they could do for gaming what Google Docs and Spreadsheets is trying to do for the office suite: break free of the desktop. Pleanty of Steam games already have Mac versions, even if they were released later. It wouldn’t be that hard to make such titles available multiformat. It would also redefine PC gaming in an instant, making Steam the platform rather than Windows.

It’s safe to assume that if there’s a Mac Steam client coming, future Valve games will have native Mac versions. Giving people access to their games on the platform of thier choice would reduce the “but I’d have to re-buy all my software” disincentive to switching away from Windows. More people would switch. More games would be developed. Deveopment would get easier with multiformat APIs. Steam would become the de facto gaming platform on the PC. Developers would see that Games for Windows Live is now pointless. Everybody wins. Well, except Microsoft and Stardock, I guess. Bring on the future.

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