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This just blew my mind. Take for example Medieval II: Total war.

Requirement for windows: 512 Mb RAM + 11 Gb free space on hard disk + 128 Mb GPU

Requirement for mac: 4 Gb RAM + 32 Gb of free space on hard disk + 256 / 512 MB GPU

How come the requirements are so much higher? In particular the size of the games, it's more than double the Windows version! What is going on?

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The problem is you are looking at a game, Medieval II: Total War, that was released for Windows in November 2006 (last patch released in 2007 as far as I can tell) and for OS X in January 2016. The Windows version runs on 2000/XP (Windows 2000 was originally released in 1999), whereas the minimum for Mac is OS X 10.10.5, which came out a bit under two years ago. In other words, the game was ported to Mac very recently and therefore requires a modern computer to run it. I am not sure why the disk storage requirement is so much higher; I suspect it's either a typo or the assets in the Mac version have been significantly enhanced.

If you compare Total War: Rome 2, another game in the same series but one that was only released a year apart on the two OSes, you will see system requirements that are much more similar. In fact, the Mac version actually requires less hard drive space. It does require more RAM, but I would guess that's more to do with the underlying OS than anything else.

I looked at some of the games in my Steam library to further confirm that system requirements are not inherently higher for games on Mac. SOMA actually has identical requirements for the two OSes. Marvel Heroes 2016 is very similar for both. The Witcher: Enhanced Edition has slightly higher requirements for Mac than Windows, especially in RAM, but again it runs on much older Windows OSes (XP) than OS X (10.8 minimum). Team Fortress 2 has nearly identical requirements.

Ultimately it comes down to several things: release time frame (again, comparing a game that came out in 2006 with a port that came out in 2016 is not going to yield similar results); the skill set of the developers involved (a studio who may not be as familiar with Mac may not be able to optimize a game as well as one who is, e.g. Aspyr); whether the game is wrapped in an emulation layer (such as Cider or Wine, which some large publishers do as an alternative to having a company like Aspyr port the game to a native Mac version); and ultimately, how much the publisher cares about the quality of the game and spends time (and of course money) optimizing the game for the target platform.

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There are two types of games for OSX: native apps (games that are actually made for mac, these run great) and ports from windows. The second kind use special tools to make the games originally written for windows run on mac. One example is Aspyr (https://www.aspyr.com). The Problem with these ports is, that the game was never designed to run on mac and so does run very poorly after the port. This results in much higher system requirements. Even worse, some developers just stick their game into an emulator like wine, which is pretty unstable and messy. Wine can be a good way to run games on mac in some cased and under certain circumstances, so maybe your desired game fits these criterias. Since Wine is free you might want to have a look at: https://appdb.winehq.org for your game and see how it performs.

  • This answer is...problematic at best. The fact a game is ported from Windows (or Xbox, or iOS, or any other OS) provides no actual insight as to whether or not a title will run well on OS X. It is down to the skill of the developer doing the porting and cannot be generalized. Once a game is ported, it IS in fact a native app. The distinction you should be making is between those that use some type of wrapper/emulation (i.e. Wine, Java or Adobe Air), which means the app is not native, versus porting a game's code from its original form to native OS X code, which means the app is native. – tubedogg Aug 29 '16 at 0:14
  • I think Aspyr would also be very surprised to learn that, according to you, all their ports "run very poorly." Aspyr only publishes native games. They are not an example of a company using "special tools" to make a Windows game run on Mac; they are an example of a company that ports games from another OS to Mac, resulting in native games. Take a look at this article to learn what native vs non-native actually means. – tubedogg Aug 29 '16 at 0:44

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