Can Steam Deck Play Mac Games?

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Credit: Valve

Valve's upcoming console/PC hybrid the Steam Deck launches this December, and Valve has been aggressively marketing the fact that the Steam Deck is more than just a console and is also a full-fledged PC. When people say ‘PC' they tend to mean a Windows computer, though, so in this article we're going to explain everything a Mac user needs to know about playing games on Steam Deck.

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Credit: Valve

First off, it's important to understand that for most of gaming's history when you bought a game you were buying a specific edition of the game exclusively on a single platform. This has been changing in recent years with PS4/Xbox One games being compatible with PS5/Series S|X and regularly getting patches to improve performance, increase resolution, and up the graphical fidelity of older games on newer consoles.

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Steam, however, has always worked a little differently. When you buy a game on Steam, you're buying the game on Steam, and whatever you buy is then tied to your Steam account. Steam games support certain platforms, which include Windows, Mac, and Linux. Depending on what OS each of your Steam games support, you'll be able to play them on different platforms. With Steam, you aren't necessarily buying a game for a certain platform, you're buying it for PC.

Related: Do Emulators Work on Steam Deck?

Though, Steam is primarily a Windows platform, meaning that most games on Steam are available on Windows and Windows only. Games available on Linux or Mac aren't exclusive to those platforms either, coming in addition to Windows support. The only non-Windows exclusive games on Steam are usually OS-specific versions of games already available on Windows, like a Mac port of a Windows game.

All of this adds up to mean that if you own a game on Steam, regardless of what platform you play it on, that game is tied to your Steam library and will thus be playable on Steam Deck. However, what's playable on Deck is subject to Proton compatibility. Proton is the technology Valve developed to be able to run games originally designed for Windows on the Linux-based SteamOS that Steam Deck runs.

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Credit: Valve

So, Mac users who play their Steam games on Mac will still be able to see those same Steam games pop up on their Steam account on Steam Deck. But if a game you play on Steam on Mac isn't fully supported by Proton yet, i.e. it doesn't work perfectly, only time will tell when you can play that particular game on Deck.

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On top of all of this is the possibility that if Deck does well that Steam games will receive Deck-specific updates to take better advantage of the device's hardware. This means it's possible that even if every Steam game that worked well for you on Mac doesn't work as well on Deck in time Steam games may receive updates to get them working better directly on Deck as opposed to Valve's translation layer Proton being improved.

It's also important to remember that all of the above goes for playing games on Steam Deck's SteamOS, but Steam Deck will also support other operating system installations. We know Windows will work on Deck, but it's entirely possible to run OS X on Windows through a virtual machine as well as it's possible to directly install OS X on a Windows machine with a little work behind the scenes. This is all to say it may be even possible to run Mac games natively on Deck, depending on how easy it is to get OS X running on Deck, either natively on in a virtual machine.