Valve claims Steam is five times more stable on Mac
Posted on 26th May 2010 at 13:45 by Alex Watson with 74 comments
Valve, PC gaming's last, best hope, recently made the claim that for its software, "the Mac is five times more stable than Windows," in terms of minutes played versus number of crashes.
It's not just some Valve underling saying this, either - it's Gabe Newell himself, in a US podcast called The Conversation.
It's a good headline, but there are plenty of caveats to it. Firstly, he's just talking about Portal. Secondly, a much larger number of gamers are playing on the PC, and it's debatable as to whether the number of crashes stays at a constant percentage as the sample size grows.
Of course, you can argue that as long as you have a respectable sample size on the Mac side of things then the numbers are still comparable. Valve is, as ever, being secretive over absolute numbers, but it has said that in the first week, 11 per cent of Steam purchases were made on the Mac (though that's quite different from number of clients playing, and you'd expect a hefty spike in the launch week. It will be interesting to see how much detail we get about the Mac in Steam's regular Hardware Survey).
Newell talks about how having to deal with one hardware super-vendor which provides all the drivers in the shape of Apple makes Valve's life easier - and there's also the fact Apple ships a very limited number of hardware configurations, too. Indeed; my main issue with Newell's statement is that in framing the issue as "Windows versus Mac", all PCs are lumped together as equal and the statement implies that Windows itself is inherently less stable than Mac OS X. In reality, what Valve is saying is that there are more unstable machines running Windows than unstable machines running OS X machines, which is a subtly different but important distinction.
The freedom for anyone, from individual hardware enthusiasts to small high street companies to big SIs such as Dell, to build a Windows PC results in a huge variety of machines, some of which are just not very good. Some of which are bargain specials, cobbled together from third-hand hardware and running on not much more than hope and duct tape. There is virtually no quality control. But that's the Windows model.
Cut the Windows sample down to "PCs built by a decent firm" or "PCs built by enthusiasts" and it would be interesting to see the crash rate stats.
And of course, there's advantage of the diversity of the PC: on comparable systems, Windows is significantly faster than OS X in OpenGL, as these tests at Phoronix show.
Flamebait aside, Newell's on good form in the show, and makes some interesting points in terms of how he sees gaming developing - with the advantage going to those who can create better customer experiences rather than those that simply master raw technology, and the episode is well worth a listen.
Still, while it's a good podcast, I should of course remind you it's clearly not as good at the bit-tech and Custom PC podcast.
Previously: Valve looking to OpenGL means Microsoft should be worried.