macOS 14 Sonoma: Enhancing Performance with Game Mode

macOS Sonoma has introduced a new feature known as Game Mode. When enabled, Game Mode automatically prioritizes CPU and GPU resources when a game is launched, maximizing performance. It also enhances connectivity with wireless devices, reducing latency for items such as controllers and AirPods.

Game Mode is part of Apple's initiative to make the Mac more attractive as a gaming device for both developers and users. As a user, here's what you should know about Game Mode and how to use it in macOS Sonoma.
What is Game Mode?
Serious gamers share a common desire for hardware capable of handling the demanding graphics of modern games. PC gamers are constantly focused on CPU performance and GPU speed, while Mac users have historically had limited options for optimizing hardware performance. As a result, serious gamers have dismissed the Mac as a gaming platform.

The transition of Mac to Apple silicon has unlocked performance levels that were previously unattainable with Intel chips, resulting in significant improvements in running modern games. Despite the inability for users to customize hardware, such as installing a faster GPU, Apple has introduced Game Mode to address this limitation. Game Mode enhances game performance, leading to higher video framerates and smoother gameplay at more detailed graphics settings. Additionally, it reduces latency with wireless gaming and audio devices.
How does Game Mode enhance performance?
When Game Mode is activated, the game receives top priority with the CPU and GPU, while any background apps are deprioritized. Additionally, the Bluetooth sampling rate is doubled, resulting in improved responsiveness between a Bluetooth controller and Bluetooth audio devices.

To illustrate how this prioritization functions, I conducted a test using Geekbench 6 on an M1 Pro MacBook Pro while running Resident Evil: Village with Game Mode enabled. The game remained unaffected when Geekbench was running in the background; it ran smoothly without any noticeable interruptions caused by Geekbench.

For reference, the laptop's Geekbench 6 scores with no game running were 2411 (single CPU), 12499 (multi CPU), and 67569 (Compute Metal). With Resident Evil running and Game Mode enabled, the Geekbench scores were significantly lower: 1661, 8569, and 36846, respectively. It is evident that Game Mode lowered the processing priority of Geekbench.
How to activate Game Mode?
Game Mode activates automatically when you launch a game, and a notification appears to indicate that it's active. A game controller icon is displayed in the menu bar, and clicking on it provides information about the status of Game Mode.

For Game Mode to operate, the game must be in full-screen mode. If you choose to play the game in a window, Game Mode will pause automatically.
Is it possible to deactivate and reactivate Game Mode?
Certainly. By clicking the game controller icon in the menu bar, you can choose to turn off Game Mode, and you also have the option to turn it back on from there.

If you deactivate Game Mode and then quit the game, Game Mode will not automatically activate when you relaunch the game. You will need to manually turn it on again.
Are there any settings for Game Mode?
No, there are not. You simply have the option to turn it on or off. All performance adjustments are made within the game settings.
Which games are compatible with Game Mode?
According to Apple, "Game Mode works with any game, including all recent and upcoming Mac games." During the beta phase of Sonoma, I encountered one game, Civilization VI, where Game Mode was initially unavailable. However, in later betas, Game Mode worked with Civ VI.

During the macOS Sonoma unveiling, Apple mentioned several new games coming to the Mac, such as Death Stranding Director's Cut, Dragonheir: Silent Gods, Humankind, and World of Warcraft: Dragonflight. It is expected that these new games will be compatible with Game Mode.

Additionally, iPhone and iPad games that can run on the Mac can also utilize Game Mode.
Sure, more top titles, but many of them are old...
Yes, that's the reality of Mac gaming. If a developer is creating a Mac version, it's not a top priority. The number of units sold is not enough to incentivize developers.

However, addressing Mac performance with Game Mode is a step in the right direction, and it's not the only action the company has taken. Apple has introduced a new Game Porting Toolkit to simplify the process for developers to create a Mac version.

Progress is underway, and it will take time to establish a market. We may never see Mac versions released simultaneously with Windows and console versions, but the delay could be significantly reduced.

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