The Rise of Mac (and Linux) Gaming

The Rise of Mac (and Linux) Gaming

If you try to talk to someone about Apple and games you will likely get a lot of blurb about how the iPhone is the best thing since sliced bread and is the true new way of playing games. It is extremely unlikely that they will say anything at all about games on Mac OSX.

Things may be changing though, over the past couple of years more and more indie games have been released for both PC and Mac, and to a lesser extent, Linux. More significantly, in May Valve updated Steam to include support for Mac, when talking to Doug Lombardi (Valve’s VP of Marketing) he made a bold statement “Steam for the Mac is the biggest news for Steam since the platform was launched in March 2004.”

This is serious business for Valve, all future titles from the pre-eminent PC developer will be released on both Windows and Mac platforms. When I asked Doug why Valve have taken the decision to support Mac he provided an insight into the changes happening to the games industry as a whole. “As an industry we are going through a transition of entertainment as a product to entertainment as a service. This places a bunch of requirements on the platforms – specifically being an open, high-quality Internet client. The Mac is a very attractive platform for entertainment as a service.”

Overgrowth

While a number of big games such as EVE Online and Torchlight have seen Mac versions released on Steam it is interesting to listen to what developers of original Mac titles think of the opening up of Steam. Jeff Vogel, President and founder of Spiderweb Software told me that he hopes “to release my next game on Steam. It will depend on whether they accept it.” and that “it’s fantastic” to see Steam selling Mac games.

However not everyone is so enthusiastic, Brian Greenstone, President and CEO of Pangea Software doesn’t have any plans to use Steam in the immediate future, “I haven’t even thought about it. Not likely because we still sell a fair number of games direct off of our web site, and most of our income comes from iPhone apps these days anyways.”

For Brian, the hey-day of Mac gaming has been and gone, “The whole Mac/PC game market has been struggling as consumers flock to the consoles instead, but we had a pretty good 10 year run on the Mac. People always thought I was crazy for doing games for a niche market like the Mac, but at the time it was better to be a big fish in a small pond – lots of money was to be made doing Mac games.” Jeff feels the future is possibly in the handheld market, when I asked what he thinks the prospect is for Mac gaming he told me that “since a lot of the action seems to be on the iPhone and iPad I think those markets will be huge.”

World of Goo and Linux

In contrast to the opinions of Brian and Jeff, Chris Park of Arcen Software sees a bright future ahead for Mac gaming. “I think that most games that would once come out on the PC only will be coming to the Mac as time goes on. Most of the major engines are adding multiplatform support, and when your engine supports it, it’s pretty easy to straddle both the PC and the Mac. For most companies, they want to explore every possible market, and the Mac is becoming increasingly easy to explore.” The latest game from Arcen, Tidalis has just been released on PC and Mac, via, among others, Steam. Chris is also planning to update Arcen’s previous title, AI War to run smoothly on Mac OSX without users having to VMWare and other software tricks.

John Graham from Wolfire Software thinks there is little reason not to explore Mac support where possible, he cites a key blog post from Wolfire founder David Rosen (link) which explains why using OpenGL rather than DirectX can make developing for Windows, Mac and Linux a much simpler task. Chris highlights the multiplatform support found in the Unity and Unreal 3 engine as being key to being able to develop cross-platform. “With something like Unity, or Torque, or the Unreal 3 engine, or various other ones, multiplatform support is easy” Chris goes on to say “For developers who are a bit further along, working on a game beyond their first, it’s pretty much a no-brainer to make extending to multiple platforms one of the major goals of the second game. If you’re on the PC, the first target would be the Mac, and vice-versa.”

AI War

John feels that providing support for Mac, and indeed Linux, is essential for indie developers and it can reap huge rewards. “We highly recommend that other indie developers support Mac and Linux. If you use OpenGL, it’s not very hard and it is likely to double your sales.”

People are definitely interested in buying Mac versions of games, for instance when 2D Boy held a special pay what you want birthday sale on World of Goo some very interesting figures emerged. Windows users only accounted for 65% of sales with the remainder equally split between Mac and Linux. Further, Mac users on average contributed $0.50 more than Windows users while average Linux contributions were even further ahead. Similar figures were evident when analysing the Humble Indie Bundle. Yet again 65% of contributions came from Windows buyers with 21% coming from Mac and 14% from Linux. Following the trend of the 2D Boy birthday sale Linux users on average paid the most followed by Mac with Windows users contributing the least on average.

Tidalis

It is apparent that there is a market out there for Mac games, as Chris says “the Mac market specifically is clearly underserved, and quite hungry for games. I think that’s why you’re seeing things like Steam for the Mac, and all these various indie games supporting the Mac lately. For a long time there was this idea that the only thing to play on the Mac was really old games or stuff in the browser, and I think companies are now recognizing that there is a need there.” John makes a bolder prediction, “I think it’s likely that there will be a fundamental shift in what we call a gaming platform and distinctions between Mac, Linux and Windows computers may simply become irrelevant.”

Doug was similarly positive when I asked what he saw for the future of Mac gaming. “Over time we hope the distribution and development opportunities offered for the Mac via Steam will result in more publishers and developers delivering their games to the platform, and doing so simultaneously. The demand is there — the sales of our catalog as well as third party Mac titles has been very strong and we expect that to grow over the coming months and years.”

While Mac veterans like Brian and Jeff may feel that it is time to move onto the iPhone and iPad it is clear there is still life in gaming on the Mac. All future Blizzard titles will be released on PC and Mac, Steam has embraced the Mac way with open arms and indie developers have been reaping the benefits of providing Mac and Linux support for the past couple of years. As it becomes easier to develop titles for Windows, Mac and Linux more and more developers are going to realise there is a largely untapped, and in Chris’ words, underserved market out there waiting to be explored.

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