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Apple Needs To Get Its Game On 332

Posted by Zonk
from the step-up-to-the-plate dept.
BusinessWeek is running a piece exploring why Apple needs to get back into gaming. From the article: "Maybe Apple's user base just isn't fully aware of great games that are now available for the Mac? Sure, there are games to be found at the Apple store, prominently displayed in the software section. But does Apple market the Mac as a gaming machine? Adams says it should. 'The biggest thing that Apple could do is educate its users,' she says. 'Apple's message is so closely tied to iTunes and iLife and the iPod and these are all great selling points. We have a great relationship with Apple and they help us get the games ready. But we really need the users to meet us halfway, and only Apple can make that happen.'"
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Apple Needs To Get Its Game On

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  • by Faust7 (314817) on Friday June 02, 2006 @04:02PM (#15457881) Homepage
    Anyone remember the days when games actually came out first on Apple computers? All sorts of stuff used to debut on the Apple II - Castle Wolfenstien, Boulder Dash, Karateka (the precursor to Prince of Persia)...
  • by drgroove (631550) on Friday June 02, 2006 @04:06PM (#15457913)
    One other point - IIRC, Nintendo's OS is UNIX-based (someone correct me on this if this isn't right).

    If correct, not to say that it would be academic to port Nintendo games to Apple, but the path would be a little more straightforward than if Nintendo were Windows CE based, for example.

    Also, their portables products could eventually merge into a reasonable competitor for the PSP - GameBoy/DS+iPod, anyone?
  • Re:First Thing (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gomer47rehab (967076) on Friday June 02, 2006 @04:06PM (#15457915)
    The first thing they could do is sell their games at a reasonable price.

    SimCity 4 Deluxe for Mac - $60
    SimCity 4 Deluxe for PC - $20

    If this is the best they can do, I'll be happy to pay for a copy of Windows XP for gaming and use BootCamp

    From the article:

    Adams told me, a successful Mac game might sell 50,000 units. It physically hurt my head to hear so low a number. My first question after hearing it was, "How do you do this profitably?" Her reply: "It's always been a razor-thin kind of thing."

    Sigh. It looks like it *is* the best they can do.

    -g

  • You would think (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MrNougat (927651) <ckratsch@gmQUOTEail.com minus punct> on Friday June 02, 2006 @04:16PM (#15457997)
    I was actually talking to an art teacher friend last night. She's going to buy a new computer, and has decided on a Mac, because of their better graphics capability.

    Whether or not they actually have better graphics capability or not anymore, I don't know. But I know the historical use for Macs in business has been for graphic design, or other things that require very fine graphics.

    All the best games have great graphics. You'd think that those games would be even better on a Mac, since they reportedly have so much better graphics capability. And yet, the big downfall for Mac historically has been that you have to have a Windows machine for gaming, because there just aren't games for Macs.

    Which leads me to believe that maybe the "Macs have better graphics" line has always been a bunch of hooey. Had there been extensive game development for Mac earlier on, maybe there'd be 90% market share for Apple and 10% for Microsoft now. And you'd think that, early on and capitalism being what it is, game companies would have pushed games for the Mac. Did they?
  • by tji (74570) on Friday June 02, 2006 @04:18PM (#15458015)
    I am a Mac user, and not much of a gamer.. I do play the occasional game for 15 minutes when I'm bored, but that's about it.

    I think it would be to Apple's benefit to improve gaming a bit on MacOS, but I don't think that trying to compete with real gaming platforms is a good battle to fight.

    What they need to do is:

    - Integrate software purchases into iTunes. ITMS is simple and ubiquitous.. expand the scope of the store to include software, and you could guarantee good sales for small developers.

    - Concentrate on mini games, which would be fast to download and appeal to the casual gamer. Solitare card games, Tetris, etc.. License old arcade classics, like Pac Man, Galaga, Tempest, etc. Charge a few bucks per game and you'll get plenty of sales.

    -- Maybe produce a couple more complex games, like a flight simulator, golf game, racing game, or something like that.
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday June 02, 2006 @04:24PM (#15458061) Homepage Journal
    The OS matters dramatically less than the graphics API. What would make a far bigger difference in Wii and Apple porting would be if the Wii supported OpenGL, since that's what one uses on OSX.
  • by Moridineas (213502) on Friday June 02, 2006 @04:46PM (#15458221) Journal
    FWIW, OSX is still not an ideal gaming platform. You mention OpenGL--take a look at the world of warcraft Mac technical support forum, or various benchmarks sets. On identical hardware, OSX WoW performance lags very far behind windows.

    And this from Blizzard, a company that has always been very with-it, wrt cross-platform design.
  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Friday June 02, 2006 @04:48PM (#15458231)
    The game developers I know dislike the cross platform tools. They don't dislike that they are cross platform, they just find them inferior to work with compared to DirectX, they find it's a lot more work. One of my friends, who's currently learning all this for the first time (he's at a game dev school at SMU) says how much more work it was for him to get his engine to work in OpenGL mode than it was in DirectX mode (their project requires both).

    Now, maybe these guys just aren't very good. Ok, fair enough but you have to consider those people as well as the Carmacks. You cannot make the argument that everyone should be a grand master, most people aren't.

    Well, the problem is if 99% of developers find DirectX easier than the cross platform tools, they are more likely to use it. Again you come to economics. You are going to make, by far, more money on Windows than any other platform. So you calculate how much you think you'll make cross platform (and you probably lowball it since you want to CYA) vs how much extra cost in dev time using APIs your programmers don't liek will add (and you highball that for the same reason) and the conclusion is you don't do the port.

    From talking to my friend the cross platform stuff just needs a lot of simplification and unification. He claims it takes much less effort to make something work in DirectX than OpenGL and that everything in DirectX, be it 2D, 3D, input, sound, etc is all done in the same way.

    So I think what needs to be done first is to out slick DirectX. Produce a unified API that does everything, and does it easier than DX does. You have a leg up in that regard as you aren't shackled to any legacy designs. Make it so that, even if they don't plan on porting, developers want to use it because it is so much better. Port the API to everything, Windows, Mac, Liunx, the consoles, and so on. Then it becomes much easier to make the port argument "Well if you are going to use AwesomeAPI anyhow it takes very little time to port cross platform."

    But I do think the better API has to come first. Make it a benefit, not a sacrafice.
  • by buckhead_buddy (186384) on Friday June 02, 2006 @04:59PM (#15458299)
    One of the articles arguments is that Apple needs to make games. This isn't something new for Apple. They made a number of games for the Apple ][ product line (including Apple Adventure). They even made and marketed the game "Through the Looking Glass" for the Mac back when it first came out. Today, however, I think Apple wants developers to make their own products rather than compete with developers in the games marketplace. If Apple's games are perceived as lame, that makes the platform undesirable to consumers. If Apple's games are hot, then that eats up the customers for the products of other game developers.

    Another argument of the article is that there are rumors of Apple hiring game developers. This purported fact goes on to suggest that Apple will be turning the iPod and the Mac into gaming platforms. I think that this is way too far of a leap. My first bet is that Apple is looking for OpenGL developers to speed up and fine tune OpenGL development in the undercarriage of Mac OS X's graphics system. Where else would you look for such knowledgeable people so focused on speed and performance of imaging than in the world of games? If development goes further than this, I expect that game developers are being paid to port the platforms games are built upon to Mac OS X to make it easier for developers to move their apps over.

    Would Apple co-develop the next big game on Mac OS X with LucasArts (or whoever)? While not out of the question, I doubt Apple would want to be included in the credit and liability of such a game. Violence. Sex. and worse, a lame final result, might ruin the potential of the Mac for other game developers. One of the hottest games for the Mac when I was in college was MacPlaymate. It was an exercise in virutal dildonics and let the user get the on-screen half-toned bitmapped woman to emit orgasmic sounds of ectasy. It wasn't ported to other platforms (that I'm aware) but it probably sold more Macs on my campus when a cracked version made it to the campus computer labs than any other pirated app. Was Apple appreciative of these sales? Probably. Would Apple want to build a marketing campaign on such a unique product to the Mac platform? Probably not.

    The Aqua user interface is something that Apple prides itself on. It isn't a gaming interface though. It's a standard user interface for business, education, and scientific apps, and it goes out of its way to tell you to follow our rules for making your app, or don't use Aqua at all. That doesn't mean that Apple is discouraging game developers, but it doesn't want corruption of its crown jewels in the process. Games that follow the rules are great (A board or card game for example) but if you go beyond that then you need to design your own user interface and immerse the user in that instead. Perhaps Apple will come out with a game interface that's themeable and radical and immersive and looks nothing like Aqua (just as it provides non-Aqua elements for Dashbaord widgets). But it's still not a certainty that game developers would want to use that interface.

    Most likely in my mind is if Apple wants a hot gaming platform, it will start out by trying to convince other gaming platforms to come to Mac OS X. Play on the fear of Microsoft's Xbox to get Sony or Nintendo to develop a partial console that uses Mac hardware to make itself complete. I can see Apple throwing money at getting an existing game development environment onto the Mac, but I can't see Apple trying to enter this world by itself.

    Oh well, back to running MacPlaymate under classic :-)
  • by King_TJ (85913) on Friday June 02, 2006 @05:00PM (#15458303) Journal
    You're correct that Mac games aren't released as quickly as their PC counterparts - BUT, the flip-side of this is, they also don't release titles of unknown quality, only to end up upsetting people who pay out $40 or even $50 for something that's a total flop.

    In the current state of Mac gaming, small companies like Aspyr and MacPlay only want to expend effort porting a title that's already proven to be a "winner" in the Windows world.

    Right now, no - a "hard core gamer" won't really be happy with a Mac. They want the latest stuff the day it's first released, and they also tend to spend crazy amounts on money on the latest video cards, just for an extra 15 frames per second improvement.

    In general, Mac users buy their machines with intentions of getting useful work done. Most PowerMac owners I know use them for projects that pay back more than the cost of the whole machine upon a single project's completion. (Wedding videographers and photographers, for example ... or graphics artists designing corporate flyers and artwork for product boxes.) Gaming is also a potential interest, but more of a casual one. They'll buy a good game here or there, but aren't concerned with it being something that "just came out".

    That said, I think one problem with Mac action games has traditionally been the way the PPC chip does math. The coders of Doom 3 complained about this holding them back from getting the game running on parity, speed-wise, with the Windows counterpart. With Intel based Macs, maybe they're finally free of this issue.
  • by necro2607 (771790) on Friday June 02, 2006 @05:26PM (#15458480)
    Yeah but that's because today's 3d cards are geared towards DirectX optimization because supposedly DirectX rules the world or whatever, while OpenGL is just a "standard" they keep in line with. OpenGL is considered pretty "secondary" and thus doesn't get the special treatment on video cards from ATI and Nvidia...
  • hold on (Score:3, Interesting)

    by goldcd (587052) on Friday June 02, 2006 @06:31PM (#15458929) Homepage
    OpenGL has fallen way behind DirectX.
    Open GL and DirectX are both supported on XP and in GPU drivers. If people have given up developing on OpenGL (which has more scope to be ported) and have moved to DirectX, maybe that's because a) it's better and b) it's easier to develop for.
    If you own a decently specced machine (i.e. decent GPU) then in all likelihood you've got a recently produced intel-based Apple machine.
    Just buy XP. Use OSX for everything else by all means - but games take over the whole user interface and once running full screen the OS running silently in the background is immaterial.
    Quite how the writer of the article expects OSX porters to carry on, when shortly every Mac user can buy XP and run every game out there, is beyond me (unless he's some weird zealot type).
  • by Calroth (310516) on Friday June 02, 2006 @07:41PM (#15459358)
    It's not a technical thing. It's a licensing thing. The porting house needs to secure all the licenses for the game and the middleware. Then probably draw up more contracts still. Then secure the code and art assets. Most of the time, this doesn't happen until the PC version ships... some of the time, not for a few months after that. It's good ol' American corporate paranoia.

    Porting probably isn't the type of activity that you can throw more programmers at... TFA says that they have 5 porters, and that's probably all they need. As with the saying, nine women can't have a baby in one month. Aspyr (the company mentioned in the article) already has a pretty good in-house DirectX-to-OpenGL conversion layer, probably better than any commercial offering. Not that it's perfect, but that part of the equation is arguably "solved".

    And with the profits... you're looking at maybe 5% of the profits of the PC version. Let's say we do something amazing and double it! Now it's 10%. Your "suits" probably wouldn't care.

Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig. -- Lazarus Long, "Time Enough for Love"

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