Gaming companies now foolish to ignore the Mac crowd?
May 11, 2008
When a Mac user walked into a room of gamers and started talking games, he was laughed at, beaten, bloodied, and dragged to the nearest ditch to die.
Well, he was laughed at, anyway.
But times have changed. Not because Apple has really strengthened their Mac lineup to support games (despite Apple’s random announcements over the years implying otherwise), but because of the numbers of former PC users now flocking to the OS X platform. Admittedly, a huge part of this diaspora wasn’t because OS X is simply a solid operating system, but because Vista isn’t. Of course, there’s still much to be desired regarding Apple’s hardware lineup as far as gamers are concerned, particularly because there aren’t any good middle-of-the-road options price-wise, but OS X has proven itself capable for running games, even if much of that proof is in ported titles.
The real truth is in Blizzard’s cash-cow, World of Warcraft (WoW), which had a simultaneous release on OS X. In fact, only one version of the game was ever sold, with both Windows and OS X versions on the same discs. Blizzard has been a forerunner in this regard for years now, having released previous Warcraft games on both Microsoft and Apple platforms, including their other franchises (Starcraft and Diablo).
This is an important thing for gaming companies to consider, because despite the rumblings among the development community that it’s not easy to port Direct-X code to OS X, oftentimes even considering the licensing of frameworks and APIs to ease in this porting, Blizzard was vastly successful in supporting OS X, even going so far as to add unique features to their OS X branch (such as native video recording).
Our personal experiences are such that we’ve had much less issues running WoW under OS X compared to Windows, to the point where we could count out WoW crashes under OS X on one hand, whereas under Windows, summing the crashes and restarts would require too much time than we have in a given day.
The real consideration for developers isn’t how well a game can run under OS X, however, but rather the number of gamers a developer will ultimately abandon if they don’t develop OS X versions of their games. In massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs), not only is supporting the OS X crowd a boon, but supporting them from the get-go is nigh mandatory to win their allegiance.
Over the past six years or so, we’ve slowly migrated away from PCs, to the point where we recently sold out last gaming box and are now without Windows outside a virtualized form. And even virtualized, we rarely give Windows a look unless it’s to access legacy hardware (like our Garmin GPS). The point is, after WoW, it would take a significant revolution in gaming to make us even think about buying another PC, particularly since that PC would only serve to run the game in question. And let’s face it: with even die-hard PC gaming developers supporting consoles these days, we’re tempted to finally agree that PC gaming (relegated to Windows-only, that is) has its days numbered.
We’re not alone in our abandonment of PCs, either. Over the last couple years, we’ve witnessed many of our post-collegiate colleagues shedding their PCs, and either replacing them with Apple machines, else turning to consoles for their gaming needs. Like us, many have returned to their console roots, even if that’s one area that Microsoft still has our attention.
Yet despite the exodus we’re seeing from Windows, it still seems that most PC gaming developers are ignoring OS X. Aside from WoW, the only other “major” MMOG to support the OS X platform is EVE Online, which was only recently ported to OS X after years of successful operation in a Windows-only world. Given the number of gamers playing both EVE and WoW on Macs, it would appear that there’s some profit to be made here, even if the PC world is what’s jump-starting sales.
To say that developers of upcoming games have learned their lesson would be a major overstatement, however. Age of Conan, nor the upcoming Warhammer MMOG, will support OS X upon release. This is particularly odd for the latter, given it’s expected sales and already-hyped appeal. While Mac gamers may not even make up a quarter of sales upon release, why bother cutting them out at all, given that development of simultaneous platforms shouldn’t be that taxing now that Apple is using Intel hardware, and that there are actually options out there for porting Direct-X code. After all, in order to conquer the giant that is WoW, developers of future MMOGs should certainly be leveraging every possible opportunity they can.