I’m a serious gamer, just below the rank of what the press call “hardcore.” I own an XBox, a GameBoy, and a very fast PC. By way of Mac hardware, I own an aging 1999 Powerbook, and I have no plans to buy another Mac. In fact, any serious gamer must automatically reject the Mac. Games played on computers remain of a different character than those you find on consoles, and include genres that will never be appropriate on a console, especially real-time strategy games (Warcraft, Rise of Nations, etc.). If you want to play real-time strategy games, you need Windows, though, because the best games are not available on the Mac. Apple would have you believe that the cream of the crop gets ported to Mac, and this is true for Warcraft, but in general it’s an unfair overstatement. Rise of Nations is a superb game, and its absence from the Mac pretty much makes the Mac a non-viable gaming platform. There are many more examples of top-flight games that never get ported than do. Half-Life and Grim Fandango, where were those? And most of the smaller games that flesh out the offerings on PC have no hope of being ported.
It’s not enough to port games six months later, either, because the marketing reality is that games, like movies, are partially about hype and a buildup in the press. Mainstream gaming sites like Gamespy and Gamespot cover PC games as they’re released for Windows. If the Mac is not supported on release day, then it doesn’t exist, except for people who have to wait anyway.
It’s a truism in the PC world that great new games drive hardware sales. That means that the Windows platform has a beneficial symbiotic relationship with games that the Mac is missing out on. This holds the Mac market back, and throttles enthusiasm for new hardware. Instead, Apple tries to dole out upgrade enthusiasm by releasing cool new products. This can never work, because of the inherent interest Apple has in selling hardware. People need their own independent reasons for wanting new hardware, other than the release of the hardware itself. Marketing can’t work in a vacuum.
Frustrated Mac-heads will read the above and immediately point out that there is a frustrating catch-22 in the lack of a games market: companies won’t invest the resources in porting games unless the Mac market is big. On the other hand, I’m saying the Mac market is going to remain small unless there are more games. This is true, but Apple isn’t doing anything about it and they should.
Microsoft is also a game studio, and makes high-quality games for PC and the XBox. They did this buy buying existing game studios and fuelling them with cash and resources. Apple should consider doing the same thing, but with porting houses. Maybe they can even convince studios to write games cross-platform from the beginning, the way Blizzard does. If they can help with some tools that make it easy to make these conversions, that would go a long way towards subsidizing a larger games market.
Note that I’m not knocking the legacy of excellent Mac-only or Mac-first games. Ambrosia and LittleWing spring to mind because I have enjoyed their games over the years. Shareware games are not really under discussion here because they don’t have a major impact on the platform’s market share the way million-copy-selling games do.