The Other Apple: Why Ignore Mac Gaming?

Everyone's excited about iOS - but Apple has another platform which many developers seem happy to ignore

What are the main platforms for game development today? You can list them easily enough, counting them off on your fingers. PlayStation, Xbox, Wii. Windows PC. DS, PSP and their handheld successors. iOS. Facebook. Android, for the tech idealists. Windows Phone 7, for the eternal optimists. Google Plus, for the deluded.

What did I miss out from the list? Scan it again and think about what's missing. Consoles, handhelds, PC, mobile platforms, social networks. That's the lot, surely, unless you're going to start delving into oddities like interactive TV platforms - which might be important someday but certainly don't have much relevance to the market right now.

Yet there is actually a massive platform missing from that line-up - the "other" Apple platform, Mac OS X. With the exception of a handful of stand-out developers, perhaps most notably Blizzard, PC game developers have traditionally ignored Apple's computers in creating their games. That's been understandable. Apple computers were traditionally underpowered compared to their gaming PC brethren, not to mention being pretty thin on the ground. Designers used them, some musicians used them, some authors were devoted fans, but games were hardly a commercially appealing consideration on Apple hardware.

It's a consumer with £1000 to spend on a powerful laptop, whose money EA apparently doesn't want - and nor, it seems, do a fairly solid number of EA's rivals

That's still a view that's broadly - if more quietly - held in a lot of corners of the games business. Everyone knows that Apple hardware is much more popular now, but developers will often go to great lengths to downplay that fact when you talk to them. Apple still only accounts for 10 per cent or so of PC shipments. Apple gear is expensive and doesn't appeal to gamers. Everyone with a Mac who wants to play games just dual-boots into Windows anyway. And so on, and so forth.

All of these arguments are problematic. Yes, Apple accounts for only around 10 per cent of US PC shipments (it's harder to get worldwide figures - Apple is very strong in Europe, does okay in Japan and struggles in much of the rest of Asia, but overall numbers are tough to figure out), but it's one of the only PC manufacturers whose shipment numbers have been growing strongly. In fact, the PC market is contracting overall, with increases in Mac sales being one of the few bright spots in the picture.

Moreover, the vast bulk of Apple's sales are to consumers - if you were to take out corporations buying 10,000 new PCs for their offices from the picture, what percentage would Apple represent? This is relevant stuff - laptops bought by consumers are potential game devices. PCs bought by a corporation and locked down by a strict IT department are not. Walk onto any university campus and see what students are using, and you see the demographic buying Apple gear - a demographic which aligns closely with exactly the people game developers would like to be selling to. Indeed, it's rather telling that the glowing Apple logo has been becoming increasingly ubiquitous at videogame-related events or press conferences in recent years.

This isn't to say that OS X represents a more important platform than Windows - it obviously, demonstrably does not. However, it's a platform which is growing and which already has a massive audience - an audience which many PC developers are simply ignoring. Raising this question with developers tends to rapidly turn into a series of arguments about why Macs are terrible, why Apple is evil, and so on - nonsense Internet forum stuff which should have no place in business decision making.

Things are improving. Steam is on OS X now, which is a major step (and Apple's own Mac App Store also offers an excellent route to market on the platform). The move away from boxed distribution means that there's no longer any danger of building a Mac version that simply won't find retail shelf space - although I'd strongly encourage developers to ship PC and Mac versions together, as Blizzard does, rather than making users pay again for a platform port. Perhaps most promising, however, is the degree of support the Mac platform receives from indie developers, many of whom simply consider it a no-brainer to release software that works on both Windows and OS X. They're rewarded for their efforts - sales of OS X versions of indie games tend to significantly outstrip Apple's 10 per cent market share, and figures compiled by the pay-what-you-like Humble Indie Bundle promotion last year showed that Mac users on average paid $7.53 for the bundle, compared with $4.78 from Windows users (although still well behind Linux users, who paid $12.00, although being fewer in number this meant they still made up roughly the same percentage of payments as the Mac contingent).

Build games for the systems that people actually have, not the systems you'd like them to have

The problem is that supporting the Mac still isn't a concept which is hardwired into the DNA of PC game developers. "Macs aren't for games" is a mantra which still bears a great deal of weight, even in the face of the rather obvious reality that plenty of people in the demographic being targeted by games are using Macs. Repeating the suggestion that you walk into a university campus and see what young people are actually using, I add a further consideration - every glowing Apple logo you see is a consumer who can't play Star Wars: The Old Republic. It's a consumer with £1000 to spend on a powerful laptop, whose money EA apparently doesn't want - and nor, it seems, do a fairly solid number of EA's rivals. Blizzard, as noted, are happy to take cash from Mac owners, and coincidentally also make a hell of a lot more of it than anyone else seems to manage. That's not because Mac owners are filling WoW's coffers (though it helps), it's because their policy is to make their games available and playable to anyone who wants to give them money, rather than artificially limiting them to platforms they happen to like or systems that can jump an improbably high technical hurdle.

The strength of PC gaming, traditionally, was that you didn't need to own a game device to do it. I started out as a PC gamer because I owned a PC - like many parents of that era, mine wouldn't let a games console into the house - and therefore I already had an amazing games machine on my desk. Countless gamers began their journey with this medium by playing games on the PC hardware they already owned for their homework or their spreadsheets. Countless game companies got their early success by encouraging people to subvert their "serious" PCs into gaming machines - corporate LANs running Doom, work laptops playing Football Manager.

Dismissing some of the world's most popular personal computers - whose popularity has grown in leaps and bounds in recent years - as "not gaming machines" misses the whole advantage of PC gaming, to my mind. Build games for the systems that people actually have, not the systems you'd like them to have. Leave your biases at the door. Stop seeing those glowing Apple logos as a "no entry" sign, the people behind them as outside your audience. There are tens of millions of them, with well-established distribution networks set up to reach them, and they're proven to have money in their pockets and a willingness to spend. If that's not an audience worth reaching out to, what is?

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Latest comments (38)

gi biz ;, 5 years ago
Mac and Linux have been traditionally ignored in gaming. The latter has even been ignored by Rob Fahey in his article, where he lists pretty much everything, Windows PC, TV games, even Google+, and he forgets almost completely about Linux.

For personal experience and knowledge, I'd like to bring to the attention a few points:
- both Mac and Linux are Posix systems. When porting a game I find myself typing ifded POSIX quite a lot, and ifdef LINUX/MACOSX only a few times. That's to tell that once you get started on a Posix port, both targets are only one step away.
- the Linux user base is at least as big as the Mac user base.
- openGL implementation on Linux has better support than on Mac. The same is for some pthread functions and Posix itself.
- buying everything you need for Mac development is very expensive (dev account, mac pro for distributed builds, softwares), while on Linux you get almost everything for free.
- Although there is no Steam for Linux, Desura is available and it's already offering a few nice titles. They also offer better conditions compared to Steam.
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For companies seeking new territory to expand, the Mac OSX is a no brainer. Mainly because the variety of games (comapred to PC) is somewhat limited, any new quality title released will garner sales.

Its a win win!
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Antony Carter Senior Programmer, Epic Games5 years ago
Has Rob Fahey, just bought a new Mac then? ;)
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Show all comments (38)
Neil Millstone Director, White Bat Games5 years ago
I agree that more developers should consider targeting Mac OS X - for the same reason that developers seem to make more out of iOS than Android despite the market share of Android being larger. The group of 10% of computer owners that have Macs contains many consumers with large disposable incomes, so sales to that group will be higher you'd expect.

I think one reason developers shun Mac OS X is that it's a bit of an unknown quantity to most of them, but really, Mac OS X has many less niggles than Windows and the developer tools are complete and fully featured for free (even if their stability leaves a bit to be desired sometimes!).
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Sam Brown Programmer, Cool Games Ltd.5 years ago
@Antony: As a journalist, I suspect Rob has had a Mac for a very long time. :)

@Michele: Agreed, Linux is another very unsupported games platform, and far nearer to programming on Windows than Macs are. Personally I like it being unsupported - it means my customer base is larger. :)

I write games for both Windows and Linux. As an indie, the major reason I've never written one for OSX is the same as ever: Initial investment. Windows and Linux run on the same hardware, OSX doesn't and I'd need to invest a few thousand pounds in decent spec hardware. Windows and Linux can both be written in C++, OSX uses ObC and it's hard for me to find the time to get to grips with it.

If Apple could get over those two bumps, I think they'd see a lot more games. If you reduce the friction in a pipeline, more travels through it. But Apple have always been a bit ambivalent about games, will that ever significantly change?
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gi biz ;, 5 years ago
@Sam: As Carmack said: "Steve Jobs doesn't care about games". Who knows if his successor will care a little bit more and take care of the problems you mention.
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Neil Millstone Director, White Bat Games5 years ago
@Sam: You don't need to write your game in Objective C if you're on a Mac - XCode compiles C/C++ perfectly well too. You'll only need Objective C to interface with the Mac's system stuff, and even that can be avoided using a suitable library.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Neil Millstone on 20th April 2012 1:08pm

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Sam Brown Programmer, Cool Games Ltd.5 years ago
@Neil: I'll take another look at that then, I don't mind a bit of ObjC, just not writing the entire game. Doesn't solve the hardware problem of course, but I might catch my bank manager in a nice mood. :)
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Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve5 years ago
I'm surprised no-one, not even Rob has bought up DirectX yet. A lot of companies have built up their engines and experience around it, and it's not available on OS X.
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Sam Brown Programmer, Cool Games Ltd.5 years ago
@Thomas: True, but Unreal and Unity do. And if you support Linux, then you support OpenGL.
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Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve5 years ago
@Sam: I agree certainly that there are a lot of cross platform options these days, here at AiSolve we use Unity all the time, as an indie studio, easy cross platform development is a great advantage. I'm just saying that there are a lot of people with a staked interest in DirectX, and I think that's a major point that was missed out of this discussion of why OS X and Linux aren't really popular platforms.
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Maybe, OSX is intentionally avoided because it is the equivalent of 3 -4 IOS units shipped. Add that to the amount of people who can support the app platform, not to mention there is the hassle of supporting developers wanting to port onto the OSX, whereas the IOS platform will probably represent the beachhead for games and entertainment before it filters back onto OSX
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd5 years ago
It certainly makes more sense to support OSX now than it ever did in the past. Ever since Macs went to using standard computer hardware, i.e. the stuff you find in windows PCs, it's actually been a solid gaming platform. Personally I stick to Windows because I can build a PC for $400 that beats the crap out of any retail PC or Mac on the market, but someone who's willing to drop $1000-$2500 on a brand is certainly not going to think twice about buying a game they want at that $60 launch price.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 20th April 2012 4:22pm

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Sam Brown Programmer, Cool Games Ltd.5 years ago
@Thomas: Very true, and it was one of the first things I got out of my system after going indie. All but one of the DX platforms can be covered with GL, and the one that's left is becoming less worth it for indies anyway.
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Tin Katavic Studying MSc-Games Technology, University of Abertay Dundee5 years ago
Ok, first off " Android, for the tech idealists. Windows Phone 7, for the eternal optimists. Google Plus, for the deluded." this made me laugh, so thank you for that.

On the issue of why Dev should do as Blizzard and make games for OSX. As an mac user (and guess a bit of a fan) I prefer working in OSX. All my stuff? Is in OSX. So if I had a choice to buy a game and play it in OSX or bootcamp windows and THEN play a game in Windows? Yeah I would go for OSX. And I think most mac users feel the same.

And one more thing all devs should keep in mind about apple users ... they are loyal users.
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Kevin Patterson musician 5 years ago
It's interesting that most mac owners I know are not gamers, but are typically creative types or hipster types. The heavy gamers almost never use a mac. I'm not really sure the market is there for major sales. Steve jobs never wanted the Mac to be a gaming platform, and never really pushed for it. Apple hasn't even pushed gaming in the app store like they could have, by releasing apple control pad docs for ipad, iphone,ipad. Gaming has become huge but on IOS devices but Apple hasn't really pushed like they could on it.

What I find interesting is how the new IPAD with it's high resolution screen will effect macbooks. If Macbooks start using a High end Retina style screen, then PC's will have to start using them, then desktop monitors will start pushing for that, and PC's will need those higher end video cards again. Most gamers/average users are still using 1920x1080 or less.
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Tin Katavic Studying MSc-Games Technology, University of Abertay Dundee5 years ago
@Kevin The heavy gamers almost never use macs cause of the hardware issues (iMac cant be upgraded and even Mac Pro has limited hardware support) and price (lets be honest for the price of 1 mac you could build 2 gaming rigs). Add to that the limited selection of games and mac just isnt interesting to a gamer.

BUT! How many of those creative types and hipsters would buy and play a game if it was available for a mac? Sure, they would never be a hard-core gamer but a casual gamer? I think there would be potential there.
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The fact is that Mac constitutes a minute fraction of the home PC market. Until they have better penetration, they will not get substantial investment from publishers, developers, or graphics card manufacturers.
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Omaha Sternberg Editor / Co-Founder, iGame Radio5 years ago
@Sam: You can find refurbished Macbook Pro laptops for under $600 that are over 2GHz. The idea that Mac OSX hardware is thousands of dollars in expense is a myth. If you wanted a top of the line PC gaming rig, you'd spend thousands of dollars too.
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Gareth Donaghey Customer Support Agent, Blizzard Entertainment5 years ago
@Omaha: Er, you do realise that you are comparing the costs of what are basically 'second hand' macs to 'first hand' PCs?
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Apple operating systems were traditionally less then 5% of the market. Though now they are pushing 10% hats still too small a market share for mass market games. You CAN play all those games on the mac now... you use parallels and Windows, but until Apple commands a large enough share (at a guess, upwards of 30%) thats where it will stay.

It doesn't help any that apple has by and large sent game developers the message they are uninterested in games. Although a tiny sub culture inside of Apple try, the fact of the matter is that, as a corporate entity, Apple just doesn't see the value and does little to encourage it. You could call this short sighted given their IOS experience, but long-sight is not generally a corporate attribute.

Apple *is* getting a bit of love from indy developers, who can generally survive on many fewer copes sold, and cross-platform developers such as Unity and Java developers (Minecraft being a notable example in the latter category.)

P.S. In case you are wondering, I am a big proponent and user of Macs. But I've also been around the game industry a long time and have had actual experience trying to engage Apple in game initiatives.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 20th April 2012 9:02pm

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James Stanard Senior Engine Programmer, Lightbox Interactive5 years ago
@Sam Brown: Next time you're buying a new machine, consider a Mac Pro because it can run Windows, Linux, and OS X. As for Objective-C, you only need to use it to interface with Cocoa, the UI layer (and some other frameworks.) You can write 99% of your code in good old C or C++. You can even mix C++ in the same file as Objective-C.

My main hang up with using a Mac Pro for development is the graphics card selection is anemic and overly expensive.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Stanard on 20th April 2012 11:56pm

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Andrew Ihegbu Studying Bsc Commercial Music, University of Westminster5 years ago
I, by and large see it as pointless to support OS X right now. Even the majority of ports on Mac rights now are just that, ports. Running on Cedega, wine or some other translation layer converting Windows code. The few games that I can think of that are rebuilt fro OS X perform worse than their PC counterparts on the same hardware (Valve's Source engine games)and that effect is intensified by the fact that Mac hardware is less bang per buck.

Having said that.... the real reason I think its pointless is that, if anyone's been following the OS roadmaps of the two giants, its all leading into one place. The lines between bloated OS X and lightweight iOS will blur then consolidate, just like Win8 is doing with Win32/WinMobile by bringing out WinRT.

And unless you want even more performance penalties bolted onto your game when you're forced to run it in a Rosetta style sandbox because you built it for an OS X on its way out, I would wait until Mountain Lion and its successor complete this period of transition. It's quite obvious that Apple aren't interested in gaming on the Mac atm and it may well be because of that.
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Murray Lorden Game Designer & Developer, MUZBOZ5 years ago
I typed into Google Mac Games Store, and it took me here...

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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 5 years ago
I don't think that the anemic graphics cards or other performance problems are such a big real issue because on a Mac you're not hitting the hardcore gamer market but a much more casual one.

One of the attractive things about Macs is that, though they're more expensive and less powerful than a well-chosen Windows gaming rig, they're easy. You don't need to know about CPUs and graphics cards and whatnot; you just buy it. But the serious gamers who want the easy route have better options in the PS3 or Xbox 360.

Omaha: I find it hard to figure out how you'd spend "thousands of dollars" on a top-end gaming rig (excluding monitors, which cost the same for a Mac or a PC). A hefty i7 even with an N680 is well under $1500, but most people would buy a slightly less cutting edge system for around a thousand.
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Tony Johns5 years ago
I have both a Mac OS laptop as well as a Windows Vista Laptop.

I may have had people call me backwards and often subjected to jokes from others about my choice of laptops.

But if I am still able to play Japanese PC games on my Windows Vista laptop as well as flash games on my Mac OS, I will do my laptop gaming fine.

For more traditional gaming, I have my PS3, XBox360, Wii, PSP and DS platforms handy for that sort of thing.

Funny thing is, I don't have an iPhone or iPad, because I am busy at university and have not brought any hardware since starting university back 3 years ago.
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Absolutely a valid point raised regardig consider the business opportunity on Mac but acussing for example EA being ignorant and not even once mentioning Aspyr who been very important for hard core gaming on Mac and done so for way more than 10 years worries me about the actual insight in the issue so please allow me for some additional comments. (For reference please see

So for example EA among others have for a long time used Aspyr for porting games and market and sell to Mac market.
- porting because for a game dev team it really don't make sense to develop a game for Mac. There is amazing porting experts out there though who takes care of it after hand.
- market and selling because (definately in the past but absolutely less so now) Mac users have not been found in the same channels as PC or conwole customers
EA and others have not been able to compete with Mac experts like Aspyr and outsourced the whole Mac SKU.

The reason as I understood it why Blizzard supported Mac is that they from early on developed on Mac and considered having a codebase running on several platforms helped them secure better code -> less bugs, better optimized etc. But probably it turned into a good business also from sales perspective.

The valid point in the article is that Mac users Is now more likely group to by hard core games (that demographic wasn't there in the past) and market size is so big so might be valid business for publishers to consider not outsourcing it anymore. It will be interesting to follow how this unravels for sure myself being a Mac user.

And as previously mentioned, Steve Jobs didn't like games and hopefully that will change a bit now in consideration to both developer and publisher support from Apple.

Myself I played a lot of Quake on my 225MHZ Mac clone 1997 and had Aspyr port Battlefield 1942 to Mac in 2003 and would be delighted to see more entertainment in form of games on OSX and am gratefull Rob Fahey raised this point!
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Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 5 years ago
I agree with Tobias about Blizzard. I thought they developed games out legacy and support of their fanbase from the original Warcraft games (which were released on Mac first if I remember).

But yes, I'm very happy that there seems to be more interest in OSX development. I still find it crazy that Unreal isn't on Mac yet even though I can develop iOS apps on it.
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Sam Brown Programmer, Cool Games Ltd.5 years ago
@Patrick: Unreal Engine is on Mac (although IIRC it's not on Linux :) )
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Jace Cisnero Games/Level Designers 5 years ago
Developing games for OSX has its issues. Someone already mentioned how there is nothing like DirectX for OSX.

Simply supporting a joypad or getting raw keyboard input is a nightmare, and for an indie wishing to develop for OSX 3rd party libraries such as DDHidLib might be the only option. It says a lot about the poor state of the situation when you can search for books to help tackle some of the more difficult subjects and you find that the ones that seem to suit your needs are either obsolete (pre-Leopard) or they keep having their publish dates pushed further back.

From the hardware side, there are many Macs in the product line that have more than enough power. The problem is there are also plenty of them that do not. Any machine with Intel Graphics is going to be a poor performer, and there are still a lot of Macs in use that have shared video memory. The current generation Mac Mini might have a decent enough GPU, but it also only has 256 megabytes of video memory. Some might say that the iMac represents the best option for gamers, but you shouldn't ignore the fact that gamers tend to like machines they can easily upgrade.

The Mac will never be perceived as a viable gaming platform without a viable gaming product in its line. An easily upgradable mid-tower or an extremely beefy Mac Mini are going to be what it takes, and Apple just seems to refuse to give us either of those.

I don't think the problem is that developers are ignoring OSX. I think Apple is ignoring OSX developers and gamers.
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Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 5 years ago
Ok let me be more specific. Unreal SDK.

So you can develop for Mac but not on Mac.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Patrick Frost on 22nd April 2012 5:10pm

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Hyam Bolande General Manager, Mindwalk Studios5 years ago
As mentioned, hardware is an issue, but I don't think anybody has said the following quite forcefully enough: The key differentiator that desktop PCs possess over consoles as game is the ability to freely and inexpensively tinker/improve your machine, esp. upgrading the graphics card, memory and other devices as required over time.

Apple iMacs (and notebooks) are locked up kind of like the consoles.
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Tin Katavic Studying MSc-Games Technology, University of Abertay Dundee5 years ago
@Hyam Bolande - a small question. As you stated Apple iMacs and other macs are locked up like consoles but wouldnt that be better for developers? Less hardware variations to worry about?
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Hyam Bolande General Manager, Mindwalk Studios5 years ago
That would make sense if the OS X machines were well-adapted for gaming. The consensus on this forum seems to be that gaming hasn't ranked high in Apple's product design priorities (I personally can't claim to be an authority in this area, however).

To be clear, my comment was more focused on the perspective of the end-user.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Hyam Bolande on 23rd April 2012 10:35am

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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 5 years ago
I don't see why being less powerful than a good gaming PC, or even "locked up like the consoles," is such an issue. After all, plenty of perfectly good games come out for consoles, which are weaker yet and even more locked up.

I doubt Mac users care to tinker with their machines much more than console users. I know I certainly don't. One of the big reasons I have a console is because it's plug-and-go, and I'm clearly willing to pay a pretty significant performance penalty for this.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Curt Sampson on 23rd April 2012 11:28am

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Sam Brown Programmer, Cool Games Ltd.5 years ago
I'm not sure OSX machines being well-adapted for gaming is an issue. After all, this is an industry (at least partially) built on getting unlikely hardware to do things it's not meant to do. Like I said earlier, my personal reasons for not developing for OSX are primarily economic, in terms of both time and money. It's something I'd like to do, but personal circumstances prevent me.

(you would not believe some of the hardware I have to get games running on as part of my day job :) )
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 5 years ago
I love apple and I love there devices and operating systems. I generally buy either 13 or 15 inch laptops for graphic design work and use an external apple monitor for at home use. I personally am done with desktop computers. The macbook gives me the ability to work home as well as move around. And for work, connectivity and writing its great. But regarding there other products i can do with cheaper alternatives.

However, for gaming I really dont know. knowing apple they will use the most cutting edge technology and design. But I bet they would produce expensive hardware, and frankly Im very reluctant to spend over 300$ for a game console. And I dont think they will sell it that cheap if the can sell an iPOD touch for 400$

And knowing apple, they will dictate how gamers should purchase, play and share there games. Everything will be tied to an account and everything you do controlled. When I go to a friends house I like to take my games and apple will probably put me in jail for "Sharing" "MY" games with em. Apple will probably get rid of fisical media and dictate how they should be priced. They will probably make everything touch screen and motion controlled. And I like a traditional game pad. And Ill have to make a mac account and Ill have to purchase everything through iTUNES and be online, and frankly im not into streaming stuff all the time on the net. I dont live in front of a computer. They want to own everyones lives and dictate how they should live it, everything from movies, music, books and even how you interact with others will soon be dictated by them... but damn... gaming? Now I AM PISSED.

My expirience with apple is not good, as i feel they have such a controlling enviroment, its like you spend all this money buying stuff, that isnt really yours and they dictate how you can interact with it. And for any little thing you do, like give a copy of an MP3 to a friend, you break a law or infringe on someones copyrights. They truly are a pain. So I try running from their products as much as i can. But if they enter the console games space, they have put me in a tough spot, cause I really do love video games. Damn you apple!!!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 23rd April 2012 3:35pm

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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.5 years ago
Mac is not a good environment for gaming. The expense, hardware configurations, lack of hardware upgradability, market share, % of that market that are actual gamers, development difficulty, and on and on....

It takes all the advantageous factors of the PC and game consoles and removes them.
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