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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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Rob Fahey: Rob Fahey is a former editor of who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.
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