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Valve On Mac Gaming: Part One

Business boss Jason Holtman and Marketing VP Doug Lombardi on Steam OSX

Valve is a developer, a publisher, an online store, a middleware provider, a social network. It has its finger in most of gaming's current pies – and it all stemmed from a 1998 first-person shooter for the PC. Earlier this year, it finally confirmed rumours that it was seeking to launch a Mac gaming platform.

Four months on from Steam for Mac's launch, director of Business Development Jason Holtman talked to GamesIndustry.biz about the new platform's reception, the developer and publisher take-up, technical issues, why it helps out other developers and effective marketing in a truly multi-platform era. With further contribution from Valve's marketing VP Doug Lombardi, Holtman paints a picture of where one of the world's most successful independent game businesses believes Mac gaming is headed. Part two of this interview will follow soon.

GamesIndustry.bizWhat's the uptake of Steam for Mac like, now we're a few months on from launch?
Jason Holtman

The uptake's been great. Initially lots of folks came to us, picked up a bunch of games they hadn't had available for distribution before. One interesting figure is that we're seeing between a 15 and 20 per cent increase in games that have a Mac version on Steam, so some of our baseline games with added Mac versions, they're seeing quite a healthy bump in people picking up their title.

Customers are very, very pleased because previously where they didn't have a Mac store or hadn't had distribution before, all of a sudden they're seeing some titles that are coming out. And then our titles in particular we've been rolling out, we had a few titles come out at launch and then we've been rolling out our titles successively through time, and each time we do that we see a whole new bunch of people come to us and say this is awesome, maybe they hadn't played it before, or maybe they wanted to play it cross-platform. You know, they owned both things and all of sudden they were able to play Team Fortress 2 on both platforms via SteamPlay. So customer response has been great as well.

GamesIndustry.bizI was going to ask how many people were using it on both - I've seen people with desktop PCs but Mac laptops doing it. Do you know what the skew is to people playing it exclusively on Mac versus those who seem to be using it on both?
Jason Holtman

That's actually hard to see right now. People are moving back and forth between trying out one or the other, but we don't have a lot of data on that yet. But we do know from the response, just like you've said, they're really happy to be at work for instance and play on their Mac a little bit and play on PC. The other interesting thing is because the platform's now available on Mac and there's content there, we've seen people using their Macs for purchasing. So they're not thinking about their PC and Mac being separate anymore, they're really thinking about both of them being together and the platform just being there.

GamesIndustry.bizCan you reveal approximately how many Mac users you've picked up, or even what percentage of the total user base they constitute?
Jason Holtman

That's still under wraps. It's evolving right now. We don't have a number on that, but there is a significant amount of people playing on OSX. One way to tell that is, if you look at TF2, if you go play that and see how many people have the little earbuds in, right? [Mac versions of the game were gifted with in-game iPod headphones]. Or when you get killed you'll see the representing OSX sign. And that's a fairly representative sample of seeing how many people have pulled out their Macs and started to play that game.

GamesIndustry.bizIt's nice to see it up-front like that. You get so many surveys where the methodology's completely opaque, but in this case players can see what's going on themselves.
Jason Holtman

Right, yeah. That's probably one of the best indicators. And that's just the guys who are choosing to use the white headphones. It's fun for us to see the Mac guys being able to play a multiplayer game like that, and having just as much fun. It's truly cross-platform. You can get beaten up by a Mac guy just as well as you can get beaten up by a PC guy.

GamesIndustry.bizIs there any skill difference between players on PC and Mac - or is that too much like declaring platform war?
Jason Holtman

No, we haven't seen that.

GamesIndustry.bizIn general, watching the internet response to the launch, it seems to be described variously as either the spearhead for a new whole age of Mac gaming or the only serious attempt to corner an existing market. What's your take on that, how calculated a takeover is it?
Jason Holtman

Well, we think there is a large untapped market out there. We know people want to make games and get them out there to as many customers as possible, regardless of platform, and that's what game developers think about. So when we opened up and said we're on the Mac, that was our goal. We wanted more games for more people on more platforms. And we've seen developers embrace it. Developers who weren't thinking about the Mac a year ago are coming to us and saying "wow! Can I have my Mac version?" Or "how could I make a Mac version of my game?"

To that end - we haven't let anybody know this yet, but we'll let you know this - we're going to release some our graphics code for the GL layer that gets people there faster. So our Steamworks partners will have access to some of the hard work that we do to get our games up on Mac, and they'll be able to incorporate that into their games, and our hope is it gets them there faster. Because that's the real hard work in making Mac version is doing that graphics work, so we're going to help people along by giving them some of our code.

About the Author

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Alec Meer

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A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.

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