To speculate with any accuracy on the future of Mac gaming, we should identify where we have been and where we are now. In the 90’s, trying to game on the Mac was a joke. It wasn’t entirely Apple’s fault; the PC market was so much bigger, it only made sense to develop for them. I see the introduction of the iPod as first major turning point in Mac gaming history—the product that saved Apple’s life.
The iPod brought attention and prestige to Apple that had been lacking. Many people were purchasing and using an Apple product for the first time in their lives! A massive fan base for Apple products was created and by April 2006, Apple had sold 50 million iPods (http://www.systemshootouts.org/ipod_sales.html). This was a tremendous boon to the second and third major turning points, the transition to Intel chips in Macs and the release of Bootcamp.
FINALLY! Bootcamp allowed Mac users to boot in a Windows environment and play all their favorite PC games. This was and is a great concept and continues to reward dedicated Mac gamers. Unfortunately, it also requires effort. You have to purchase a Windows OS (Windows 7 Pro = $200) and install it yourself; Apple does not provide support for installing Windows on your Mac! For those consumers who are not tech-savvy, this creates a barrier to entry.
Fast-forward to today. I own a Mac Mini and I use CrossOver to play Windows games. It cost me $15 for a six month license and CodeWeavers provides great customer service! This has been the go-to option when I play Rift, the Windows-only MMORPG. CrossOver supports a ton of games and is probably the most cost-effective option to run a lot of Windows games. BUT…support for each game is developed on an independent basis, so it takes awhile for newer games to be compatible. League of Legends, a freemium MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, as coined by me) with millions of players, is currently not supported.
For the near future, I hope more games will be developed for Windows and Mac in tandem like World of Warcraft. Blizzard got this one right: The retail version contains a hybrid CD that can install on either a Windows or Mac OS, making things as simple as possible for the end-user. All players, regardless of their OS, may play together online. This is something severely lacking in console gaming (segregation of different console users), but that is another subject. I recognize the possible budget limitations with simultaneous development, so most games will continue to be ported by third parties such as Aspyr.
In the distant future, I envision an OS common ground that is capable of running any program. Consumers shouldn’t have their purchasing decision influenced by whether or not an OS will run their favorite program. Both Mac and Windows will ship with this common ground, enabling end-users to install and use whatever software they want out of the box. Programs will no longer be developed for “Mac” or “PC,” but for “CG” (common ground). The Windows and Mac OS will continue to maintain their unique appearances and navigation styles, but the decision on what programs may be run will be made by the customer and not the company.
Distribution is an entirely different monster. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happened to movie distribution: Traditional outlets like Blockbuster and Movie Gallery were dominated by simpler distribution methods (Redbox) and digital streaming (Netflix). The common denominator with both of these is accessibility. At a movie rental store, you probably need to sign up for a membership card before you can even rent anything. The rental period is also non-negotiable and you pay for the entire period upfront, regardless of how long you actually use the item.
Conversely, anyone with a credit card can sign up for Netflix and have access to a nearly unlimited library for the cost of two retail movie rentals per month. In addition, the customer may watch what they want, whenever they want without the restrictive business hours of a retail location. A recent entrant to the digital streaming market, HuluPlus, provides access to archives and the most recent episodes of popular TV shows.
A clear parallel may be drawn between what happened to movie distribution and what will happen to game distribution. Traditionally, retail outlets (Walmart, Target, Gamestop, etc.) have dominated games sales with their numerous locations, specials, and premier events. However, I easily see digital distribution outstripping retail sales in the near future, perhaps even in the next year. This is done through outlets such GameAgent, Direct2Drive, and Steam.
In the next 5 years, I think distribution will move toward “cloud gaming,” which would operate similar to Netflix. In cloud gaming, a user would have an account with a provider, such as GameAgent or Steam, and purchase a digital license to games. The user would not download the game onto his or her hard drive; instead, the game would “stream” to the user from the provider. This would define accessibility, as the user would only need the account information to play. Combined with my aforementioned concept of a “CG” operating system, a gamer could play their game of choice at any computer in the world!