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The Future Of Gaming On The Mac

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.

You won’t be able to see this much longer!

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.

Netflix has already taken over consoles.

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.

Is HuluPlus going to give cable a run for its money?

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.

Steam dominates digital game distribution

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!

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  • Anonymous

    This quickly turned from a story about “the future of mac gaming” into the future of distribution. Your idea of a common ground platform seems inherently flawed. Why would two operating systems even exist if they offered the same exact software line up? If both OS’s could run everything equally it would be assumed the differences between them would be so small that their coexistence would be pointless.

    It also seems like a huge oversight to not mention Steam’s compatibility with Mac or the Mac App Store. Both are doing a lot for Mac gaming, especially the App store which is introducing a lot of new people to gaming on a mac. If you check the charts games like COD4 and Star Wars: KOTOR place very highly. Meanwhile with Steam the fact that companies can now be given a known platform to distribute really helps them gain a user base. Valves own source engine is compatible and they have brought many of the most popular PC games over – such as Counter Strike, Left for Dead and Team Fortress. 

    Even better is the growing presence of middleware that supports both platforms. People using third party development tools now have the option of built in mac support from the start.

    Another thing you introduce then never discuss is Apples introduction of Intel chips into their line up. Now with bootcamp you can run any windows game natively, so emulation of games through crossover seems completely frivolous now. The use of strong Nvidia (and now ATI) GPU’s has also allowed the hardware to support games much better.

    It is not surprising that mac gaming has never taken off, and its very questionable if it should. With so many other options is it really necessary to have another platform? Mac’s enjoy a high user share among college students but their main market is not gamers. Macs are often seen as the “easy computers” – and are for people with simpler needs, not people waiting to jump into an online shooter.

    However, i think a far more pressing issue isnt the growth of mac gaming, but instead the death of pc gaming. It has been claimed for years that PC gaming is dead/dying and being replaced by consoles which provide cheaper and easier options. Recent PC titles like Crysis, and the closure of  Ensemble Studios (makers of Age of Empires) seem to confirm this. 

    Windows is an established game market. Unlike on Mac, developers know their is a decent audience for a Windows game, however this still dosent help them as every year less and less games get pc ports, and the ones that do are sloppier each year. By introducing Mac as a viable platform it almost threatens making computer gaming even less profitable. Now a company can target just Windows and probably reach 85% of all computer users who want to play their game. But if Mac had a large audience too if could force a developer to make versions for each and receive lower returns on both. 

    Going back to the history of apple hardware, the use of PowerPC chips and weak GPUs are probably the biggest reason gaming never grew on their platform. Not only would a game have to be ported and rewritten for PowerPC chips, but it would also have to be modified to support the substandard GPUs. This contradicts one of the main PC pros which is powerful hardware/better graphics than consoles can provide.  
    So a game would have to support the apple gpus, which further adds the complication that because apple only supports a very limited number of gpus, the games would only preform well on the newest generation of macs. With a PC i could take my 2000 era dell and upgrade it to a 2002 year GPU. With a 2000 era mac however that is a much more difficult process. Meaning that even if a game was optimized for mac, it would only reach the users with the newest hardware.

    Also you basically describe the service of OnLive in your last paragraph. Im not sure if you are aware but OnLive.com already provides a service that streams games to your PC/Mac. This also avoids the need for a unified OS because if your OS supports OnLive it supports all games on that service. For example, if OnLive had Battlefield 3 (which lets assume will be PC only), its technology will still allow you to stream the game to your mac, negating any need for universal compatibility.

    • First of all, I must say I really enjoyed reading your reply. I appreciate when someone makes a structured, thoughtful, and relevant post.
       
      Yes, I like to take tangents when writing; I did attempt to sew it all together at the end. I still argue that the “common ground” concept is practical, but it wouldn’t/couldn’t completely replace Windows or Mac. Obviously, it wouldn’t be in those corporations’ best interest to let their cash cows become irrelevant. Your statement of “Why would two operating systems even exist if they offered the same exact software lineup?” is invalidated by simple, modern-day examples. Many products or services are seemingly identical, but coexist and flourish: Google and Yahoo, Walmart and Target, Dell and HP.

      I did discuss Apple’s use of Intel chips and the usefullness of Bootcamp, but I still don’t think that is the best option. In addition, because you need to acquire a Windows OS (usually paying $$$ in the process if taking the moral/legal high ground), I would recommend alternate routes.

      Perhaps your best point is the mention of OnLive. Admittedly, I did overlook this service. OnLive is potentially a revolutionary concept and may be worthy of its own future article. I don’t know anyone that uses OnLive and it appears to have serious limitations, notably multiplayer. It appears as if OnLive users are only able to play with other OnLive users, so your circle of friends would all need to invest in this service.

      Again, nice comment RF92.

  • Jparshall

    Thanks for the recommendation of CrossOver–we appreciate it!

    -jon parshall-
    COO
    http://www.codeweavers.com

  • MacMan

    Steam is really lacking in the casual market.  Sites like Big Fish Games and DFMG do much better:

    http://www.bigfishgames.com/mac.html
    http://www.downloadfreemacgames.com/

    Mac will never go with a universal OS.  Having their own OS has a distinct market advantage.

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