Mac games get down to business

Can you feel that? No, not that. I'm talking about the sudden surge of energy that is revitalising the Macintosh gaming industry. After far too many lean years, the tide is finally turning in favour of the gamers. How has Apple pulled this off? Simple: by making its platform attractive to game publishers.

OK, so maybe that wasn't such a simple answer. In fact, it has taken a great deal of effort and some hard decisions to turn the Macintosh into an attractive gaming platform again. Tony Lee, Apple's director of Consumer, Education and SOHO, has never seen more emphasis on games than over the past few months. "When I started nine years ago, we didn't want the Mac to be perceived as a machine for games, because we didn't want people to think that the Mac was a toy," he says.

Now, with the introduction of the iMac, the move to Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports, and a changing attitude toward game publishers, Apple is finally positioning itself as a compelling game platform. So what does all this mean to the avid Mac gamer? More, bigger, better, faster, cooler games -- now!

The most obvious sign of Apple's rededication to the consumer market is the iMac. Michael Rogers, president of Aspyr Media (producer of the Tomb Raider series), is absolutely giddy about Apple's release of such a fast, affordable product. "To us, the only important number is the number of machines that Apple sells. With the iMac, they are clearly trying to increase their installed base. I couldn't be more pleased about the iMac," he says. This sentiment is widely echoed throughout the game industry, since the biggest complaint by game publishers has been that the Mac market just doesn't generate as much revenue as the PC market.

But the increase in Macs out there, and by extension the number of potential Mac gamers, is not the only benefit that the iMac brings to the Mac gaming industry. Apple's decision to switch to USB ports for the iMac and future Macs means that USB input devices will need only a Mac software driver to make the leap over to our platform. Now all those manufacturers of joysticks, game pads and other input devices don't have to go to the trouble of making an ADB-compatible product just for Mac users. Many, if not most, of the coolest USB products will be simultaneously available for both platforms, so Mac gamers will finally have access to the best input devices as soon as they are introduced.

Even more important than hardware changes has been the drastic change in attitude emanating from Cupertino over the past several months. Gone are the days when Apple sent "evangelists" to persuade game publishers to bring their products to the Mac platform simply because "it's the right thing to do". Those evangelists of yesteryear now go by the moniker "partnership managers" and the only message they preach is one of market growth and profit.

In addition to focusing on the bottom line, Apple has stepped up its support for game publishers by providing both technological and marketing assistance. Cindy Swanson, marketing director of MacSoft, says, "After speaking with Apple engineers at a recent games summit, a member of our Unreal team was able to increase the speed of the game by 15 per cent." She also praises Apple for its assistance in getting products to market and says this will help MacSoft achieve its goal of same-day releases for its PC and Mac products.

While the Mac gaming industry still has a long way to go, it is definitely experiencing a Lazarus-like comeback. Many new game titles, as well as several USB-compatible joysticks and game pads, have been announced since the introduction of the iMac (you'll find a list at www.apple.com/imac/). If iMac sales live up to Apple's predictions, we could see an even larger wave of new games and gaming peripherals rushing into the Mac market to meet the demand. Any way you look at it, now is a good time to be a Mac gamer.

(Senior Editor Online Philip Dyer spends far too much time "researching" Mac gaming.)

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Philip Dyer

PC World
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