The State Of Mac Gaming

Sorry for the absence; OEM is in an interesting stage now. We’ve constructed a developer-art version of one of the scenes and Fareed is working away at integrating it into the engine. He’s putting a lot of effort into making the engine usable for a non-coder. Also, Loren is working on souping up that same background. While both these things happen, I’ve been in design mode, solidifying chunks of puzzles that needed to be solidified (and they’re much better for it), but I can’t share the solutions to puzzles now can I?

Basically, work is happening, but not work I can show you.

Soon (hopefully very soon) there will be an explorable room that can be hosted online, and you will all be able to futz around in it, getting a sense for how the game feels to play. A prototype. From there we’ll be burning through, getting as much of the prototype done before the IGF deadline as possible.

So forgive me, but I’m going to talk about something tangential.

the state of mac gaming

There’s been a lot of rhetoric lately about how cross-platform gaming is finally being recognized by developers. GameMaker, after shelving the idea for months, finally released a Mac port. The Steam client released for Mac, and over the following months several high-profile games (including much of Valve’s oeuvre). In fact, there were several news postings at the time claimed Half-Life 2 ran better on Mac than on PC. Wolfire has several times posted sales data for cross-platform development, the most inspiring being an analysis of the Humble Indie Bundle that shows supporting Linux and Mac (which collectively make up less than 10% of the market share) can double your sales. And we all know the ubiquity of iPhone has suddenly made Mac a viable platform for handheld gaming.

Near as I can tell, this is all still rhetoric.

Let’s start with Valve:

With the launch of the Steam client for Mac (and Steam Cloud, which lets you buy a game once and play it on any platform), Valve offered Portal for free. Most of the surprises had been ruined for me in the 2 1/2 years between the releases (even the song had been spoiled by seeing Jonathan Coulton in concert), but I was still stoked to play this game finally, and was not disappointed. Over the next month Valve released Half-Life 2 and the HL episodes, and has since released Team Fortress 2 and Day Of Defeat: Source. We can safely see here that the Source engine is working on Mac (again, by some accounts, better than on PC).

Half-Life 2: Lost Coast, Half-Life: Deathmatch (and HL2: Deathmatch), Half-Life: Source, and both Left 4 Dead games, all built in the Source Engine, have still not been released for Mac in the 4 months since the Mac release. For all Valve’s touting of the values of cross-platform development, and their promise to release games on both platforms from now on, their free shooter Alien Swarm, released after the Mac Steam Client went live, came out exclusively on Windows. To be fair, they said they’d release on both platforms starting with Portal 2, but it is nevertheless a game built in the Source Engine, which has already been ported to Mac.

A few fairly high-profile games we ready to launch on Mac at (or soon after) the launch (we’ve now seen Torchlight and Civ IV), but mostly after that initial burst we’ve seen the AAA games fall off. Looking at the Mac section on Steam is like browsing a casual game portal; outside of the handful of big releases, there are hundreds of nondescript casual games. The only reliable and continuous releases made by a major (or somewhat submajor) studio are still targeted to this more casual audience – several famous adventure game series (Broken Sword, Monkey Island) have been re-released via Steam (all already playable in ScummVM), and Telltale has kept up with the Tales Of Monkey Island and Sam & Max franchises on Mac (though, oddly, not Strong Bad or Wallace & Gromit or Bone, all built (I believe) in the same engine; and the first season of Sam & Max is still Windows, Wii, and XBOX exclusive).

Several games that have already seen a release on Mac still haven’t made it to Steam’s Mac section (i.e. Aquaria, Braid), I’m assuming because of licensing issues. But even the fact that there is a “Mac section” on Steam is telling; there is no Windows section, simply a list of genres to choose from. Mac is not a platform, it’s a subset.

GameMaker for Mac is even more cordoned off. To this day, there is no link to the Mac version of GameMaker on the front page of YoYoGames.com. There is actually no mention that I can find of the Mac version existing anywhere on the main page. Those “in the know” picked it up when it appeared on the YoYo Games blog, where it has stayed without any further promotion. And the Mac version is still GM7 (or, apparently, “GameMaker 7.5”), while the only version mentioned on the main page is GameMaker 8 for Windows.

I’ve been learning GameMaker the past few days (hoping to get something I can just open up and bang out ideas in, a good way to jam on ideas for OEM before coding them the hard way in Flash), and even the help doc is a copy of the Windows version (it lists the system requirements for a Windows machine, nothing about Mac requirements). I’m not sure which version of GameMaker the help document is for but it doesn’t appear to be for GameMaker 7.5; though it’s plenty funcitonal enough to learn the engine, there are several discrepancies between the system described and the actual layout of the engine (mainly there are new variables for some of the game events that aren’t mentioned).

Using the full version of GameMaker Mac costs $25, but it’s still a glorified Beta.

Also keep in mind that the release of GameMaker for Mac does not signal that GameMaker is cross-platform. GM 7.5 can build on Mac for Mac; GM 8 can build on Windows for Windows. And word from the TIGSource forums is that copying the GameMaker code from the Mac version into the PC version doesn’t build properly; you’d still have to port it to the other platform.

There has been absolutely no marketing push for GameMaker, and beyond the initial push for Valve, there has been no real effort with Steam. People seem intoxicated with the idea of being cross-platform in the same way people were intoxicated with the idea of Obama saving America. What we got in Mac OS X is a lot of idealistic speech but not really a lot of effort backing it up. Mac gamers are starved for content, and will buy almost anything that gets released for the platform. With very little marketing, companies can make some money off of old titles simply be re-releasing them for Mac. I think it’s clear from the Wolfire blogs that you’d make a lot more money if you put the same push behind the Mac version as you put behind the PC version, but that’s not the point; it would cost more money to do that, and while it would ultimately yield greater profits, it wouldn’t yield the same ratio of profit-against-expense. With no marketing, releasing for Mac makes you some money and costs you very little. With a big marketing push, releasing for Mac would cost you some money and make you a bunch.

As far as ratios go (and this is just my guess here), making some for nothing is better than making a bunch for some.

The idea that developers are taking Mac seriously as a gaming platform (which Steve Jobs certainly isn’t) strikes me as mostly being lip-service for Mac gamers; they know we’ll buy their games whether or not it’s true. With Boot Camp and the switch to Intel, the know that a dedicated Mac gamer will make the added effort to play a Windows game if they really want to. And it’s possible that OnLive will render the entire question of platform moot (though it seems they’re pushing against this).

The moment when the money gets put where the mouth is will probably be the release of Portal 2. If Valve stays true to their promise and releases simultaneously for both platforms, we’ll see a Mac release that gets exactly as much marketing push as the Windows version. And if they find that the proportion of sales for Mac are remarkably high, I do hope they release that data. That might be the moment Mac gets taken seriously.

’til then, I have to stick to Parallels.

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2 Responses to “The State Of Mac Gaming”


  1. 1 Thomas Gentle 10/23/2010 at 11:50 pm

    I recently got an imac, the best “off the shelf” model. Having always been a PC gamer, I was always aprehensive about getting a mac instead of a PC. After all, you can’t upgrade a mac as easily (well only the RAM) as you can a PC.

    Seeing Valve begin to take Mac users seriously made me take the plunge and get my first iMac. I have to say, that I am a little disappointed. The machine is great, and runs everything else I used a PC for beautifully, such as photoshop, but the game support is almost non-existant.

    Only Valve and Blizzard have delivered any AAA titles in the past 12 months as far as I can see. Valves back catalogue (all older games already finished years ago on PC_) and StarCraft 2 from Blizzard. The main problem with this is that both developers aren’t known for their speedy release dates, so if support doesn’t increase, we are likely to only see maybe two games a year. Total. Which as far as I can tell is more than the last 5 years combined.

    I’m sure that Mac computer sales will treble after proper support is delivered for mac gamers.

    Perhaps we should take a leaf out of the people of France’s book and burn some sheep in protest… :P


  1. 1 The State Of Mac Gaming: A Follow-Up « One-Eyed Monsters Trackback on 11/20/2010 at 11:12 pm

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