Should You Make Games For OS-X?

Lately, I have been having second thoughts about OS-X games and committing to “cross platform” development in the sense of PC and OS-X. After spending 1 1/2 hours on one of my cheap gaming chairs, watching Apple’s Steve Jobs give the worst WWDC keynote in history, I decided to air my concerns on this blog. If anybody from Apple reads this, please note that I am writing this out of concern, not spite.

As an aside, Apple has been very good for GarageGames. Our product, Marble Blast, was bundled with every Apple notebook and Mac Mini in 2005. Even though a developer gets extremely little money per bundled game, Apple ships several million computers in a year, so the total amount of money is a nice sum.

When I started watching the Quicktime stream of the keynote, I was immediately drawn into the old days, where Steve Jobs could say anything and I would take it as gospel (I even believed in the NeXT for about 15 minutes after coming out of his presentation so many years ago). The feeling is warm and fuzzy. Just point me in the direction of opportunity, and I’m there. Market share increases, 150 stores with 17MM customers coming through last quarter, 50% of OS-X purchasers are new to the Mac, 1,300,000 Macs shipped last Quarter, etc. Even though the appearance of XB360, Wii, and PS-3 have clouded my opinion of supporting OS-X in the last few months, I was totally buying in! Screw ROI, I want to increase our internal support of OS-X. Fix all of the nigglies in TGE and TGB… Full steam ahead!

Reality time. Somehow, between this initial elation and the audience raving about pricing of X-Serve, the famed “reality distortion” field wore off. It was as if a bubble popped. Maybe it was because Steve had multiple people giving the presentation, maybe it was the continued jabs at Microsoft, or maybe it was just that Apple had so little to talk about. What ever it was, by the time Steve and company had spent over 1/2 hour telling us how “awesome” stationery is in a new email program (I have totally switched to GMail… I live in email, and every hour of every day, I thank Google for GMail) or that the new iChat is “just a grand slam” (Meebo or Adium anyone?), my eyes had glazed over and I was totally bored with the keynote. Additional yawners included Spaces, To Do lists, and even the vaunted Time Machine (a back up system for those not in the know).

I was looking for better game support on OS-X machines. Where is iGames or universal game pad support or games on iPods. Instead, better email is the message? Oh well, enough about what I thought was lame about WWDC. More appropriately, is OS-X a good platform for making games or making money as a game developer? Let’s look at some anecdotal facts.

Jobs stated that 19,000,000 OS-X machines have been shipped in the last five years. At first glance this seems like a good enough installed base to make money from games on this platform, and it could be if it were really that big. Just remember that the machines shipped in the first couple of years were absolute dogs for games. Weak graphics, weak processors, and little memory were hallmarks of the early OS-X machines. Jobs also stated that last quarter was a record number of OS-X machine sales at 1.3MM units. That annualizes to about 5MM OS-X machines at the record rate. Let’s give Apple the benefit of the doubt and assume that reasonable game machines are all of the OS-X computers sold for the last four years (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006), which would put the game ready installed base at something like (2.5MM + 3MM + 3.5MM + 2.3MM = 11.3MM). Let’s round up to 15MM since some of these numbers were guesses. How many of those users are active gamers or even buy games?

Although these numbers sound large, as a comparison, in 2005 Dell sold 30,995,000 units and they were just one producer. World wide PC sales in 2006 are expected to be around 230MM. And this doesn’t even take into consideration the sales of the most acclaimed laptops and the best ultrabook laptop & similar devices. On consoles, XBox 360 has established an active gamer base of 5MM in six months, and expects 10MM by the end of 2006. Wii and PS-3 will ship by the end of the year and both are purported to have support for downloadable games of smaller magnitude than box games. On the other hand cell phones and mobile gaming devices such as the Nintendo DS are selling at record rates and are accessible by any company that is professional and has the will and skill to get on the platform.

Programming games for OS-X is difficult. You need to take into account endian issues (for the old processors), operating system issues, support for a bunch of screen resolutions, the fact that many of the computers have only one mouse button, OpenGL vs. Direct-X issues, etc. Using a cross platform game engine such as Torque Game Engine or Torque Game Builder, there are still issues, mainly due to the single mouse button. Beyond that issue, probably the largest problem that any game on the Mac faces is the Mac UI snobbery that all Mac users seem to have. Even though there are few games on the OS-X platform, if a Mac user even sniffs of a “port” they will complain.

Apple has purposely disdained games. Games are not considered a “real” use of computers, while graphics, music, and videos are true art. Talking to pro gamers inside in the company, they are frustrated with Apple’s commitment to games.

On the opposite end of the spectrum Microsoft totally “gets” games. They realize that games are a driver of hardware sales and one of the biggest uses of computers in the home. Bill Gates announcing his retirement last month was bittersweet for me. In the early days, I was a total Microsoft groupie, rooting for them in their big fight against Apple on UI issues, then I was a Microsoft opponent at the height of their monopoly power a few years ago, now I’m back in the MS camp as their gaming vision is paying off for so many companies. Regardless of what you thought of MS through the years, they have been the glue that has allowed games to even exist on the PC. From the earliest days of Microsoft producing games like Olympic Decathlon and Flight Simulator to the days of Direct-X to shipping XBox consoles, Bill Gates has understood that games drive hardware sales. For that I have to thank him. It will feel strange to not have Bill Gates in the industry.

So, back to the question of whether or not to make games for OS-X. You can make some money there since the market is fairly game starved. If you use a cross platform game engine, and your additional costs are not too high, the ROI is worth it. However, in the future, I am not so sure. Since all Macs are now Intel based, your users can all use Boot Camp to play PC games on their OS-X machines. Of course, you won’t get the Cocoa UI snobs, but anybody else that wants to play games will be able to take advantage of all that Bill Gates has done for gamers over the years.

Apple could change this. Since they control all of the hardware, they could easily add in controller support. Standardized controllers annointed by Apple would quickly become ubiquitous and cheap. Apple could make sure their computers ship with better graphics hardware than the built in GPU of the recent Mac Mini, so developers are assured of a minimum graphics standard that will not go down. Apple has wonderful design and awesome software engineers. They could easily add game download support into iTunes. What is more important, games or podcasts? I love podcasts, but the answer to the question is obvious.

Come on Apple, make me a believer again.

-Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker ::: Make It Big In Games ::: GarageGames

17 thoughts on “Should You Make Games For OS-X?

  1. Great read and something I’ve wondered about for years. Strong game support can’t be that hard and would clearly pay dividends. Apple makes plenty of really high end computers – advertising to games just adds another market. Support might be a problem for a while, but that can be overcome given a few years.

    Perhaps Apple is all too willing to ride the iPod rollercoaster up – and inevitably down.

  2. “Apple could make sure their computers ship with better graphics hardware than the built in GPU of the recent Mac Mini, so developers are assured of a minimum graphics standard that **will not go down**.”
    Your entirely right on this one!

    My biggest complain since I work on Mac games with TGE is the game pad support.
    There is GamePad Companion but it’s a shareware and you can’t ask your customer to buy another shareware to play your game.

    Note: Boot Camp will never work for casual games.

  3. Some good points, but I don’t think Jeff got everything right there. Time Machine, for example, is much more than a backup, it’s apparently a filesystem-level versioning system.

    In addition, I don’t know why “Direct X vs. OpenGL” is Apple’s fault. OpenGL is an industry standard, DirectX is a Microsoft proprietary windows-only attempt to subvert it (a very successful one, yes). If Apple had invented their own system, I’d find them at fault, but it’s Microsoft that has invented their own system, how is it Apple’s fault for not following them?

    I don’t think Boot Camp is as bad. Yes, I own a Mac and yes I have Boot Camp installed. Nevertheless, it will be a decision factor for me whether or not a game comes as a native Mac version or I have to reboot in order to play. I’ll reboot for Guild Wars and Oblivion – everything else has a very serious risk that it’ll not be worth it and thus won’t be bought.

    And there’s a final, practical argument that you overlook, Jeff. Mac users buy stuff. Windows users download stuff. The demographics are different. If I buy a machine for 3000,- €uro, I can spend €40 on a game or two easily. At least half of the 30 mio. machines Dell sells go to the low-end market, kids and students who can barely afford the machine, much less a vast library of games.
    Want a test? Try finding a torrent of Marble Blast for PC. Took me all of 30 seconds. Now try finding a torrent for Marble Blast for Mac. I couldn’t, and I scanned several of the major torrent portals.
    Will the level of illegal copying change as more people adopt the Mac? Probably. But you start out in a more positive environment and I can’t imagine how that’s not a good thing especially for Indy developers.

  4. The thing that I don’t understand is why it took so long for someone to come up with this:
    or why it wasn’t Apple that did.

    Or why, even thought Mac OS X is running on Intel chips, they are still married to the hardware.

    Apple could make Microsoft run for its money. All they have to do is make it run on any machine. Huge numbers of users would convert. Cheap Dell hardware, but a classy and stable OS. It would be a business decision made in heaven. With some cross-compatibility work you could even have a large number of applications able to run on both. Suddenly Microsoft would have to produce on time, and with top quality, in fear of losing market share. Linux has never been a threat. Mac OS could be.

    Games would follow.

  5. I recently purchased an XBox 360 controller for my windows pc, hoping to use it for the few games that i have for it.
    Sadly, i was very dissapointed. Most of the games had poor support for gamepad’s, if any, and it looked like i had to download all sorts of crazy workaround tools in order to solve the problem.

    I then decided to try the controller out on my macbook, as i had recently found a nice driver tailored for it.
    Sadly, i was dissapointed again. Most of the games i found (admittedly mostly free) either had poor support for gamepad’s, or none at all. Not even the great Marble Blast Gold seemed to have any support!

    I guess gamepad’s are for games consoles, not pc’s or mac’s – A pity really.

  6. @ JamesU – I think that will change with Vista due to the Live Anywhere integration and the general Games for Windows Push. For instance, I’m sure Shadowrun will be much more accomodating of the gamepad – and it will only get better as XNA and the ease of porting from 360 to PC or vice versa makes cross platforms games more common.

  7. I still cant just give up the mac market. Simply because the people, as someone said above. Actually BUY stuff.

    The troublle is, that the PC has become this ultra casual download machine, so a user sees a thousand images an hour and skips past them much like advertising on US TV.

    There simply isnt a way to get PC’s to be more “sticky” in terms of getting the right people to the right products. Outside of google.

    What *will* be interesting, is the integration of XBLA and games marketplace and such on the PC. I saw a MS presentation of the cooperation between PC and Xbox as a game platform, which could potentially be the ipod of games.

    The trouble is, that all of these services inevitably end up just promoting the top sellers, much like retail space. If there were a clearer search mechanism that only searched for games downloads and an easy purchase mechanism, I’m sure it’d win insanely!

    Interesting times at least.

  8. Matt Diamond says:

    Interesting read, but I thought there was some confusion of audience. The people who complain about game UIs which don’t follow some theoretical Mac ideal tend to be hardcore players, a small audience. Similarly, it’s the hardcore games which require more than one mouse button. Surely these aren’t GarageGames’s target audience or target product?

    It’s not a no-brainer decision, but for hardcore games I think it leans against porting to Mac, and in the casual game market I think it tips slightly in favor. And if the intent is there up front, some of the supposed differences go away (it’s perfectly possible to program OpenGL for both Mac and PC, for instance.)

    As for opening iTunes Music Store for games, that would be awesome. But since Apple is never going to do it, why not talk to Aspyr about getting in on their forthcoming Gamerhood service.

  9. Jeff, did you actually go to WWDC? If not, then you missed out on the Game State of the Union address given by Ron Okamoto and several other games-centric and games-specific technology briefings and workshops. You also missed out on an opportunity to network with many, many other developers who are as interested in Mac OS X game technology as you are — most of the sessions I saw were standing room only, in fact.

    Don’t judge Apple’s entire corporate position simply from Jobs’ WWDC keynote.

    You imply that because games are a mover on the Windows platform that it’s parallel on the Mac platform, but that is, in fact, not the case. Very few Mac users self-identify as gamers, and if there is to be a sea change in how the platform and its users perceive games, it’ll take a lot more than Jobs giving some lip service to games at a WWDC or Macworld Expo keynote to change that.

    Anyway, you have my e-mail address, and you know where to find me. I’d welcome a dialogue if you’re up for it — please stay in touch.

  10. First of all: A developer that did not go to WWDC and vents about the keynote being lame? Get a ticket next time if you want to be taken seriously…

    I’m all about gaming, even bought Marble Blast, but as for “What is more important, games or podcasts?” (odd choice btw) the answer is podcasts, of course. From a consumer point of view and certainly from a company’s view that sells (a lot of) MP3 players.

  11. @flynn: I watched every second of the keynote on Quicktime. Does being there somehow make it better? My point about podcasts is that it would be no more effort to include game downloads than podcasts. From an overall consumer viewpoint, while I can listen to your opinion, I don’t agree that podcasts are more important to most customers than games.

    As to being taken seriously, I believe that, as a developer, and you can look at my history, I have supported the Apple platform as much or more than nearlyh anybody in the business. At Dynamix, my products such as The Incredible Machine, 3D Ultra Pinball, and Trohpy Bass all shipped simultaneously on PC and Mac at a time when NOBODY believed in the platform. Then at GarageGames, we made the Torque Game Engine cross platform when NOBODY else was supporting MAC. We have shipped new and original games on the MAC when few other publishers were supporting it. We even required that games published by GarageGames be cross platform.

    I’m sorry if an honest article written to help move the platform forward somehow offends you, but I think it is indicative of what my post was about in the first place.

  12. Apple introduced “CoreAnimation” at the WWDC. For casual games developers who rely on the OS’ own GUI — e.g. Tom Warfield’s “Pretty Good Solitaire” — this is a wet dream come true: it dramatically reduces the need to write custom game frameworks of the “Tell the OS’ GUI to piss off and give me the whole screen and a blank slate to draw on,” variety.

    Coupled with the other “Core…” technologies, CoreAnimation is a very powerful tool. Look at the GUI for “Time Machine” and ask yourself, honestly, if that isn’t a damned good solution to the biggest problem of data backups: that very few people ever bother to do it, because the user interfaces exposed by backup software tends to put people off. User interface design (and industrial design generally) is Apple’s primary core competency and that makes them an interesting company to watch for me.

    Technology isn’t as important as interface. OS X is, when you get down to it, little more than a modified BSD Unix clone. By rights, it should look like Linux’s Gnome or KDE. It doesn’t, because Apple understand that technology isn’t the point. The interface is.

    I’ve read up on Apple’s “Core…” technologies and once Leopard is out, it’ll no longer be necessary for me to mess about with lightweight frameworks like Popcap’s, (though I may try switching to TGB if the demo is any good; it’s still downloading), so I don’t have to mess with DirectX or OpenGL directly.

    A key point here is that Windows Vista shares many features that first appeared in OS X. (That Vista is late is mostly the fault of management, not the programmers. MS handed Apple their Vista IP crown jewels on a plate when they told the world what wonders Vista would have so many years ago.)

    Apple may not be in the business of making games, but they do know how to make something _fun to use_. If you’d been watching the demo of Time Machine and appreciated what the point of all that UI design was, you’d have realised that the real innovation wasn’t that it’s a “free backup program”, but that it’s a “free backup program *Joe Public might actually use*”.

    Ignoring the value of a good interface is something many technology evangelists are often accused of. Please, don’t make this mistake.

    (And no, I’m not a Macolyte. I’m returning to games development after six years’ absence and my first game will be on Windows. My iMac is what I create the game’s content on.)

  13. I have to take exception to the “Cocoa UI snobs”. A fundamental reason why many users find the Macintosh platform a better experience is the adherence to a consistent UI paradigm. You are right – Mac users hate to be give second class stuff. If you don’t want to commit to creating a real mac experience, don’t bother.

    Apple is practical. They don’t have the resources that Microsoft does and they have to pick what will be a good driver for sales. Gaming will always be catch-up. So why waste money on it? That’s not to say that Mac OS X isn’t a good platform. I think it is fine (see Unreal Tournament or Quake/Doom). But it is likely that it is not an easy port.

    As a gamer, I think games on a PC or a Mac are generally pointless anyway. My Xbox 360 and Wii are far superior to any PC or Mac. That’s not to say I won’t play a good game on my laptop – Civilization comes to mind. But I long ago quit worrying about whether my video card was up to the latest specs.

    You are absolutely right on games driving hardware sales for Windows PC’s. I went through this last summer. I had a perfectly good Dell P4 with a Radeon 9800 Pro. Good card, a little old but no slouch. I wanted to play Oblivion. No possible way without basically upgrading the whole computer or at least $300 for a video card. How much does a Xbox 360 cost? Yeah, about $400. Guess what option I took. When the upgrade cost as much or more than a full game console, why would you ever bother with the PC upgrade?

  14. Let me deconstruct the original post/article: It is exactly wintel folks with wintel expectations that seem to dictate directions for Apple lately.

    It is brown-nosing the average wintel user into buying an Apple PC that changed the hardware platform and is changing the OS, gradually, for less of a ‘Think Different’ approach while struggling for windows-user-appeal. Only during the last 1.5 or so years did such a lot of requests appear about changing the behaviour, the looks and the workings of the OS that make it less and less the OS X that us, unix/tech geeks, so whole-heartedly embraced and evangelised since ~2002-2003.

    The Hw is already off-the-shelf in a nice wrapping, and it looks like the OS starts to match up with Windows rather than surpassing it, to make that “switch” for Joe Wintel User way more smoother than it should be.

    Peecee and Windows, how much damage you already done to IT, and just how much more you will be doing?

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