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.