The Game Room Online: Apple's Next Move

New York -- It's Day Two at Macworld Expo, the day I break away from book signings, panel discussions, and swanky cocktail parties to pursue my favorite pastime: checking out the latest Mac games and chatting with game developers.

It's been an exciting couple of days; including Bungie's announcement of Halo, a game that, from all appearances, is divinely inspired (After the demo, it was all I could do to keep from throwing myself at Halo designer Jason Jones' feet, covering his shoes with kisses, and swearing lifelong fealty.) At the keynote, Steve Jobs once again underscored his support for Mac gaming by inviting Jones to the stage to demonstrate his amazing work. From all appearances, the company's message is the same: Apple gets gaming. And, for the most part it does: It's brought OpenGL to the Mac, encouraged the top game publishers to bring their hot titles to the Mac, installed a screaming 3D gaming card in the blue-and-white Power Mac G3, and provided solid technical support to game developers.

Bundle up

But according to several developers I spoke with, Apple could do a lot more when it comes to marketing the Mac as a serious gaming platform. The ones I spoke with expressed a strong desire for Apple to offer some kind of game bundle with new systems, both at the retail level and via the online Apple Store. In the PC world, companies such as Dell and Gateway offer game bundles that not only make a few bucks for the companies involved but also raise the profile of computer gaming.

Bundling games makes perfect sense to me. Many new Mac users -- iMac users in particular -- have never played computer games and wouldn't know where to begin should they have a desire to play games on their Macs.

Offering a bundle -- heck, even a bundle of demos -- would give these users a hint of what games are about and, hopefully, encourage them to purchase more of them. And the more games people buy, of course, the more likely game developers are to dish out new games.

Retail aid

Game developers also wish Apple would lend a hand at the retail level. Placing an end-cap display at a computer store isn't an inexpensive proposition, and developers would be tickled if Apple entered into some kind of co-marketing scheme where it picked up some of the cost of displays and advertising. This could be beneficial to both game developers and Apple.

Thanks to recent technology advances -- the aforementioned 3D hardware acceleration card bundled with every new Power Mac G3 (and the decent hardware acceleration built into the iMac, iBook, and PowerBook), the adoption of OpenGL, and lighting fast processors -- the Mac can finally be considered a serious gaming machine. By pungling up some bucks to make Mac gaming more visible, Apple is likely to sell more hardware -- something that could hardly fail to please Apple.

Apple's unwillingness to work more closely with the game developers could be considered a mere annoyance if it weren't for the bigger problems under the surface: A certain amount of resentment seems to be building among the game-developer community. Some of these folks feel like they've done their part by bringing great games to the Mac and pushing their teams for simultaneous release on the Mac and PC. Some feel it's time that Apple did its part by raising the profile of Mac gaming. Should the company fail to do so, it's possible if not likely that some of these developers will once again port to the Mac those few titles guaranteed to make a profit or give up on the Mac gaming market altogether.

And that would be bad news for Mac gamers and Apple alike.

Macworld Contributing Editor Christopher Breen is Macworld's Game Room columnist.

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