Software

Boot Camp: Good for Mac gaming?

The arrival of Apple-made software that makes it possible to run Windows XP natively on Intel-based Macs poses as many challenges to Mac game publishers as it does opportunities. But the game makers Macworld spoke to focused on the boost that Boot Camp potentially brings to the Mac gaming market.

“As a gamer, I think it’s some of the best news to come from Apple, ever,” said Peter Tamte, president of MacSoft owner Destineer.

Other game publishers took a more wait-and-see stance. Glenda Adams, director of development with Aspyr Media, says there are a number of questions that need to be answered to truly gauge the impact of Boot Camp on the Mac game market—chief among them, whether gamers will want to dual-boot Macs and how many Mac users will continue to buy games. Still, she sees potential upsides stemming from Boot Camp’s release.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that this is going to be good for the Mac gaming business,” said Adams.

Whither ports?

The commercial Mac game market largely depends on ports—conversions of existing PC and console titles to the Macintosh platform. For years, Mac game players have complained about the time to market for Mac game conversions, which can lag behind comparable PC titles. Mac games also can lack feature-parity with their PC counterparts. Performance of Mac games is often at issue, as is the ability for PC and Mac versions of games to play each other in online multiplayer matches.

Many of those criticisms become moot with Boot Camp; gamers can simply install Windows XP on their Intel-based Macs and play the PC versions.

That’s potentially disastrous for Mac game publishers, who could find themselves frozen out of the market by gamers who won’t want to wait for Mac conversions and developers who won’t see a need to bother with Mac versions of their programs any longer.

While Tamte doesn’t dispute that Boot Camp’s existence might lessen the retail impact of high-profile releases that come to the Mac months after their PC counterparts, he notes it will be a while before the dust settles.

“For some companies it might be bad news, but that’s yet to be determined,” he said.

For Destineer’s part, Boot Camp’s arrival changes very little. Destineer-owned MacSoft has already published Mac conversions of Age of Empires and Halo; more recently, it delivered an original first-person shooter called Close Combat: First to Fight that shipped simultaneously on Macs and PCs.

“We plan to continue to support the Mac with simultaneous original releases, and we’ll also continue to make Mac conversions where it makes sense to do so,” Tamte said. He added that MacSoft would be offering details about a new Mac game project MacSoft is working on in the next few weeks.

Casual gaming unaffected

Colin Lynch Smith, vice president of Freeverse Software, has reservations about what Boot Camp will mean for the market, but doesn’t believe the challenges facing Mac game developers are insurmountable. While disappointed by the timing of Boot Camp’s release—Freeverse is presently working on two major Windows-to-Mac game conversions, Heroes of Might and Magic V and Legion Arena—Smith believes Freeverse’s diversification will be key to the company’s continued success.

Besides publishing games, Freeverse also distributes other applications, including Plasq’s Comic Life photo-editing program and Felt Tip Software’s Sound Studio 3. The titles that do make up much of Freeverse’s existing game business fall under the category of casual games—simple, addictive, low-cost games that can be played during a coffee break.

“I expect casual gamers are less likely to want to jump through hoops to run Windows games on their Mac,” Smith said.

Big Fish Games, another casual game developer, remains committed to the Mac. Big Fish entered the Mac game arena earlier this year when it bought developer Funpause; this week, the company expanded its Mac download area with more than 20 games from various developers.

“Our goal is to port all of our games to the Mac,” said Wylie. “We don’t foresee any issues preventing us from accomplishing that.”

Companies that simultaneously develop cross-platform releases will likely continue to do so, as well. Tamte said resolutely that Destineer and MacSoft will continue to support the Mac with originally developed game titles. Last year, Aspyr Media released Stubbs the Zombie, its first original high-profile creation (developed by Wideload). Blizzard continues to support the Mac with its popular game World of Warcraft, and doesn’t show any signs of pulling back—the company was one of the first game publishers to release a Universal Binary version that runs natively on PowerPC- and Intel-based Macs. Blizzard it off publicly at Macworld Expo the same week that Intel-based Macs were first released.

On the positive side for Mac game publishers, Boot Camp lowers a serious barrier to entry for people who might have considered buy a Mac but were put off by the selection of games or the absence of critical software applications they need for their work. “My personal theory is that there are going to be people who would never have bought a Mac before now, who will,” Destineer’s Tamte said.

Tamte doesn’t believe a dual-boot Mac will dilute the strength of Mac OS X or original software developed for Mac OS X.

“When people have both Windows XP and Mac OS X running on the same computer, they’re going to prefer to be on Mac OS X as much as they can,” he added.

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