Mac game makers disappointed by iPod shut-out

Many long-time Mac game developers figured it was inevitable that Apple would one day add premium games to its iPod music player. But when that day finally came earlier this month, many of those same game developers were left wishing they could be a part of it.

Of the nine games that made their debut with the iTunes Store, all but two were developed by software makers outside of Apple. However, none of the games came from the companies that Mac gamers usually expect to see on Apple hardware.

The result? Many game developers find themselves puzzled by Apple’s decision.

“We’re really glad to see Apple start to take the iPod in this direction,” said Glenda Adams, Aspyr Media’s director of development. “It’s the one big piece of entertainment that was missing. Obviously, we’re disappointed that [Apple] launched it as a closed development system. We had pitched several game ideas for iPod at Apple over the past couple years, but it didn’t lead anywhere.

“We think we’ve got a lot to offer the iPod game market,” Adams continued. “Not only have we worked with Apple on Mac games for 10 years, we’ve developed and published several handheld (PocketPC and Game Boy) games in the last couple years.”

Other developers were less diplomatic. “It was lame of Apple to ignore the guys that have been loyal to them,” said a developer who asked not to be named. “We were ready, willing and able to create anything they wanted.”

Disappointed developers

That sentiment was echoed by several other developers who noted that they’ve approached Apple about iPod games ever the company released the iPod photo, the first color-screen iPod. Those companies say there either rebuffed or ignored by Apple. For that reason, many were caught off guard when Apple made iPod games part of the “It’s Showtime” event in San Francisco last week.

“I understand Apple’s desire to keep things organized and to maintain control over the iPod, but as a game developer who specializes in original content, I’m disappointed that I don’t have access to the iPod because I know I could come up with some games that blow away the stuff that’s available now,” said Pangea Software President Brian Greenstone. “Original content would be more of a selling point than just selling games that are available on 100 other platforms already.”

DanLabGames creator Daniel Labriet echoed that disappointment. While he described his plate as full with Mac projects, Labriet said he has games and ideas that he thinks would be ideal for iPod play.

Apple declined to respond to several requests for comment on this story.

SDK wanted

One significant issue that’s hindering software developers’ efforts is the absence of an iPod Software Development Kit (SDK). No iPod SDK has been made available by Apple, and repeated requests from game developers have gone unanswered . Without it, developers don’t have any way of making software to run on the iPod.

“No one can create anything for the iPod without access to an SDK,” said one developer. “They don’t even have to release that if they don’t want to. I can see not wanting to open the floodgates to every [amateur]. But they have our number… let us sign an NDA and work on some things.”

Pangea’s Greenstone agrees. “The lack of an SDK [is a hindrance], but more information from Apple would always help, too,” he said.

“We’ve got some really great ideas for iPod games if Apple will open up an iPod SDK to developers—everything from doing handheld specific branded games, like what we’ve done with Tony Hawk Pro Skater and Call of Duty 2 for PocketPC, to some unique and new gameplay mechanics that integrate with the music already on your iPod,” added Aspyr’s Adams.

At the moment, secrecy seems crucial to Apple for iPod game development— developers who have actually made games for the iPod recently interviewed by Macworld declined to shed much light on the development process.

Mac game makers have grown accustomed to selling products themselves, but games available for the iPod are available exclusively for download from the iTunes Store. This limit doesn’t bother Labriet.

“I think the market is really small—only for the video iPod,” he said. “The iTunes Store is also a good way to protect the games against piracy, as the games are protected using DRM.”

Adams doesn’t see a conflict between the iTunes Store and Aspyr’s own announced digital distribution solution, which is due to come online by the end of the year.

“I think [Apple] could set up a model just like Sony/Nintendo do on their handhelds—they have approval of concept and final game, and take a royalty off each sale… I don’t think we’d have any interest in competing with that kind of distribution. Heck, if they’d let us sell Mac games through iTunes, we’d be right there tomorrow,” she said.

Greenstone thinks the iPod is a good potential market for games—especially for original content, rather than revisions of existing popular titles.

“I think [Apple’s] distribution method is great, and I would actually prefer to keep it the way they are doing it now. I think selling via the iTunes Store is the way to go,” Greenstone said. “Good original games would probably have more of a market than something like Bejeweled which is on every platform on Earth already, and games like Tetris, [which can] be downloaded for free on the Internet.”

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