EA makes play for Mac gamers

Electronic Arts (EA), the video and computer game publisher behind some of today’s most popular games, has announced its direct support for the Macintosh. The company will begin releasing Mac versions of some of its biggest games beginning in July.

Taking the keynote stage with Apple CEO Steve Jobs, EA co-founder and Chief Creative Officer Bing Gordon told attendees of this week’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) that EA would return to the Macintosh beginning in July with four of its most popular franchises: Command and Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars , Battlefield 2142 , Need for Speed Carbon and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix . In August, EA will ship Madden NFL 08 and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 .

The plan is for EA to release the Macintosh versions of the Harry Potter, Madden and Tiger Woods games simultaneously with their PC and console counterparts, said EA spokesperson Tammy Schachter.

“We want to capitalize on the marketing momentum for these games,” said Schechter. That’s a distinctly different approach than in the past, where EA has licensed out Macintosh versions of the games to Mac-specific publishers, like Aspyr Media.

EA Chief Creative Officer Bing Gordon

Almost all of these games have some kind of proven history on the Macintosh: Command and Conquer made a recent appearance on the Mac via an Aspyr port, as have past versions of the Battlefield, Harry Potter, Madden and Tiger Woods franchises. Need for Speed Carbon is brand new to the Macintosh, however — it’s the latest edition of the popular street racing game series, in which you and your crew must race in an all-out war for the city, winning territory one block at a time by testing your racing prowess in an increasingly challenging ladder of performance cars, muscle cars and exotics.

Bypassing PowerPC systems

While a Mac-centric publisher can efficiently code games for the Mac and take the burden of publishing and marketing on themselves, they usually lose that critical marketing momentum. Most often, months or a year or more will pass before the game is ready for Mac customers. By then, many consumers have lost interest or have purchased the game for another platform, such as a video game console.

In order to manage a simultaneous release, EA is working with TransGaming Technologies, developers of Cider, a technology which enables Windows games to run on Intel-based Macs. Cider has already been used to bring forth Macintosh conversions of games including Myst Online: Uru Live, Heroes of Might & Magic V, X3: Reunion and the forthcoming release of EVE Online, a massively multiplayer role play game set in outer space.

Cider uses an abstraction layer similar to other Mac OS X-to-Windows “virtualization” products like CrossOver from Codeweavers or Parallels Desktop for Mac. But unlike Parallels, Cider doesn’t require a separate Windows partition or “virtual machine” to be installed — the application looks and acts like a Mac app.

This is a very different approach than a native Mac game port, where the game’s source code is rewritten to run natively on the Macintosh platform. That approach is much more time-consuming, but in this case means the difference between EA’s new Mac game being able to work on PowerPC-based Macs or being limited to Intel-based Macs instead. The EA titles will run only on Intel-based Macs.

EA and Aspyr to continue working together

Schachter said that the growing influence of the Macintosh market was key to EA’s decision to bring its first games to Mac OS X. “Our own EA employees are very passionate about the Mac,” she said, echoing comments made by Gordon during his keynote speech.

While these titles mark the first time EA has published its own games for Mac OS X, EA’s hardly a stranger to the platform — the company has worked behind the scenes for years with Mac publisher Aspyr Media to bring its top games to the Macintosh. Much of Aspyr’s A-list Mac game library can be traced back to licensing deals it’s struck with EA.

Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that this latest move is going to erode that relationship — at least not entirely. Schechter said that EA will continue its relationship with Aspyr Media going forward. EA and Aspyr will continue to partner together to bring forth Macintosh versions of The Sims games and add-ons, she said.

Those sentiments were echoed by Ted Staloch, Aspyr cofounder and executive vice president of publishing. “[EA] remains one of our most valued partners and we are excited about our ongoing relationship,” Staloch said.

“We support major publishers such as EA showing interest within the Mac gaming industry,” he added. “We are the biggest Mac gaming fans on the planet so we are curious to get our hands on the newly announced titles. When Mac games are done right—such as with, Call of Duty 2, CivIV, Empire at War, World of Warcraft and The Sims 2—it’s a huge boost for the industry and a great experience for the gamer. In addition, any time the spotlight shines bright on the Mac platform it has translated into success for Aspyr and we anticipate more of the same.”

This article was updated at 5:10 p.m. PT on June 11, 2007, to add comments from Aspyr’s Ted Staloch.

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