Apple's Money, Mouth Merge at GDC

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When I first walked into the San Jose (Calif.) Convention Center last week looking for the Game Developers Conference, I sincerely thought I was in the wrong building. I attended the GDC a couple of years ago and didn't see even the slightest hint of anything Apple-related, let alone an Apple exhibitors' booth. This year, the first thing I saw when I walked in the door was row after row of iMacs and lots of Apple employees, identifiable by their signature white shirts with black Apple logos.

So I did what any rational adult would have done: I closed my eyes and pinched myself. After all, it was Saint Patrick's Day, and the only green I was wearing was my green glow of envy at the people who were already inside playing the latest games. But when I opened my eyes, the iMacs and Apple employees were all still there. The sign right in front of me clearly stated that this was the place to register for the Game Developers Conference, so I went in and got my badge.

I was eager to get inside, but I was also eager (and obligated by appointment) to meet with Peter Tamte, Apple director of consumer marketing. I found his interview booth and asked him right away if he was responsible for all of those iMacs out there. He was clearly as delighted as I was about the sea of iMacs out front and told me that it was actually Apple Gaming Partnership Manager Kathy Tafel who organized Apple's entire presence at the show. (More about her later.)

Peter Tamte

I talked with Peter for a few minutes (See ""Interview with Peter Tamte"") about Apple's current gaming strategies and what we can look forward to in the future. He was typically tight-lipped about all future plans and responded to most questions with the pre-fabricated sound bytes that Apple PR so strictly enforces during employee interviews. In fact, an Apple PR representative sat next to Peter throughout the entire interview, and at one point I swear I saw her lips moving when Peter started talking about Apple's commitment to add "brand and breadth" to the gaming market. But I tease Apple PR.

In fact, as far as you and I are concerned, it doesn't matter at all what Peter said to me during that interview. Don't get me wrong, I still encourage you to read the interview, because it does underscore the fact that Peter Tamte is the single nicest, most dedicated guy in the business and one of the primary reasons why Apple gaming has made such a tremendous comeback. But back to my original point: It doesn't matter at all what Peter Tamte said during that interview–the only thing that matters is what Apple does to make the Mac a viable gaming platform. The company's tremendous presence at this year's Game Developers Conference shows that it's doing a lot.

As you probably know by now, Apple has made some necessary hardware and software improvements during the past year to lure the key players in the gaming market back to the Macintosh. Implementing OpenGL as a 3D standard and installing the ATI 128 or Rage Pro graphics accelerators in all new desktop units positions the Mac as a premiere gaming machine from a graphics perspective. Increasing Apple's installed base with the introduction of the iMac was also a huge boon for Mac gamers, since the primary complaint of most game publishers was that the Mac market was just too small to justify making Mac versions of their games. But none of that would amount to much without Apple's continued commitment to the gaming market. That's the piece of the puzzle the company added at the Game Developer's Conference.

After talking with Peter, I walked out onto the show floor to see what fun new technologies and products were available in the gaming industry. I was primarily interested in previews of Sega's new Dreamcast machine (which allows users to play console games over the Internet) and the next version of Sony's incredibly popular PlayStation machine. I assumed that I would have to scrounge for any Mac-related products at all, since that's what happened the last time I attended the Game Developer's Conference. I was glad to find in the show guide that Apple actually had a booth at this show, so I headed right over. My jaw hit the floor (and I don't have to tell you how painful that was) when I saw that the Apple booth was a huge pavilion–one of the largest at the show. Its prominence is even more surprising when you consider that Apple has the second-smallest installed base of any of the gaming machines; only Sega currently has smaller worldwide sales numbers.

Kathy Tafel
The person we have to thank for Apple's giant show-floor presence and for the abundance of iMacs all over the registration desks is Kathy Tafel. (I told you we'd get back to her.) Formerly of ZDNet's Macintosh online group and then an editor at MacAddict magazine, Tafel has come into her own as one of Apple's Gaming Partnership managers. She has been a die-hard Macintosh gaming enthusiast for years (go ahead–try to beat her in a game of Myth II) and is now one of the key players leading Apple's gaming renaissance.

Why is this effort so important? Simple: Apple can sell a million computers a quarter with the fastest graphics acceleration on the planet, but as any good golf instructor will tell you, the most important part of the swing is the follow-through. That's what Apple has finally added to its gaming repertoire.

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