Interview with Peter Tamte

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I met with Peter Tamte, Apple's senior director of consumer marketing, at the recent Game Developers Conference to talk about Apple's changing attitude toward gaming. Apple lured Tamte away from MacSoft–one of the most prolific game publishers on the Mac platform–and created this position specifically for him. He started at Apple just a few days before the iMac was introduced and has been on a wild ride ever since. Here's what he had to say:

Peter Tamte

Me: When Apple hired you from MacSoft and created the position for you as their new senior director of consumer marketing, it sent a clear signal that it was once again emphasizing the game market. How has Apple's attitude toward gaming changed over the past few years and months?

Tamte: Apple has done three things for the games market:

1. Offer the fastest out-of-the-box graphics at two price points–the iMac and the G3 line.
2. According to numerous press announcements from July through January, every game publisher is coming back again. Even LucasArts is making a Mac game.

Me: You mean Lucas Learning?

Tamte: No, LucasArts.

Me: (Dumbfounded silence. Slack-jawed stare.)

Tamte: (Big grin.)

Me: You're telling me that LucasArts will be releasing a Mac game?

Tamte: That's right.

Me: What?! When?!

Tamte: I don't want to overstep my bounds at this point, so you should talk with LucasArts to get more information.

(Note: I talked with LucasArts, and they will be releasing Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer for the Mac. They are still in early development, but we will keep you posted as we find out more information.)

Me: (Still excited, fumbling through notes ...) OK, let's get back on track here. You said there were three things that Apple has done for the game market. What's the third thing?

Tamte: OpenGL. In fact, we're giving out beta copies of the OpenGL Software Developers Kit here today.

Me: Actually, I wanted to ask you about OpenGL. MaximumPC just ran a column in its March issue saying, "Face the facts. The majority of games aren't programmed to use OpenGL. Compared to the PC, the Mac will still be a lousy platform for hardcore gamers." Their editor in chief, Brad "Big Daddy" Dosland, even said, "Everyone who buys this bargain-bin technology dressed up in designer duds is a victim" because only a "small handful" of game engines currently run OpenGL. How would you respond to that?

Tamte: What he needs to understand–what the market needs to understand–is that Apple chose OpenGL because it's better than DirectX. It's more robust and it will allow game developers to do more with the technology that is available today. In fact, Direct3D is largely just a subset of OpenGL. So why not get the mother ship instead of the little baby ship? Here's the thing–for a game written to OpenGL it's trivial to port it over to the Mac. And it's also easier now to get Direct3D games to the Mac because of OpenGL.

Me: I just don't understand why would anyone decry OpenGL while it's still in beta just because only a handful of games support it. I mean, how many PC games supported DirectX while it was still in development?

Tamte: Exactly. You should write a column about that.

Me: Good idea. (Pause while I jot down note to write column about that guy at MaximumPC.)

Me again: The first little project that Jobs dropped in your lap as soon as you joined Apple was the iMac. Obviously iMac sales are going to mean an increase in game sales, but have you been able to concentrate much on pure game development and marketing since coming on board?

Tamte: Absolutely. Apple has very proactive game developer relations with Kathy Tafel and Jim Black. The two of them are doing a lot to work with the publishers to expand the Mac gaming market. Apple's doing a bunch of things for publishers, the most important of which is selling more computers.

My basic marching orders from Steve Jobs were to help Apple be successful in the consumer market–this means offering the best Internet and games experience possible. The iMac covers the Internet since it is so easy to get out of the box and onto the Internet. And now we are addressing games again. There are a lot more things we can do to sell more computers, but really Apple is all about making the best personal computer for consumers. That is the center of what Apple is all about.

Me: However, the primary complaint of Mac gamers is that they can still only play a fraction of the games that PC gamers have access to. What steps is Apple taking to reduce this disparity?

Tamte: There are things that Apple can do to make it easier for PC game publishers to bring games to the Mac. We are working with game publishers now as business partners. We don't evangelize to them any more and then just hope that they got the religion. Now we are telling them how to get their games on the Mac and guiding the top publishers on how they can be successful. We're identifying games six to 12 months ahead of their release dates and aggressively going after those titles.

Me: Is there anything that individual gamers can do to get more games onto the Mac platform?

Tamte: Buying the key games that come out is by far the biggest thing individuals can do. Games publishers make all of their decisions on future support based on the sales of previous products. Filling out and returning registration cards that allow you to indicate which platform you use is also helpful.

Writing to publishers and developers in a polite way can also be helpful if there are a lot of other people who do so too. However, overwhelming an individual's e-mail with thousands of requests is not very productive because it is usually more annoying than anything else to the recipient.

Me: One of those key game publishers you've gone after is Id, so it was great news when John Carmack announced that he would be bringing Quake II and III to the Mac. How did you convince him to do that?

Tamte: Well, most of that happened before I ever joined Apple. A lot of people at Apple have been working with John Carmack. I think John needed to see that Apple was serious about games. When he saw that, that helped change his mind.

Me: You've worked with John for years trying to publish his games on the Mac, even back when you were at MacSoft. There were rumors that someone at Apple just really pissed him off and he decided not to bring future versions of Quake to the Mac because he was holding a grudge. Is there any truth to that?

Tamte: No. Well, I wouldn't want to speak for John, but I'd be very surprised if that had anything to do with it at all. He is a very straightforward guy and he knows exactly what technologies he needs in order to make his games work. When he tells you something, you have to take it exactly at face value because that's exactly what he means. He needed some assurances that certain things were going to happen technologically and otherwise at Apple, and they have. I think that's why John is once again committed to the Mac as a gaming platform.

Me: Teenage boys are the obvious target audience for most of the bigger games. What are the other key markets that gamers have begun targeting–or should begin targeting?

Tamte: There are specific examples of exceptions. There are some key sports titles that we are trying to bring to the platform. There are going to be sports titles available on the Mac. We are also working with makers of girls software and early learning software.

Me: I know you want to go after the key players in the game publishing market, but there are a lot of great shareware games as well. Do you have any specific strategy to promote shareware game development?

Tamte: We have no specific shareware strategy. Our primary goal is to bring the games that offer brand and breadth to the Mac market. We aren't trying to bring every game to the Mac–just the best games.

Me: Are you still involved with MESA (Macintosh Entertainment Software Alliance)?

Tamte: I'm actually still president of MESA. The organization is just not as active now since a lot of the situations that caused us to charter the organization don't exist any more.

Me: Such as ...

Tamte: We wanted to convince Apple to pay more attention to games, and they're doing that now.

Me: OK, give us one good Steve Jobs story.

Tamte: (Laughing) No, now I'm not going to do that.

Me: It's OK, they wouldn't let me print it anyway.

Tamte: I will tell you that Steve is extraordinarily smart guy, and Carmack's the same way. The more you talk to him the more impressed you get.

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