On the eve of the Electronic Entertainment Expo

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The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3)—the biggest annual gathering of video game developers, publishers, resellers and press in the world—convenes at the massive Los Angeles Convention Center next week. And this E3 ought to be a special one for Mac gamers, if only for two words that we’ve recently added to our vocabulary: Boot Camp.

To be sure, the big stars of this show have nothing to do with the Mac or PC—it’s all about the consoles this year, as it has been for a while now. Microsoft should be firing on all cylinders now that its Xbox 360 is out in the world. Nintendo will offer scads more details about its new console, called Wii. And Sony will be on hand with its newest offering, the PlayStation 3. But PC gaming remains almost a $1 billion industry, and now, more than ever, it’s relevant to Mac users.

Mac and PC gaming has always long been inextricably bound together. Much of the commercial Mac game market depends on ports, or conversions, of existing PC games to the Mac. Most Mac users still aren’t using systems capable of running Boot Camp, and many of those who can don’t want to install Windows on their Macs—after all, they bought Macs to run Mac OS X. So the availability of native Mac OS X games will remain important to the market for some time to come.

To that end, there’s always a small-but-steady supply of Macintosh-native games and gaming hardware that’s shown at E3, which we’ll cover in full next week. Probably the highest-profile Mac game to be shown off next week is the forthcoming World of Warcraft expansion, “The Burning Crusade,” coming soon from Blizzard Entertainment.

One aspect of Mac and PC gaming has absolutely exploded in the past year: so-called “casual gaming.” There has been an epic proliferation of puzzle games, word games, card games and other similar offerings for both Mac and PC in recent months. It was obvious to anyone who went to E3 in 2005 that casual gaming was going to be a major force in gaming, but I anticipate that it should practically hit attendees over the head this year. What makes this especially interesting is that the Mac is on a much more level playing field in the casual gaming space—casual game developers recognize that Mac gamers like and frequently play casual titles.

Still, it’d be silly to disregard the potential of Boot Camp as a transformative power in the traditional Mac game space. Almost every day, I’m fielding questions from readers who have installed Boot Camp and Windows XP on their new Intel Core Duo-based iMacs or MacBook Pros and have questions about how Windows games run on the Mac. So this year I’ll be taking a closer look at new and upcoming PC game releases, with an eye on what Boot Camp gamers can look forward to in the coming weeks and months.

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