Harry Potter arrives, but not on the Mac yet

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Pottermania has struck again. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix pulled in $140 million in ticket sales in its first two weeks in theaters and at the stroke of midnight as Friday turns into Saturday, the final book in the heptalogy, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, hits store shelves. A video game tie-in for the new movie is shipping from game giant EA, too, for just about every major platform except for the Mac. 

Rewind to mid-June, and Steve Jobs’ keynote to attendees of the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco. On stage with Steve was Bing Gordon, co-founder of EA, who announced that his company was making a play for Mac gamers starting with the new Harry Potter game.

So where’s the Mac version?

Still in late development, near as I can tell. I couldn’t really shake a straight answer out of EA Friday. And I’m finding EA’s Mac strategy, or lack thereof, to be quite irksome.

If you go to the video game Web site, you’ll see absolutely no mention of the Mac version. The press release posted to that site is from 2006 and hasn’t been updated to reflect that the game is coming to the Mac. In fact, all the Mac version merited was a bracketed, parenthetical [Apple Macintosh] reference in a press release buried on EA’s corporate site, announcing that the title had been released, back in late June.

But there’s no sign that the Mac version had shipped, and late on Friday I got confirmation from an outside PR agency that works with EA that, indeed, the game hasn’t shipped—it’s still going through a quality control process, the spokesperson assured me, and she hoped to give me more news soon.

Let me be frank: I’m not expecting Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’s release on the Mac to be one of those ground-shaking, skies-opening-up sort of sea changes for the Mac game market. The game itself isn’t likely to set Mac game sales charts on fire. 

The other Mac versions of Harry Potter games have done reasonably well but haven’t burned the house down. In fact, they were modest enough that EA’s prior Mac publishing partner on Harry Potter titles, Aspyr Media, took a pass when the last game was released. The Order of the Phoenix game’s inability to run on anything but Intel-based Macs is likely to limit its sales, as well. (As you may recall, TransGaming’s Intel-only Cider technology is being used to ready these Mac games.)

What I am hoping, though—and what i’ve seen precious little existence of—is that EA is really motivated or cares that much about the Mac market itself. And that worries me, because there’s a lot riding on the success of these next few EA Mac titles.

It isn’t just about the Harry Potter game, although this is a bad start. It’s that, apart from Gordon’s WWDC appearance, EA hasn’t had much to say about the Mac. Calls to the company have gone unreturned. There’s little in the way of announcements, public or private, from EA. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, because this isn’t the way Mac game companies do business.

Now, I understand full well that EA is a multi-billion dollar publisher, and that the Mac is just one of many platforms that they support, and something that’s very, very minor—some might say totally inconsequential, as it stands now—to the company’s bottom line.

But for us Mac gamers, EA’s heralded return to OS X is big news. Not because of what it means today, or a month from now, but what it might mean a year from now. If EA’s successful with these titles, it may commit more resources to Mac game development. In a perfect world, it’ll handle Mac game development itself. And perhaps put the Mac on an equal footing with other platforms, as, for example, Blizzard does. And if EA can do it, there’s no reason to think that other companies won’t follow suit.

But the first step to that is understanding your market and talking to them. And to that end, Mac gamers are still waiting for EA to make the first move.

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