Earlier this month MacCentral brought readers information on Sony Online Entertainment’s plans to support the Mac with its online gaming service, Station.com. MacCentral spoke with the producer of Station games to find out more about Station.com’s new Mac initiatives.
Dallas Dickinson is Producer of Station Games for Sony Online Entertainment. He told MacCentral unequivocally that all of Station.com’s free games will all be available for the Macintosh within the next four to six months.
“There are 35 free games on the service right now, and by the time we’re done making those all Mac compatible, we’ll have even more,” said Dickinson. “We’re on a schedule to launch a new game or two every month, and every new game we launch will be Mac-compatible.”
The games Mac users will be able to play include dozens of multiplayer card, puzzle, and game show-style games, 15 of which are already Mac compatible. Future games will include more puzzle games, solitaire titles, Spades, Hearts, pattern matching “scrambles,” Tetris-style action puzzle games, and The Dating Game Online.
Dickinson explained that Station.com’s Macintosh compatibility is the result of efforts made to develop a unifying software architecture that first went into operation about six months ago. The architecture, which is built on Java, requires a Java-compatible Web browser in order to work. Dickinson said that presently, the only browser that Sony Online Entertainment is officially supporting is Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.
Mac support within and without
Some MacCentral readers noted that certain Station.com games — like its implementation of the game shows Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune — were playable prior to Sony’s January 8 announcement. Dickinson admitted that some Station.com games had been playable prior to the official announcement, but said that he was surprised to hear that Mac players had a good experience before then — it’s only been very recently that Station.com has had all the technology in place ready to support Mac users.
Dickinson explained why Station.com hasn’t officially supported the Mac before now. “There are a couple of Java class types that haven’t been supported. We developed auto-detection code that would be able to reference things specific to Mac OS and Windows.”
The Web site itself contains some platform-specific content. Viewing Station.com’s home page with a Mac and a PC yields different results — the Mac version of the page sports Mac-specific information, while the PC version sports info that’s specific to the Windows platform.
Dickinson said that Station.com’s support of the Macintosh has been a topic of discussion at Sony Online Entertainment for a while. “… the Mac audience is really, really Web savvy. According to lot of Web statistics as much as 20 – 25 percent of the user base are Mac users. That’d be a huge increase in subscribers for us.”
Dickinson said that Station.com is one of the only general online gaming services that offers Mac support. “We saw a group that wasn’t being served that well by online Web games, and we think they’re a valuable group to be served.”
MacCentral queried Dickinson on Station.com’s support of their premium games, like Everquest and Star Wars Galaxies. Alas, Dickinson said that there isn’t any support for those games on the way, although he acknowledged that there are many Mac users interested in seeing those titles supported on the Macintosh.
Mac users coming in droves
So far, it’s been very successful. Since the Expo announcement, Station.com has seen its Mac users’ numbers triple.
Although you must register to use Station.com, the casual games are all free to play. Dickinson said that prior to the Mac announcement the site also underwent some changes to help make it more user friendly. “The number of clicks to log in to a game has been greatly reduced,” he remarked.
With the service’s focus on community-based games, Dickinson said that each of Station.com’s titles has a very strong chat component. Chatting helps encourage players to interact with each other beyond just the confines of each individual game’s play style.
Despite gaming’s reputation as an all-male activity, women play games more now than they ever have. The significance of this isn’t lost on Station.com. “We skew more to females,” said Dickinson, especially for certain titles like Wheel of Fortune.
Mac users also seem drawn to particular titles in Station.com’s stable. “Bingo was only recently released, but it’s already become one of our most popular titles,” said Dickinson. “There’s been a big influx of users since the service’s Mac support was announced. I don’t know if it’s all Mac users, obviously, but there’s a significant correlation.”
Apple support a plus
Dickinson lauded Apple’s developer technical support, as well. He said that the gaming service has “had a great experience” with its contacts at Apple. “They’ve been extremely helpful on the technical side. They’re putting forth a real effort to make Apple and the Mac a much more gamer-friendly platform.”
Dickinson also said that Apple’s support of Java 2 under Mac OS X has helped to ease Station.com’s transition onto the Mac. Although Station.com supports Java-compatible browsers under Mac OS 9, as well, he said that they’re focused on helping Apple make the push for users to migrate to Mac OS X. There have been a few bumps in the road, but Dickinson said that Apple has been “very cooperative” in finding workarounds.
Station.com has had prize contests in the past, where players could win free software, hardware and services. Dickinson noted that in the next few weeks the service is going to sport new contests that will offer prizes like cash on a daily basis, and he encourages Mac users to get in the action.
“We are fully committed to bringing all of our games on the Mac,” said Dickinson. And to that end, he’s happy with the new iMac, which he sees as a fine game machine. Dickinson noted that the iMac — historically and now — appeals to a more “casual” gamer; the sort of gamer that Station.com is trying to attract.
If you’re looking for more information about Station.com before taking the plunge, make sure to visit a new feature on Apple’s Web site entitled The Mac OS X Train Arrives at The Station.