What the Mac App Store Means for Mac Gaming
The past twelve months in the world of Mac gaming have been interesting, to say the least, with the arrival of Steam for Mac accompanied by several high-profile releases and greatly increased coverage from the press (somewhat over-enthusiastically, in some cases). All this attention has left some pinning their hopes to the new Mac App Store as the final piece in the puzzle of Mac gaming’s rise to popularity.
Are they justified in their celebration of what is really just another distribution platform? Can the fact that Apple is involved, and, more importantly, that it is built into the Mac operating system, be decisive in proving the Mac once and for all as a viable gaming platform? What does the Mac App Store actually mean for Mac gaming? Let’s take a look.
Out of the roughly 1000 apps (TUAW puts the number at 959) available at launch, around 200 are games. That’s an impressive showing, and will surely increase dramatically in the coming weeks, but, unless you are only interested in casual games, it is sorely lacking in depth.
Still, a game’s a game -- right? If sales take off the way they did with some early iOS games, the bigger and more ambitious developers will jump in with more traditionally-hardcore titles -- hoping to snag some of the lucrative casual audience for the extra sales they need. The potential for earning money for games on the Mac is huge, now that hundreds of games are available at the click of the button in one of the most visible OS X apps (the Mac App Store appears in the Dock alongside the Finder icon, and in the Apple Menu Bar as the third option).
Expect more iOS ports -- lots of ‘em
The day one showing makes one thing painfully obvious: there will be a lot of games ported from the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. Some will be good, such as Angry Birds, The Incident, and Flight Control HD; others not so much. Sadly, the Mac App Store shares the iOS App Store’s weaknesses in categorization and searching. Genre distinctions are arbitrary and often misleading, while games that appeal to very different audiences are liable to be listed alongside each other -- as though they were similar.
Call me crazy, but I doubt the target audience for Majesty 2 has much overlap with that of Making Mr. Right.
Nevertheless, reports indicate that it is relatively simple to develop for both Apple’s iDevices and the Mac. That means that a lot of developers will release their games on both platforms in order to maximize sales. We’ll have to wait and see how many people will be willing to buy the same game twice -- once for the iPhone or iPad, once for the Mac. But this could turn into a lucrative business practice.
More exposure for PC and console ports
Virtual Programming, Aspyr, and Feral Interactive have done much to prop up the Mac gaming scene for the past decade, ensuring that a steady trickle of the best PC and console games make their way to the Mac. TransGaming have joined those three companies since the shift to Intel processors. Now all four are looking to field a strong line-up on the Mac App Store. Virtual Programming’s Majesty 2, a real-time-strategy game, and three TransGaming-published games -- Garage Inc., The Path, and Puzzle Quest -- are already on the store, while Feral’s Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 didn’t quite make it for a day one release.
Aspyr didn’t manage to get anything ready in time for launch, but promise that they have games on the way. Similarly, Feral and Virtual Programming seem enthusiastic about getting more of their respective catalogues -- which include BioShock, Borderlands, and Supreme Commander 2 -- available on the Mac App Store.
PC and console hit Borderlands -- soon to be on the Mac App Store.
This could be a huge boon for Mac gaming, as many, even among the hardcore, are oblivious to the existence of such ports. While Steam threatens to extinguish the porting houses with features such as SteamPlay, the Mac App Store promises to give them much needed exposure. Sales will rise, giving them the resources to port more games, faster, and perceptions will change -- the Mac does have games, and good ones at that.
New life for old games?
As a lifelong Mac user, one thing instantly jumped out at me while I was looking through the games listings; the Mac App Store is the perfect place for older Mac games -- from a time before Mac gaming got any real attention from outside. Pangea Software have their lineup available already, despite the fact they left the Mac scene in 2009 to focus on the more lucrative iOS devices -- after two decades of loyal service. If their games find second wind on the Mac App Store, they might just return to their roots and develop new IP for the Mac.
And others may follow their lead. Ambrosia Software’s legendary presence on the shareware scene has faded a little in recent years, but success on the Mac App Store might return the company to the limelight. Formerly-independent Freeverse (now owned by ngmoco) could look to the Mac App Store as a metric for whether they should throw a bone to their Mac fans.
I’d pay good money for a new or updated Escape Velocity -- Ambrosia’s flagship title.
The Mac is no stranger to online stores -- besides Steam, there’s Mac Game Store, GamersGate, Aspyr Game Agent, Direct2Drive, GameTree Online, and Deliver2Mac (among many others). If people don’t find what they’re looking for on the Mac App Store, they may be encouraged to try one of these other stores -- leading to a yet-more vibrant market.
Moreover, if the Mac App Store continues to offer insufficient granularity in its categorization of games, an increasing number of people are likely to look around for more information -- something to help them wade through the crap to get to the gems. That will lead to a greater number of well-informed Mac gamers, which will help ensure good games do not get overlooked -- wherever they may be sold.
Of course, it is much too early to say just how significant the Mac App Store will be for the future of Mac gaming. What is clear is that the store will increase sales and exposure for developers of all flavors. It might transform the landscape; it might not (my money’s on the former, as it has been for some time). But we must be careful not to get too far ahead of ourselves. Apple’s 30% cut on sales may be too much to swallow for some developers. And this is the company, remember, that has shunned games and game developers throughout its history, and only backed iOS games after they became widely popular.
Also posted on Bitmob.