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The Mac Gaming Renaissance, Part 1

By Walaika Haskins MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Feb 9, 2008 1:30 AM PT

For a lot of hardcore gamers, the phrase "gaming on a Mac" is an oxymoron. As recently as a year ago, if you took a look around a typical game shop, and you may have walked out thinking that despite the many whiz-bang features built into the Mac and its OS X operating systems, not to mention the beauty of Apple monitors, true gaming can only happen on a PC.

The Mac Gaming Renaissance, Part 1

In 1997, Apple's share of the computer market was negligible, with just over 20 million Mac owners versus the 340 million users running Windows-based PCs. However, recent changes in the Mac platform, such as the move to Intel processors and the introduction of virtualization software like Boot Camp, Parallels and VMware, have led to a surge in Apple's share of the computer market.

A Growing Presence

In the space of three years, Apple has increased its share of the market from 2.06 percent of desktops in 2003 to 6 percent by the end of 2006, according to figures from IDC and Gartner. Analysts like Yankee Group's Mike Goodman now put Apple's market share somewhere around 10 percent.

"Three, four years ago, they had three maybe four percent of the market. Now it's approaching 10 percent. That's a big difference," Goodman noted.

A Gartner report released in January predicts that Apple will have a 12 percent share of the PC market in the U.S. by 2011.

Apple, according to the report, is challenging its competitors with software integration that provides ease of use and flexibility; continuous and more frequent innovation in hardware and software; and an ecosystem that focuses on interoperability across multiple devices, like cross-selling the iPod and the iMac cross-selling.

As more and more PC users make the switch to a Mac, do the machines hold some appeal for their gaming ability? What, if anything, is Apple doing to draw in the gaming crowd?

A Lean, Mean Mac Gaming Machine?

Apple's move to replace its PowerPC processors in 2006 with Intel's x86 processors has significantly increased its appeal as a gaming system.

Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Research, sees the Mac as an interesting platform for gains.

"Macs now have the hardware to run games, and if Apple adopted DirectX 10, then all the games that run on a PC now could run on a Mac. Apple has Cider, which is similar but not compatible," he told MacNewsWorld.

However, while gaming on Macs has been picking up as overall interest in Macs grows, gaming is still a secondary concern for prospective Mac buyers, said Brian Akaka, marketing director at Freeverse, an independent Mac game developer.

"Often, however, after purchasing [a Mac], they realize how much fun it is to be using one and start looking for games," he explained.

A Numbers Game

The problems for the Mac platoform in terms of gaming focus on Apple's numbers. On the surface, gaming might seem a natural extension for a company like Apple. It was, after all, one of the first to introduce large, high-quality displays, and it's known for its high level of innovation in entertainment devices. In this case, however, Apple's market share trumps all other considerations, said Yankee Group's Goodman.

"The key to thinking about gaming -- no matter what the platform is, it all comes down to the installed base, because it's about unit sales. The bigger the installed base, the more units you can sell. It's as simple as that," he told MacNewsWorld

"The thing that has held back developers has been the small installed base, the [operating system] and the [hardware] differences," he said.

Although there are a few Mac-only video game developers in the industry, most make games for PCs and consoles. If the market is limited, developers are reluctant to spend the money to port a game that may or may not be successful.

"Video game developers need to make their money. They are not going to make money by developing specifically for the Mac or coming out first for the Mac. They're going to make money developing for the PC. And once it's come out, over time they will take a look at porting the successful games over," Goodman explained.

"In the end, it means that games come late to the Mac historically. We're seeing a little bit of a change in the marketplace, but it all comes down to installed base. The bigger the market, the more importance video game publishers are going to place on the Mac as a gaming platform. When it's a small, sort of hobbyist kind of elite group of people, it's not a mass market. As the installed base grows and it becomes more of a mass market, then it will get a lot more emphasis placed on it," he continued.

"The expanded market for Macs doesn't seem to have any relation to gaming, at least on a retail AAA front," added Glenda Adams, director of development at Aspyr Media, an Austin, Texas-based Mac game maker.

"Sales of Mac games have been fairly steady the last couple of years, so they haven't reflected Apple's growing unit sales," she told MacNewsWorld. "We think most of Apple's increased market share is due to people buying Macs for everyday tasks like checking email, surfing the Web and the iLife type of uses Apple has aggressively marketed."

The Mac Gaming Renaissance, Part 2

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