Stroll down an aisle full of PC or console games and you'll see plenty of older titles repackaged with some type of classic branding stamped on the front, along with much lower prices than they sold for at launch. The idea, of course, is to eke a little more life out of those releases by enticing buyers with the idea that maybe they missed those games upon initial release, but these are revered titles that merit another look, especially at a cheaper price.
While the Mac has long been relegated to second-tier status, where games arrive months, if not years, after their release on other platforms (notable exceptions such as Blizzard's games aside), Feral Interactive decided last year to borrow the classic branding idea with their Feral Legends series. However, Feral Legends games are ones that never appeared on the Mac but deserve a spot on that OS, particularly at a reasonable price point.
"The original idea came about through a combination of things," Feral CEO David Stephen told me. "First of all, we were aware that people who owned first- and second-generation Intel MacBooks were, because of the limitations of the graphics cards they had, often unable to play anything other than casual games. So we had a substantial un-served audience.
"We combined that with the fact that a number of great PC games had for a variety of reasons never made it to the Mac and the belief that a lot of Mac owners were not gung-ho gamers slavering for the latest shoot-em-up and obsessing over the latest tiny increments in lighting effects. We felt there were a large number of them who were interested in games and were aware of great quality titles, such as Sid Meier's Pirates and Rome: Total War." The former was released last year, while the latter is on tap for next month.
Avoiding the "Budget" Tag
This kind of branding can be tricky, however, given the possibility for a game labeled "classic" to equate with "cheap and inferior" in the minds of buyers. Mr. Stephen, however, has carefully avoided such leaps with Feral Legends by developing a series of criteria for each title:
- A US$30 price point, which is mid-price in an industry where games for the latest generation videogame consoles now hit $60.
- The game must be new to the platform but should be a high-quality title that is 3-5 years old.
- Solid packaging, with full manuals included.
- A careful QA (quality assurance) process for each port.
- Full and free customer support.
He explained: "We have avoided budget ranges, because they tend to wind up in a race to the bottom, which results in large amounts of poor-quality software being sold at ultra-low prices. The huge number of budget software titles on PC creates a large amount of noise, which makes it difficult for consumers to make well-informed choices. On the Mac, that risks turning off a large section of the audience, because they end up spending time and money on games that disappoint them.
"I would rather settle for lower unit sales, but charge a price that allows us to license top-quality games, port them with as much care as possible and support them properly. Given the size of the Mac market, that approach is not possible if you charge $5, $10 or even $15 for a game at retail."
Could the Feral Legends series in turn bring greater legitimacy to a platform that has been unable to make great strides in gaming, despite Apple's ever-increasing market share? "I am not sure if it will do anything to legitimize it for gamers," Mr. Stephen answered. "Most hard-core gamers play on consoles or souped-up PC rigs. I don't think the Mac is in that game. What it can do is make more Mac owners aware of the depth and variety of games that are offered on the Mac."
When asked why Mac software sales in general have not matched the pace of Apple's market share gains, Mr. Stephen replied: "I think it's the case for a combination of reasons: the easy availability of free software, the economic situation, and probably most importantly, people having a better understanding of and making better judgments about how much benefit they are likely to get from any particular piece of software. That is, we are dealing with a more sophisticated customer with less money to spend."
Phasing Out PowerPC
While Feral Legends games support PowerPC-based Macs, Feral has already joined other game publishers in beginning to drop support for those processors in favor of more Intel-only releases. "Most recent (non-casual) games require at least 2GHz CPU speeds and require meaty graphics cards. Unfortunately, the number of PPC machines that meet that criteria is too small to justify the development effort," Mr. Stephen explained.
Eventually, he expects that trend to hit the Feral Legends line as well. "At some point we will not be able to [support PowerPC processors], simply because the system requirements of even quite old games will exceed what PPC machines are capable of," he said. "In addition, the population of PPC machines is continually shrinking, so there is for every game a decision to be made about the viability of doing the extra work needed to create a PPC port in addition to the Intel version."
Looking ahead to the rest of 2009, Mr. Stephen was tight-lipped on Feral's plans, but he did reveal that his company will publish more games than it did in 2008.