Growth in the Mac Games Market? Depends Who You Talk To

| Oh the Games You'll Play

Last year saw the beginning of a shift in the Mac games business: Aspyr Media and MacSoft throttled back on their output, at least when it came to major releases aimed at hardcore gamers, while Feral Interactive and TransGaming, via its GameTree Online portal, stepped up their production. So does that mean the Mac games space is growing or shrinking? It depends who you talk to.

"The growth for Mac games is on the rise, with TransGaming leading that effort," Paul Nowosad, vice-president of marketing and licensing for TransGaming, told me. The company's Cider technology, which promises to make porting games to the Mac easier but leaves PowerPC owners out of the equation, lies at the heart of the titles published through GameTree so far, but he said that some non-Cider games are in the works too. (TransGaming also publishes iPhone games through

Mr. Nowosad added: "The growth of games will somewhat parallel the tremendous growth of Mac computer sales, which should eclipse 35 million units in 2009." His company plans on branching out into boxed retail sales of its products and currently has Red Alert 3, Shaun White Snowboarding, Prince of Persia, and Spore Galactic Adventures in the works for physical and digital distribution. "Titles from EA, Ubisoft and more should make the Mac games marketplace a very exciting consumer experience in 2009," he said.

Waiting for the Blockbusters

However, Glenda Adams, Aspyr's director of development, and Peter Tamte, president of MacSoft, had a different take on the current situation. "The biggest reason we've had fewer titles is that there just haven't been as many big PC hits over the last couple years," said Ms. Adams. "The ones that have been successes we've been able to bring to the Mac, like Call of Duty 4 or Civilization IV.  But the PC market seems to be struggling to produce blockbusters, and unfortunately blockbusters are generally the only thing that sell on the Mac in enough units to justify current development budgets."

Mr. Tamte concurred, adding: "There are not enough strong PC titles to convert to the Mac. PC game sales have plummeted during the last 18 months due to piracy, confusion about graphics hardware, and a huge decrease in the number of blockbuster PC titles in development. Generally, MacSoft does not convert a title from Windows to Macintosh unless we think the Windows version will sell a minimum of 500,000-750,000 units. Otherwise, the math just doesn't work."

He noted that the company has kept its Mac output at roughly the same level during the past two years but has shifted to family-oriented titles, citing recent releases of Hasbro games, such as Monopoly Classic, Scrabble Journey, and Clue Classic. He told me that MacSoft's business remains strong, however, and its parent company, Destineer, saw sales double last year, thanks to its console business. Al Schilling, MacSoft's director of marketing, confirmed with me that Unreal Tournament III remains on the schedule for release this year, with other releases "in the works."

Ms. Adams said that Aspyr's 2009 plans involve "doing some more PC & Mac simultaneous games like we did with Guitar Hero 3.  It gives us access to great games that are very popular, and taking an Xbox 360 game to PC and Mac gives us a larger market to sell to.  We're also continuing to work on some of our own original games, for everything from Nintendo DS to PC/Mac.  Working on original games is nice because we have complete control over the product and can do it for whatever platforms we want."

She added: "We're also continuing to expand our iPhone efforts -- we just released our third iPhone game/toy, VooDude.  It's been really popular so far, and was a fun app to develop.  The iPhone has huge potential, and it's giving us a chance to leverage our expertise on the Mac to do smaller products on shorter schedules."

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Ah, yes, the old “Blockbuster” mentality, where only the biggest of the big games get considered, but that takes millions upon millions to make, so you have to sell 500,000 just to break even, but the only way to sell 500,000 is to spend millions upon millions.

God forbid you should take those millions and make a dozen different games that don’t require an army of programmers and artists to create, and which would increase your chances of success.  No, it has to be a single game you put all your efforts into because, well, that’s how the blockbuster mentality works.

I’d offer commentary and observations about this, but game companies addicted to blockbusters never listen to people like us.


Ironically, UTIII was a sales flop.


Ah, yes, the old ?Blockbuster? mentality, where only the biggest of the big games get considered, but that takes millions upon millions to make, so you have to sell 500,000 just to break even, but the only way to sell 500,000 is to spend millions upon millions.

Unfortunately in the Mac porting business it doesn’t really work this way - the average game takes 2-3 programmers 5-6 months to port.  So you do the math, and find you need to sell X units to break even.  Right now the math shows that a game will generally sell X on the Mac if it sells 300K-500K+ units on the PC.

For a port, the “blockbuster” game doesn’t generally cost any more to develop than a niche game.  Casual/family stuff is sometimes cheaper to port, but that’s about the only way to cut dev costs.  And even that isn’t always the case- years ago I worked on a game show game that had some of the most complicated to port code of anything I’d seen (and I’d seen a lot!).

I’d love to be able to have a market to sustain more boutique titles coming to the Mac, but if porting a game that sells a third the units costs the same as porting a “blockbuster”, AND you lose money selling a third the units, what would you decide?

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