One aspect that’s not been brought up much in the flurry of excitement over Apple’s transition to x86 has been the potential impact on the OS X gaming market. This article on Macworld.com is quite interesting, demonstrating a wide-range of reactions from Mac game devs.
First, the optimistic view:
Destineer and MacSoft president Peter Tamte calls Apple’s decision to switch to an Intel-based architecture “an aggressive move” to grow the size of the Macintosh’s market. “The switch to Intel should also help us narrow the gap between a game’s release on Windows and release on Mac.” Aspyr Media director of development Glenda Adams hopes Apple can “explode their marketshare” with a move to competitively-priced Intel-based hardware. “If OS X has a 20 percent market share the revenue possibilities for native games could make things a lot different.”
On the other hand, will the potential for dual-booting Windows and OS X on the same box — or a relatively lightweight system call translator like WINE — eliminate any demand for OS X-native ports of popular titles?
If that’s the case, it’s conceivable that serious Mac gamers could create a dual-boot system that would allow them to run Windows versions of games. That could decimate the Mac game business, which is dependent on conversions of PC and console games that take months to release after their original counterparts. […] “Will people dual boot? Will they still prefer a native port, even if they can run Windows? What about a Windows emulation layer like Linux’s WINE project … would that kill native game ports?” Gordon asked. “In the end, at least we’re going to find out whether it was Linux that made Linux gamers a hard market or Mac OS that made Mac gamers into discerning customers,” Gordon told MacCentral.
Linux, of course, being the closest competitor so far in the x86 desktop market, is really the only thing we can look to for some notion of how this might pan out. I think they sold about 12 copies of Quake II for Linux. On the other hand, given the facts that:
- Linux users aren’t terribly used to paying for software
- Linux users tend to be savvy nerdo types who would are comfortable dual-booting their systems so they can play Windows games
the Mac x86 gaming market seems unlikely to parallel Linux’s.
Aspyr’s Adams believes that the switch to Intel may have “a negligible change” on sales of Mac games, at least to start. While she agrees that a dual-boot Mac might cause hardcore gamers to simply buy Windows and Windows games, she doesn’t think that “normal” Mac users will want to jump through hoops. “So the net effect may be a shift in products, but revenue may stay about the same overall,” said Adams.
I tend to agree with this. Typical Mac users don’t want to jump through a bunch of hoops to get stuff working (that’s why they don’t use Linux).
Brian Greenstone from Pangea is far more pessimistic about the move from PPC to x86 for game devs than The Steve:
“This is far, far worse than the switch from 68000 to PowerPC ten years ago,” said Greenstone. “That was essentially just a recompile. This require a complete recode of data handling.” That opinion is shared by Brad Oliver, who works with Glenda Adams at Aspyr Studios, Aspyr’s internal game development house. “Byte-swapping bugs are a pain to track down,” Oliver told MacCentral.
Greenstone adds that Rosetta, the PPC emu layer for x86, will be almost entirely useless for games, as Altivec code cannot be emulated. Games are certainly some of the apps most likely to have utilized vector optimizations.
Pangea’s Greenstone expects that what’s inside a computer will ultimately become less important to even technically-savvy customers than what the computer can do. “It’s going to be about internet bandwidth and how I can get more data faster,” he said.
I think that’s something that those lamenting this transition might do well to keep in mind. PPC has done little to set apart the Mac platform in the past 5 years, at least in a positive way. OS X, and Apple’s ability to integrate their software with their hardware (no matter what CPU it uses), is the key to the Mac’s appeal.