SAN FRANCISCO (07/05/2000) - We Breens are slow to boil. When crossed, we tend to lightly simmer-sending up a single errant bubble that only hints at the greater heat within. But there are times when we, like the famed Popeye clan before us, have taken all we can stands and we can't stands no more. In these rare moments, nothing short of a flak jacket, dental shield, and garland of garlic draped casually around the neck provides protection from our wrath-which may help explain the following:
I was at the home of an acquaintance who shares my enthusiasm for computer gaming. We were hovering over his G4, and as usual, I was listening to his latest diatribe. You see, he's a loquacious sort and was just beginning the second movement of a fairly fruity rant regarding Apple Computer Inc., game developers, and what he considered their less-than-wholehearted support for Mac gaming. When I could get a word in edgewise, I explained that I'd certainly done my part by addressing these issues in this column-Apple could offer Macs with more-robust 3-D hardware acceleration, bundle games with new Macs, help developers defray the cost of promoting games by entering into comarketing agreements, and seed upcoming hardware to game developers so they'd have the opportunity to test their products with Apple's latest and greatest gear. And PC game developers eyeing the Mac market should be interested to know that Mac users want games that (a) include all the features found in the PC version, (b) support and reflect the Mac's interface, and (c) don't suck. But that didn't seem to be enough for him.
"Well, you're not getting through to them," he railed. "They just don't [expletive deleted] get it!"
Then he did something that turned up the Breen burner from Warm to Broil.
As he issued this verdict, he pulled out a CD-R plainly marked with these words in blue, Sharpie fine point: Unreal Tournament. He turned and stopped in mid-"So, howsabout we go online and kick some . . ." when he noticed that my face had changed from its usual cheery-pink Irish hue to a full, hearty burgundy.
"You pompous ass!" I screamed.
"Wha . . . ?"
"You have the nerve to slam Apple and game developers about 'not getting it' and then blithely shove a pirated game into your Mac?! You hypocrite!"
"Hey, what's the big deal? So I pirate a few games. You should see all the games [name withheld to protect a PC pal of ours] has!"
If my brain hadn't shut down at that point in order to avoid bursting from its casing, I might have suggested that we, as Mac gamers, are in a different situation from our pal Name Withheld. For PC game developers, creating games for Windows boxes is a necessity, but making or licensing games for the Mac is a choice-these folks don't need us. Apple and PC game developers can walk on water and raise the dead, and it won't mean squat if we, the Mac gamers, don't make our own effort to turn the Mac into a game-friendly platform as well.
Now that I've calmed down, I'd like to gently offer Four Ways We Can Make a Difference.
Way One: Pungle Up
The primary reason they don't port their games to the Mac, PC game developers say, is that Mac games don't sell in numbers vast enough to justify the cost.
Therefore our first mission is to increase the number of units sold by paying for the games we play. When we play games that we have no intention of purchasing, we give PC game developers one more reason to say "Nah, I don't think so" when the subject of licensing their best stuff for the Mac comes up around the watercooler.
I'm not about to climb on a soapbox and issue a stern lecture on the evils of piracy. I don't know a single person in the computer business who hasn't, at one time or another, used a piece of software they didn't pay for-and that includes yours truly. This Way has nothing to do with piracy being wrong or evil, and everything to do with piracy being counterproductive and shortsighted. It comes down to this: if we don't pay for more games today, we may not have new games tomorrow.
But Mac game piracy won't go away just because some Pollyanna in Macworld says it should, so let's strive for a compromise. If you happen to be running a less-than-kosher copy of a game that you enjoy, buy a copy of the real thing.
If the game stinks, trash it and move on with only a mildly cloudy conscience.
(Note: to avoid risking your immortal soul for a lousy game, download the game demo. The demo usually gives you a clear idea of whether a game is worth its price.)And because games aren't cheap, let's consider this: if you can't afford to buy a game-and by that I mean you receive an allowance of US$7.49 a week, and out of that measly sum you buy your clothes and food and pay off the school bully-try to get the game by dropping broad hints around your birthday and any convenient holiday.
Way Two: Buy Right
Although not commonly found, some games ship with the Mac and PC versions on the same disc. These hybrid discs can be identified by a box that boasts both Mac and Windows compatibility. In large stores that sell lots of PC software and very little Mac software, these games are invariably found in the PC games section. When we purchase such a game, that sale is chalked up as a PC sale rather than a Mac sale.
As I mentioned, the number of Mac units sold makes a difference. In order for the accounting to more clearly reflect that a hybrid game was purchased by a Mac user, buy games from a Mac-only dealer whenever possible. If that's impossible, try online and catalog sources that cater to Mac users.
Way Three: Spread the Word
There is a finite number of us-meaning Mac gamers, not pontificating pundits-in the world, and even if each and every one of us buys a copy of our favorite game from a Mac dealer, the resulting sales figures are going to pale in comparison with those for a game that sells only fair to middlin' on the PC. In order for us to get more and better games, we must create more Mac gamers.
If the drug and tobacco cultures have taught us anything, it's that the "first one's free" strategy is an effective way to introduce a potential customer to your product. For us this means finding someone-let's call that person Our Next Victim-who's open to the idea of gaming. Offer to install the demo of a game you think that person will enjoy on his or her Mac. Try to copy the demo from a CD or across a network rather than downloading it-you're not going to impress Our Next Victim by tying up his or her dial-up connection for eight hours to download a massive demo. Show off the highlights of the game for a minute or two, and then let Our Next Victim give it a whirl. Start with a game that can be easily grasped and that offers a measure of success right away. Traditional and arcade games are a good place to start, particularly for older players. And avoid games that will offend Our Next Victim-your grandmother is unlikely to fall in love with the guts-scattering goodness that is Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament on the first go-round.
Way Four: Make Your Wishes Known
Keep your eyes open for cool PC games that you'd like to see on the Mac. I check in with my PC pals to see what they're playing and flip through PC gaming magazines to find out what's hot. If I see a game that looks like it might fit nicely on the Mac, I'll drop a note to the game developer and politely suggest that I and many of my Mac buddies would buy several dozen copies of the game if only it were available in Mac-flavored form. Lob a message into one of the comp.sys.mac.games newsgroups to see what other Mac players have heard about particular PC games, and if there seems to be a positive consensus about a game, suggest banding together as a group to petition a company for a Mac port.
A Word Before I Leave
Ultimately, the success or failure of any product-whether it's gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles that tip over in a gentle breeze or another Robert Urich miniseries-depends on whether enough customers are willing to lay down enough dough to obtain their heart's desire. Mac games are no different. If we want more and better games for our Macs, it's time we put our money-and our best evangelical efforts-where our mouths are.
Contributing Editor CHRISTOPHER BREEN has been writing about the Mac and technology since the latter days of the Reagan administration.