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ATPM 6.05
May 2000



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User Preference

by Scott Feldstein,


In case you don’t know, “STFU” is a commonly used online acronym for a rude statement that in the interests of propriety I’ll not define with any precision here. Suffice it to say that it roughly means “Listen here old boy, I’d much rather you kept your comments to yourself if it’s all the same to you. There’s a good chap.” STFU also happens to be the exact sentiment that I would like to extend to certain whiners who hang out in Scott Kevill’s magnificent Mac-only online gaming service, GameRanger (GR). If you’ve never been in GameRanger, it may shock you to learn that an all-too-common thread in GR chat is—believe it or not—“Macs suck!” And that just chaps my bondi hide.

PC Envy

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, though; participating in the online community of Mac gamers is fun and rewarding. I highly recommend it. But some Mac gamers are suffering from a bad case of PC envy. I guess that’s easy to understand. We Mac gamers don’t have nVidia GeForce cards, nor do we have Sierra’s Half-Life. But some of these guys take it too far. Why? I think they’re forgetting a few important things.

To listen to these guys whine and complain, you’d think that all would be gaming nirvana if we only had PCs. As if every PC comes with a GHz Athlon, a GeForce video card, and costs, oh, about $1.79. Hey, reality check time—most PCs ain’t got much.

Yes, it’s true that the highest performing gaming computer is still a PC, but it’s also true that most PCs fall quite short of this ideal. The hottest selling PC right now is probably a low-end Compaq, or maybe an eMachines. You won’t be getting 100 frames per second (fps) in Quake III Arena with these puppies. Heck, a Compaq Presario in the iMac price range comes with a 533 MHz AMD K6–2 processor and 8 megabytes of video RAM. I’d hardly call this a Mac-crushing set of specifications. It’s more like an ugly iMac that runs Windows. If you wanted to get a better performing gaming PC you’d have to spend a bit more money—kind of like spending more money for a Power Mac G4 instead of an iMac. The iMac may not be well suited for hardcore 3D gamers, but neither are most PCs. The main problem here isn’t your platform—it’s your budget.

Clash of the Paradigms

Another reason for my displeasure is the fact that some of these ninnies do little but bemoan the sorry state of game availability on the Macintosh platform. I think everyone understands that there are more games available for Windows-based PCs than there are for Macs. But why all the constant complaining? And why does it get right under my skin like an iron gauntlet on a chalkboard? I think I know at least part of the answer.

This is a tale of two Mac gamers. One of them is a newcomer—one of those fortunate souls who got into the Mac scene during Apple’s recent comeback. He’s relatively new to the Macintosh and, more importantly, new to the second-class status of our platform in terms of software availability. Each trip to CompUSA is a slap in the face to him as he sees the seemingly endless rows of Windows software, and in contrast, the meager selection in the Apple Store-Within-A-Store section. His PC buddy calls him up and asks him if he’s up for a little Half-Life. That stings. Naturally he’s given to complain about this—frequently, and even in ALL CAPS.

The other Mac gamer is an old timer who’s been around the block a few times. He stuck with the Macintosh during the lean years and now that Apple has risen from its ashes like a triumphant phoenix, he is elated. He watches with delight as more and more Macs are sold and more and more software titles are developed for his beloved platform. There’s a spring in his step and a foolish grin on his face as he makes his way to the CompUSA checkout counter with a copy of Unreal Tournament.

What happens when these two gamers meet online? They don’t exactly see eye to eye. Before long, the embittered newbie accuses the exuberant old timer of being “blind to the truth” of the dearth of Mac software titles and of being a lackey for Apple. The old timer suggests that the newbie might do well to STFU. Who is at fault here? Nobody, really. It’s a clash of paradigms that can’t be reasoned away. It just is.

Armchair iCEOs

I’m as thick-skinned as the next guy, I guess. If some 16-year-old Mac gamer wants to spout off about how Macs suck and about how he himself knows how to remedy this situation, I’m fine with that. It’s a free Internet. Live and let live, I say. But like the tiny drip of water that eventually drives you mad, I’ve finally grown too weary of these armchair iCEOs to remain silent.

I shall now clue them in to a few things. First, Apple would not sell a million more iMacs if only they included an upgradeable AGP slot. Second, it would have been the wrong thing to do for Apple to dump graphics chip maker ATI in favor of 3dfx. (3dfx doesn’t make graphics hardware for portables, and as of this writing they don’t even have a single shipping Mac product.)

Perhaps these wrong-headed ideas stem from an overestimation of the importance of the game market. It’s as if Apple need only please the hard-core 3D gamers to please everyone. Few of them realize that Apple is selling more computers than ever before, or that Apple is making tons of money doing it, or that Apple’s market share is rising faster than almost anyone’s in the industry. The record shows that Apple’s management team knows their business pretty darned well. Sure, I have suggestions for them. Sure, I think Apple should offer 3dfx Voodoo4 cards as a build-to-order option. But the fact is, Apple—rather than “sucking”—is taking names and kicking butt compared to where they were even two years ago.

Cold Hard Facts

Maybe one of the most difficult things for these malcontents to hear is that Apple will probably always be second best when it comes to providing the very top-of-the-line gaming experience. I just don’t see that changing in the foreseeable future.

Rumor has it that game makers like id, Lucas Arts, and Blizzard are actual companies whose aim is to make actual money off our desire for digital entertainment. They’ll always put the lion’s share of development dollars toward the largest potential market (Windows). Companies like nVidia and 3dfx, who make add-in graphics accelerators, are also in it for the money. I figure they’ll always focus more on the largest piece of the pie (again Windows). With me so far?

Apple would probably need to grab and hold something approaching 50% of the desktop market for this situation to turn in its favor. As optimistic as I am about the direction our platform is going, I don’t think that’s a realistic short-term goal. This is why we will periodically get the short end of the gaming stick. The computer game industry treats us as a secondary market—because that’s what we are. If your main goal is to have a great computer and a great gaming experience, then by all means buy a Macintosh. But if you can never be satisfied with less than cutting-edge game performance, then the Macintosh is clearly not for you. Ditto if you can’t stomach the idea that your PC friends will often have more games to choose from than you do. Those are the cold hard facts.

Room for Improvement

Lest you good ATPM readers think that perhaps the whiners are correct in their charge that I am merely a lackey for Apple, I will now concede that more could be done to improve the state of gaming on the Macintosh. Let me also say that I make recommendations to Apple with an air of humility—Apple seems to be doing pretty well without my input thus far.

That said, I do think Apple would do well to court game developers more aggressively. I also think Apple ought to consider letting gamers choose a more gaming-oriented video card in their Power Mac G4s if they so desire. 3dfx seems to be a worthy candidate. I’m sure gamers and 3dfx would be delighted with such a development. None of these suggestions change the fact, however, that the main thing Apple must do to improve the state of gaming on the Macintosh is to simply sell more Macintoshes. That’s the bottom line-increase market share. And Apple seems to be doing this very well indeed.

So to whiners and naysayers within and without the Macintosh gaming community I say, “STFU.”

apple“User Preference” is copyright © 2000 Scott D. Feldstein, Scott D. Feldstein is a full-time techie at Marquette University where is he also a graduate student in educational psychology.

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