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Inside Mac Games Holiday Q&A 3: Aspyr Media
December 13, 2010 | Jon Carr

Welcome to Part Three of our Inside Mac Games Holiday Season Q&A Feature! For your reading today we have the merry folks from Aspyr Media who toil so hard to bring us awesome Mac games. Elizabeth Howard, Director of Digital Publishing and Business Development shares her thoughts on the state of Mac gaming, native ports, DRM and her favorite games.

IMG Holiday Season Q&A 3: Aspyr Media

Jon Carr: The state of Mac gaming certainly seems to be on the rise, but in general there seems to be little transparency or interaction between Mac game porting houses or developers and the Mac gaming community. Is this important, and if so, what should be done about it?

Elizabeth Howard: We certainly feel this is important and with the adaptation of social media (facebook.com/gameagent; twitter.com/gameagentstore), blogging (blog.gameagent.com), forums (forums.aspyr.com) and other methods of communication we continue to make efforts to bridge the gap.  We really enjoy interacting with our customers and seek opportunity to engage with them.  We received a lot of input regarding decisions recently regarding our support of Steam Play and that input was very important in our decision to support the service.  

The toughest part of what we do is being limited by our licensors. For example, we hate not being able to answer why a game is late, or whether we'll do a particular game. But our job in the Mac world is to be a great partner to our licensors and customers and we're always doing our best to walk that line.
 
JC: OnLive's streaming game service offers a mix of games for Mac users to access, whichincludes PC only and already available Mac games. Do you view this as a positive thing or taking away from current Mac game sales in other locations? Would you ever consider partnering with OnLive if that were possible?

EH: Onlive seems like a nice service, but it's not right for everyone and it's not everywhere. 

For Aspyr, our job is to make the best Mac games possible,  and take care of our customers.  For example, if you have a question about Civ V running on your Mac, our job is help. If you're running through a service or some kind of emulation, it tough for us to provide the best customer service.
 
JC: Valve's massive Steam network has arrived for the Mac and some view Steam as a monopoly in digital downloads in the PC market, do you think this could also happen in the Mac realm, with Steam taking over digital sales? It also offers a one of a kind game network, with Friends, News, automatic patching, frequent sales and Steamplay. Is this a model other companies should try to emulate or offer?

EH: We love Valve and are thrilled their games are finally on the Mac. Valve offers great technology with Steam Works and bringing that technology to the Mac is a benefit to gamers. There are certainly aspects of their technology that all digital publishers can admire.

On the sales side, Valve’s support of the Mac platform via Steam right now is reliant on publishers participating in Steam Play which is Valve’s program of releasing every game “Hybrid” despite who did the development work.  Right now there is no compensation for the publisher if their game is downloaded but not purchased. For the publisher this is tough to swallow and I think this is a hindrance to Valve seeing the same market dominance on the Mac as it has on the PC.  I believe if Steam even offered a Mac version of an existing PC game for just $5 there would be less of a barrier for Mac publishers to sell content on Steam, the consumers would still get a great gaming experience across two platforms, and a big catalog of great content could find it’s way to Steam.

JC:  Apple recently announced a Mac App store would be "Coming Soon." Do you view this as a possible threat to your own game store and other Mac game stores? Or is it another positive option for Mac users everywhere? What should Apple be doing to help Mac gaming?

EH: We're thrilled that Apple is making it easier for people to buy software on the Mac. This will bring more software and games to the platform and that's great.

For gameagent.com, Apple's store will only help. We expect gameagent.com to continue growing. Apple is making downloading software (legally) more commonplace, but with gameagent.com, we can do more. We will have real conversations with customers, post updates and patches quickly, offer any software that meets our quality standards, and be much more aggressive in marketing the products (physical goods, discounts, flash sales, giveaways and more). For example, on "Cyber Monday" we had flash sales on different products every hour. It won't be possible to do that on the Mac OS App Store.

Our goal is to get great natively ported product to as many people as possible while making money.  Our biggest hurdle has always been finding the Mac consumer.  The core gaming audience is great – they’ve found us.  But what about Mom and Grandpa that own iMacs?  We probably make a game that they’d enjoy but we have to educate them about our product first.  The Mac App store offers a pipeline straight to that consumer and we hope they’ll like our products.
 
As to what Apple can do to make gaming more successful on the Mac, we always say the same thing: SELL MORE MACS. We will continue to do our best to offer Mac gamers the best possible experience. The market will grow if they do that one thing.   We're thrilled that Apple is making it easier for people to buy software on the Mac. This will bring more software and games to the platform and that's great.
 
JC: Since Apple's shift to Intel processors Mac porting houses have faced increasing competition from various emulator schemes, Wine variants, and even Apple's own Bootcamp. How has this impacted your business? What distinct advantages do native ports provide?

EH: We port products natively because that brings the best results. It is a myth that "wrappers" and emulators produce a final product any faster than doing the harder work of porting natively. 

What our 14 years of experience tells us is that Native OS development with the best games in the world creates the best results. Every partner that has used Aspyr for development and publishing their Mac games make more money, the games review higher, the long-term support of our customer care and development updates provide a better service and finally the Mac audience keeps coming back for more. Today, we have not experienced technological short cuts that are worth hurting brands that we license. Star Wars, Call of Duty, Civilization, Guitar Hero, The Sims2, etc are brands worth Billions of dollars to our licensing partners. They deserve and demand the depth of service our team uses. But as importantly, if a Mac customer is spending $25-$50 on a game, they deserve the best possible experience. That type of service is how Aspyr is geared

There may be very small games, or brands where having the best user experience is not needed, so other methods may work. But, for the best games and the best brands, our approach has always been that we need to produce a product that is as good or better than the original target platform. 

Just look at StarCraft, or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare or Civilization V. I think each of these games is as good or better on the Mac than other platforms.

JC: Do you believe DRM really protects against pirates, or does it just make it more difficult for legitimate customers who have to deal with all the measures that pirates simply bypass? Is there such a thing as "ideal" or "balanced" DRM?

EH: DRM is always a controversial subject. For Aspyr, we don't always have control over whether there is DRM or what it is.  It is our job to help our customers play the games they bought easily. 

Today, there's no perfect system, but I do believe it's getting better. At least you don't have to answer a question from the manual every time you play. At gameagent.com, most games don't have any outside requirement to play the game (Steam games do require an internet connection to authorize), just download and play. We are working hard to get our better DRM for our customers.

JC: Aspyr is a well known name in the Mac game community with a long history of quality releases, and also offers the convenient Game Agent application. You recently released Star Wars The Force Unleashed for Mac and Civilization V is upcoming. Do you have any other news regarding releases or Game Agent that Mac gamers should be excited about?

EH: We will be revisiting the GameAgent application with the launch of the MacApp store with some of the favorite features including system profiling and game recommendations, but now with the opportunity to evaluate even more content.  We’re really excited to see the App continue to evolve and think that especially in the new Mac App ecosystem it will be a great (free) value to people.
 
And of course, we are constantly discussing new content with our partners which we could never discuss publicly :D.  We bribe, harass, visit, attempt wine and dining, and more to license the best new content. 
 
JC: Lastly, what games are you currently playing, and do you have a favorite game ever?

I've always been a fan of the Civilization games. The "just one more turn" draw of the games are brilliant. Each game in the series has gotten better, and after 5 major revisions, there are not a lot of franchises you can say that about. You can play a game all night or play one game for a month, it's just an amazing experience on so many levels.

After that, in my house my husband probably plays Call of Duty too much. Another great franchise - single player, multiplayer and more. Another unparalleled experience.  We have iPhone/Touches in the house that are great for snacking – I love the work Glenda does with Maverick and I play her games with my kids.

At Aspyr, we've been lucky enough to work with both of these incredible franchises for a long time, and we hope for years to come, for us and for the customers who've played Mac versions of these games in the past.

JC: Thank you for your time Elizabeth!

More Info:

Civilization V is out now, and you can enjoy it in all its turn-based, strategic glory right on your Mac. (Look for IMG's review soon.) The latest and greatest from Aspyr can also be found on their blog, Facebook or Twitter pages, as well as their GameAgent online store. IMG readers can look forward to more Q&A features with Elizabeth in the near future.



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