|The State of Racing on the Mac|
April 5, 2007 | Matt Stutz
Now that the launch of Colin McRae Rally Mac is upon us, it is a good opportunity to take a look at racing on the Macintosh. It’s been a bumpy road for speed freak fans over the years. While Mac game publishing has provided a racing title in just about every major racing category out there, it has been sporadic at times in terms of quality and quantity. Thankfully the good people at Feral Interactive are bringing us the Colin McRae Rally franchise, quite possibly the greatest Mac racing title ever, just when we need it the most.
Looking back at early Mac gaming doesn’t provide what could be called a rich history for racing. Back in the eighties, after the 1984 introduction of the Macintosh, finding any games was tough enough. If you want to relive those sparse days, just do a search for BMX - The Racing Game. Racing titles were virtually a non existent force on the Mac until the mid-nineties when the likes of Vette, Carmageddon, Al Uncer Jr. Arcade Racing, NASCAR Racing, and Indy Car Racing 2 jumpstarted the genre.
As racing’s popularity grew, so did the publishing of more Mac racing titles. The golden age of Mac racing lasted about three years, starting in 2002 with a strong emphasis on more realistic racing simulation games. Cart and arcade racing became less prominent as people demanded games that more accurately depicted the racing sports they followed. The fastest growing spectator sport in the United States over the past few years has been NASCAR; and Aspyr obliged with the porting of NASCAR Racing 2002 and 2003. Other popular racing styles have also been represented with the likes of MTX Mototrax, F1 Championship Season 2000, and Virtual Grand Prix 2. Probably the biggest area of growth includes the more unconventional off-road and rally racing styles. 4 x 4 Evolution 2, Ford Racing 2, and Rally Shift gave hope that the Mac would become a regular platform for racing title releases. Unfortunately that potential has been put on hold.
By late 2004, the publishing engine of Mac racing games was put back into first gear. With the exception of Ambrosia’s Redline and DanLab Games’ Jammin’ Racer, major racing releases on the Mac have been non-existent in the past two and a half years. There are a few reasons for this severe drop-off; and it is not limited to the racing genre. First off, the June 2005 announcement of the transition to Intel chips put a crimp in Mac game publisher plans. Titles that were in the works had their schedules changed to make new releases universal binary delaying future releases. In addition, Mac publishers have been spending resources to make popular, older games of other genres universal binary to extend their shelf life.
The PC gaming market has also been shrinking due to piracy and consoles’ growing market share. The console wars have just started to heat up in the past few months; and game development houses’ plans to get a piece of this new pie has yet to trickle down the game industry food chain to PC and finally Mac gaming. The number of PC racing titles has dropped by more than half from its heyday in 1999 and 2000. There still are about a dozen major titles released a year, but the future is cloudy. It is also uncertain as to how much of an impact Cider or Apple’s Boot Camp will have once it is a standard feature in Leopard, the upcoming 10.5 OS X operation system update. As the PC gaming market goes, so does the market for the Mac.
Some industry experts are predicting the PC gaming market will retreat to the safer niches of simulation, first person shooters, massive multiplayer online, real time and turn based strategy games, the genres that computers are well suited for, leaving the console market to dominate sports, platform, and racing games. Specifically to racing, it can also be wondered how many racing titles the Mac gaming market can support. About half of the major racing titles released since the early 90’s were shipped from 2002 to 2004. It could be just a burnout of the Mac gaming market despite Apple’s growing marketshare, now 6.2% up from 3.8% over the past three years. Let us hope it is just temporary. There is some hope that the switch to Intel processors could spur new growth in all Mac gaming genres, but this year will be the best indicator.
On the positive side, the near future looks bright for one big reason. In May of 2005, Feral Interactive formally announced that it would bring Colin McRae Rally to the Mac. Now it’s here! Feral Interactive has brought a lot of racing frenzy to Mac gaming. The company was started about ten years ago; and fittingly one of its first titles was Racing Days R. Looking back at Feral Interactive’s early days, things have come a very long way.