Shooting blanks: Mac games remain a niche market

( dpa )- Mac computers have long wowed computer aficionados with their superior graphics. Given those powerful graphics, it would seem that today's graphics heavy games would be a perfect match for a Mac.

However, that's far from the case. Indeed, as a visit to any games section of a store specializing in Macs will show, games for the Mac have remained a niche market to date.

The hardware components that make Macs so powerful at depicting graphics are exactly what has kept the Mac from becoming a gaming platform to date, say some experts. "Even the best graphics cards aren't necessarily designed for games, but more for professional use," says Oliver Buchmann of Application Systems Heidelberg, a company that does offer games for Macs.

That drawback prompts many manufacturers to query why they should bother making games for a platform not necessarily designed for them. But it's not a complete dead end.

"You can more or less play everything on a newer Mac," said Buchmann. Felix Rieseberg from the Mac community apfeltalk.de, which is based in Witten in the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia agrees.

"If you buy a Mac today, it's pretty much geared for games."

But there's one major problem: Macs aren't designed for easy upgrade of graphic cards. "That's something you do once a year in the PC world if you're really into elaborate games," said Rieseberg.

Specialists can perform the switch on just about any Mac, but doing so means forfeiting the warranty. And there's another difficulty. Game manufacturers usually recommend two graphics cards for their products. Macs weren't designed for two.

While Apple computers are gaining in popularity, the vast majority of computer users still have PCs ... and that's the market on which publishers and game developers are concentrating.

And those PC games can't just be run on any Mac, since the software isn't compatible. "The games have to be overhauled, or converted," said Christian Moeller of Macwelt (Macworld), a magazine published in Munich.

Converting a game for Mac use is rarely a walk in the park, especially because of DirectX, an application that helps PCs display complex graphics. "It's especially hard to bring games to the Mac if they run with DirectX," said Rieseberg.

But some publishers are not scared by the required effort or to ask a third party to overhaul the game for them.

The catalogue of Application Systems Heidelberg carries a wide variety of action and shooter games - everything from Call of Duty to Medal of Honour to Splinter Cell to the Tomb Raider series.

"We also have role playing games like Baldur's Gate or strategy games like the second and third parts of Age of Empires," says Buchmann. "And the top seller is The Sims."

Alongside those offerings are major online titles like World of Warcraft for the Mac, and a series of sports games. Publisher Electronic Arts (EA) has played a major role in developing the latter, says Moeller.

"EA announced in 2007 that it would release Mac versions at the same time as PC versions - although they haven't quite lived up to that yet."

That highlights one problem facing Mac gamers. "When a Mac version comes out, it's usually released much later than the PC version," says Rieseberg.

But it does not cost much more than the PC version - usually in the 50 to 55 euro range (74 to 81 dollars), though sometimes as low as 20 to 30 euros.

But the prices of most PC games are often reduced fairly quickly and end up in the discount bin while Mac users wait in vain for similar discounts.

There is one more option for Mac users, provided their Mac supports Windows, which would allow them to play PC games. "But the problem remains that, after a year or two, the graphics card is antiquated," says Rieseberg.

Apart from that, it can be a nuisance to reboot the computer just to play a game.

There's one other argument against playing PC games on a Mac. "Most people buy a Mac because they don't like Windows, which means they don't want to switch to Windows to play," says Rieseberg.

That means Mac users who are also gaming fanatics have only one option in the near future, says Buchmann: a new purchase. "Hardcore gamers often just buy a PC on the side."

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