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Macworld / iWorld 2014: Where are the games?

Sections: Apple News, Conferences, Features, Games, Interviews, Mac Software, Macworld

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Macworld / iWorld continues to be an excellent showcase for developers to introduce new products to the Apple community, or to remind them of current products. In 2013, an estimated 25,000 people visited the expo hall over the course of three days, according to IDG World Expo. And when you’re fighting for eyeballs in the iTunes and Mac App Stores, those are the kind of numbers that can set the proverbial ball rolling.

And yet, although games play a huge part of app sales for both iOS and OS X, they’re sorely underrepresented at Macworld. I notice this each year, mainly because I attended Macworld Expos back before there was an “i,” and when Mac games weren’t only represented, they had their own pavilion and competitions.

Macworld Games Pavilion

Macintosh Games Pavilion, Macworld Expo New York, July 1999

I even came in second place in the Tomb Raider II tournament, and would’ve won had I not fallen off a ledge while trying to grab a zip line…damn forward jump key combo.

One of my favorites companies to visit back then was Aspyr. Unlike most Mac game publishers of that time, Aspyr is still around, and they continue to publish outstanding games for the Macintosh. So, why not show them off at Macworld / iWorld in San Francisco later this month? I asked Aspyr’s vice president of publishing, Elizabeth Howard, that very question…amongst others.

Elizabeth Howard

Elizabeth Howard, vice president of publishing at Aspyr Media

“With the shift in focus to ‘iWorld’ it’s hard to know how relevant Mac, and specifically Mac Gaming, is to the audience,” Elizabeth explained. “For us, it’s a great time to meet with the press people we talk to almost daily, but in respect to the attending audience it feels like the focus is on mobile.”

iDevices have indeed taken over the show, as evidenced not only by the name change, but by the exhibitors, as well. Mac software has largely been pushed against a wall like social outcasts sitting on a bench waiting for the cool kids to ask them to dance. As such, it seems to me that bringing Mac games back Macworld would take more than one company. When Telltale Games introduced themselves in 2010, they were alone, and they kind of got dwarfed by the multitude of iOS exhibits. Would Aspyr be more willing to return to Macworld if the other heavy hitters amongst Mac game publishers—such as Telltale and Feral Interactive—would also attend to create a larger overall presence?

“I don’t feel like we’re reliant on other Mac gaming publishers being present in order for it to make sense for us,” Elizabeth suggested. “I think we all struggle with the expense vs. reward of an exhibit, and what the reach would be of that presence. In the ‘old days’ we would haul our boxes to MacWorld and sell product at a discount, giving us the opportunity to not just get exposure for games but a value for the attendees. We’re all digital now! So knowing how to make it a great experience for the consumer and worthwhile for the company is something we’re still trying to figure out.”

How about other shows, then? Has Mac gaming become relevant enough to consider GDC or something as big as E3? Elizabeth explained that relevancy isn’t the issue with Mac gaming, it’s promotion.

“We certainly think that Mac gaming is relevant, but how to spread that word is more difficult. Despite the growth of the Mac as a hardware platform overall I feel like there is still lots to be done to encourage gaming on the Mac. Looking beyond the Apple-centric trade shows could be the way to do it.”

Spreading the word on Mac gaming may be difficult, but spreading the Aspyr brand amongst Mac gamers is not an issue. The company jumped to the top of the Mac gaming A-list with the release of Tomb Raider II in 1998, and they’ve been sitting there ever since, even as other popular publishers such as MacPlay, Macsoft and Freeverse have faded away. Elizabeth says there’s no big secret to Aspyr’s longevity.

“I think we’ve benefitted from maintaining relationships with the biggest brands in the industry, maintaining a focused and best-in-industry staff and just plain ‘ole grit.’ Having been around so long, we have a wonderful catalog that has provided a great opportunity for a solid base while we continue to invest in new content. Much of our staff has been here over five years. We know and love the Mac games business—we’re passionate about it. Having focus on servicing the Mac and these great brands while the rest of the industry fluctuates has paid off.”

Losing those other publishers not only pulled some great people from the Mac gaming community, but it also robbed us of some great franchises: Age of Empires, Fallout, etc. I asked Elizabeth if there were any IPs she wished Aspyr held so they could keep them running.

“Oh man, we certainly have some of those awesome games on our chase list and hopefully someday we’ll figure some big surprises out for you guys. We are a tenacious group! So I’ll never say never.”

Tenacious, indeed, considering Aspyr’s catalog of games. But what about now? If Aspyr was going to be on the Macworld / iWorld 2014 show floor this month, what game(s) for OS X or iOS would they be announcing or showing off?

“KOTOR [Knights of the Old Republic] for iOS of course! We just updated it to support MFi controllers, so now it plays great on the smaller iPhone screen, and you can AirPlay it to your AppleTV for an even more console-like experience.

KOTOR

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for iOS

“We also added iCloud saves and more languages, as this is what people were asking for the most,” Elizabeth continued. “It’s amongst the best Star Wars games to have ever existed, and you can fit it in your pocket! It’s been an amazing experience to get this out to KOTOR and Star Wars fans.

“Other than that, we’re hoping to have some surprises in time for Macworld.”

Considering the recent rumor, would one of those surprises be Titanfall, Elizabeth?

“No comment on Titanfall…it’s a sweet game, though!”

For more information on Aspyr and to check out their excellent list of Mac games, visit them at www.aspyr.com and through their GameAgent service. Also be sure to read all of AppleTell’s Macworld / iWorld 2014 coverage for product news before, during and after the show.

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