Is Apple starting a games renaissance?

by Saleem Khan, CBC News Online

As usual when he speaks at an event like the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, the video of Steve Jobs' keynote address, has been posted on the company's website.

The emphasis on video games is intriguing, between William "Bing" Gordon, chief creative officer of the industry's $3 billion gorilla Electronic Arts announcing the company's renewed focus on the Mac and the godfather of modern first-person shooter games (and space entrepreneur), John Carmack, unveiling the next-generation id Tech 5 engine.

Windows-based PCs have long been the platform of choice for hardcore gamers, given the wealth of titles available for them and their capacity for upgrades to stay on the cutting edge of graphics and processor technology. They are the hot rods of personal computing and command premium prices, making them virtually the only machines on which hardware manufacturers make any real money.

There was a time when the best, most technologically advanced, most innovative games were released on the PC first, if you were serious about your work. That changed in a big way when Microsoft bought then-independent Bungie studio to make its science fiction action game Halo an exclusive launch title for the original Xbox.

But between Apple's switch to Intel processors, Electronic Arts' wave-making move to develop first-release titles for Macs and Carmack unveiling id's new high-performance games engine for Mac OS X (although it is also to run on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PCs), it's starting to look like Apple might be making a play for a space it has traditionally ceded to others.

Computer games remain the only area in which people think of Apple dead last when it comes to buying a computer, so it stands to reason that the company would seek to exploit the previously untapped market.

EA's first Mac titles to be available this summer include Battlefield 2142 and Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars – two games that are popular with hardcore gamers (the others are Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Need for Speed Carbon).

With newsmakers like EA and John Carmack investing their companies' efforts in the next generation of the Mac OS, it may be worth paying closer attention. Just as there are differences between console and PC gamers, it's not unreasonable to think that Mac gamers would have their own tastes and preferences that would set them apart.

Given the popularity of Apple machines among people who work in creative industries, this push for Mac computer games might even spark a renaissance that sees new game types and genres flourish and draws in a new audience as it unfolds.