MacOS and Linux's install base is dwarfed by Windows, so in terms of which platform to develop for, that ends the argument right there. Right? Wrong, says Wolfire Games' Jeff Rosen.
His case is largely for the indie community, and anyone seeking growth -- so it's not a challenge to the top publishers to take us all back to the Gil Amelio days when they actually wrote more than one AAA title for the Mac in a year. Or five. But at first blush, one can see shared values in the indie and Linux communities (and to some extent in MacOS), so the idea that they represent an extremely profitable five percent, given the right game, is not a real stretch.
Rosen, in his company's official blog (picked up by Ars Technica) uses Wolfire's game Lugaru as the lesson. According to their sales stats, the game's Linux and MacOS versions account for 50 percent of its overall sales. "Not all five percents are created equal," he says. For the right game, hee has a point.
Developing for MacOS and Linux has a word-of-mouth effect disproportionate to what you get with a game written for Windows, Rosen says. Maybe the spread isn't as large, because of the numbers involved, but within those communities, that kind of endorsement can really drive sales. Lugaru's went up 122 percent thanks to his decision to develop for those languages, he says.
"Having a Linux build meant coverage on Slashdot," he says. "A lot of people heard about and supported Lugaru simply because we had a Linux build. ... A small minority of your users will go crazy with your game and spread it all over the place. On the Internet, all it takes is one thread on a popular forum, and you've literally got hundreds or thousands of new visitors. Basically, a small amount of your users can make a huge difference for you."
Two barriers stop the Linux/MacOS conversation before it gets started -- the perception that it's harder to develop on those two platforms, and the idea that they're so unprofitable that only unusual up-front guarantees make it worthwhile.
"There is the famous case of Half-Life 2. Valve wanted a $1 million dollar advance on the Mac OS X version. No Mac developer has this kind of cash to front, and Apple decided not to foot the bill either, perhaps on principle of the unusual request. There is no technical reason that Mac users can't have Half-Life 2—it's simply messed up business development."
It's a reasonable argument if you keep it in its proper context -- indie gaming, where developers with a good idea, their own agenda, and where Steam distribution serves their purposes just fine, can see some growth and throw Mac and Linux gamers a bone. No one's suggesting this overrides the financial prerogatives of a mammoth like Electronic Arts or Activision. But it is something to consider.
Indie Dev Suggests Peers Should Support OS X, Linux Gaming [Ars Technica]
Why You Should Support MacOS and Linux [Wolfire Blog]