From A Bit Player To A Mobile Force, Apple's Gaming Legacy Under Steve Jobs

Popularly regarded as a distant runner-up to the Windows PC, Apple nonetheless played key and even dominant roles in shaping the history of video games over the past 35 years, emerging from an utterly marginalised brand in home computing to a force almost unilaterally shaping the course of mobile gaming today.

Prior to the first Macintosh in 1984, and until about 1986, Apple was a mainstream platform for purposes of games publishing. If you are older than 30, one of the most celebrated memories of gaming's early years, dying of dysentery on the Oregon Trail, likely occurred on an Apple II in a middle school media centre. Then, after the early 1980s console gaming crash, publishers such as Parker Bros, Activision and Electronic Arts sought refuge in home computers, and regularly included versions for Apple's DOS-based computers alongside Commodore and IBM ports.

Apple's shift to the Macintosh, and what would become known as the Mac OS, took the platform well away from gaming's mainstream by the end of the 1980s. No longer operating within a disk operating system, Apple's familiar windows user interface made emulation and porting popular titles for the PC more difficult, and factors like low market share and even nonexistent peripheral support (joysticks for example), offered little encouragement.

Gaming on an Apple computer in the late 1980s was largely served by Compuserve shareware titles, though some disk-based games sold at retail, such as the puzzle-platformer Dark Tower and the interactive novel Portal (no relation to the Valve title by the same name) left strong impressions. Shareware such as Glider, Tablin, Gobbler and Catch the Buzz had cult status among what already was a cult of users and were, in retrospect, fitting forerunners for the bazaar of independent self-published games now offered on the iTunes App Store.

As the platform moved into System 7 in the early 1990s, full-colour offerings, especially of shareware games and a few risk-taking PC ports, pointed to a platform ready to re-enter gaming's mainstream. The switch to IBM-made PowerPC processors in the mid-1990s supplied the rest of the encouragement. This brief renaissance saw the rise of Bungie Software, whose well regarded Marathon FPS series, and other titles such as the platformer Abuse, were Mac exclusives. Enthusiast press with a heavy gaming lean, such as MacAddict helped drive developer interest to the Macintosh constituency. LucasArts' outstanding graphical adventures, and its fondly remembered line of Star Wars games from Dark Forces to X-Wing vs TIE Fighter all had Mac ports in this era. Microsoft for a short time even had a line of Mac offerings. There was a time when you could pop into a Babbage's or Electronics Boutique and actually see shelves of Mac products worth a $US40 purchase.

But Apple was floundering. A strategy to licence the manufacture of cloned machines had done wonders for expanding the platform's use, and its gaming constituency, but had been a disaster to Apple's bottom line. By 1997, Apple had fired CEO Gilbert Amelio and invited back its founder, Steve Jobs, to right the ship. The clone strategy was effectively terminated, and Jobs also summarily many other unfocused endeavours that had wasted the company's resources and creativity.

Not gaming, though. At an appearance at Macworld in 1999, Jobs declared that the benign neglect of Mac gaming would come to an end with a title called Halo. A cheering throng saw the game demonstrated by Bungie founder Jason Jones in real time. Few doubted Bungie's commitment to deliver the game Jobs considered revolutionary, and promised to arrive the next year.

Yet that never came to pass. Bungie was purchased by Microsoft in 2000, and developed Halo into the multiplayer shooter that defined the Xbox, giving that platform every bit the creative sustenance that Jobs vowed would come to the Mac. Today, despite Steam's push in 2009 to support the Mac OS, Apple's home computer remains a bit player.

In the early 2000s, Mac gamers gravitated toward consoles and turned their noses up to ports that often arrived a year or more after their PC release. Apple gaming, however, was laying the foundation for a strong rebound, just not in traditional PC offerings. The advent of the iPod, a device the size of a deck of cards that could carry all the music you owned, debuted to massive consumer demand, and foreshadowed much of what digital consumers take for granted today.

Jobs' Apple became almost an oracle of product design and development through several iterations of the iPod, culminating in the iPhone. iTunes, already the dominant seller of online music, opened an "App Store" to serve the smartphone and, of course, cement user loyalty to it. Independent games developers poured into this new territory like digital 49ers, lured by strike-it-rich stories of games developed over a month that returned six-figure revenues.

Apple today towers over mobile gaming, with the enormous reach of its iPhone and iPad lines of products. It is a platform upon which many operations are betting enormous sums, if not their entire futures, from two-man garage studios to enormous publishers-a spectrum of size and success that Apple itself traveled in the life of Steve Jobs.

Image: Adam Lee Rose [Used with Permission)


    Ah yes the customary attach Steve jobs as the best at every medium even though he had little to nothing to do with it. I better see an equally glowing obituary for bill gates too, windows did more for games then he ever did

      Yes, how INCONSIDERATE of Kotaku to celebrate a man's life's work after he's passed away from a long-suffered illness. Speaking positively of his role in the games industry? What a dick move! Clearly it would have been much more appropriate to say he was crap and had no memorable impact on the industry.

        Quite frankly I don't see the need for more then a paragraph if anything at all. It's not like the internet isn't already busting at the seams with gushing fanboyism for him.

          Piat, there are people in the world that do great things, people that respect that, and then there are people like you.

      Congratulations on the most asinine comment I have read in a comment thread on the internet this week.

        Dont read much internet hey?

          Oh no, I read plenty, it's just so rare to see something like that on Kotaku. Generally, the quality of comments is much higher than on other sites. That's why I felt it was an achievement worth raising.

          I'm sure the things you did in your whole lifetime are not even close to 1% of what Steve Jobs did.


      Comment = unnecessary. Just accept that people want to pay tribute to a man who has passed away. Why flame people in grief, regardless of whether you agree with them or not?

      While it's easy to be cynical, you have to admit that the iPhone has made portable gaming accessible for the populace. Before that, there hasn't been a generally popular portable device that was a capable gaming platform. I don't count a regular mobile phones as a capable gaming platform, nor the Nokia N-Gage as popular.

      Steve Jobs may or may not have envisioned this, but he certainly made it possible. He's also given Microsoft a good amount of competition, helping to keep them a little honest. I'm willing to give him kudos.

    sad to see he's gone, sadder still will be the day when appstore games on all platforms are subject to film and literature classification.

    cat <-------------- out <--- bag

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