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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

TUAW on Mac Mini Console

Apparently another blogger thinks the Mac Mini could get it's game on in the living room, just like I've suggested. The Unofficial Apple Weblog picked up the idea and then proceeded to bash it:

Interesting speculation, but I think it's just wrong. Apple hasn't been interested in being in the gaming console market for more than a decade. For the vast majority of game manufacturers, making their games run on Macs is an afterthought if ever at all. Already they must consider four versions of their games: Xbox, PS2, GameCube, and PC, and as most gamers know, some games never make even to the four major platforms. And now....if this speculation is correct, they'd have to consider a very small 5th platform? It's just not going to happen, even if the new Mac mini can run PC games natively (Wine-like execution layer, Windows-native OS, etc.). Furthermore, Microsoft has been buying their way into the gaming market for years, taking a loss on every Xbox ever sold (to the tune of $300 on each Xbox 360) and they're still not "killing" their competitors Sony and Nintendo.

Apple doesn't need to be in the gaming console market to succeed in creating a successful media center product. Simply creating a product that's attractive and easy-to-use--perhaps incorporating a nice programmable remote control--product to play media content from our PCs and from the iTunes Store will be enough to make it successful.
-- Mac Mini as Gaming Console?

So let me step on their logic for a little bit.

1. Apple is not interested in games
Well, I don't think anyone expected Apple to be interested in MP3 players a little while ago. While that's clearly an unfair example since the two products don't even marginally resemble each other in terms of market possibilities, it's valid in the sense that it's not easy to guess what Apple is going to do next based on it's history.

So simply because the Pippin failed isn't validation that Apple doesn't have it's eye on the game industry.

2. Nobody wants to port to a fourth platform
This is kind of an odd theory based on three reasons.

Number one, it's been widely crowed in Apple circles that the Intel switch will greatly aid the ability for progammers to code cross-platform for OS X.

Number two, currently most developers aren't willing to port for two platforms, let alone four ... otherwise we'd see a lot of PC only titles on the Mac.

Number three, Nintendo relies heavily on it's first party development team with a close relationship with second and third party groups. Rarely do port sell terribly well on the GameCube and previously ports were almost non-existent on the Nintendo 64. Consoles don't require ports to succeed.

3. If Microsoft can't "kill", Apple can't "wound"
I've talked about this before, but let me try putting it a different way.

In deciding on a strategy to try and beat Sony to the living room, Microsoft seems to have adopted Sony's own strategy against Nintendo. Burn cash early in attempt to gain marketshare and hope to regain profitability down the road. Sony took more of a Kodak approach, losing on the hardware but making it up with value add items (i.e. games and controllers instead of film and development), but Microsoft took a more generational look at the problem. Microsoft lost big on the original Xbox with the hopes of using it to gain profit years down the road.

It's not a bad strategy. Some have called it genius, I think that's a bit too much. Actually, I think it's way too much. It's essentially taking an existing plan and adding really deep pockets. It's pretty unoriginal and uninventive. But it's not ineffective.

It's also, as Nintendo has shown, not the only strategy. You don't have to have deep pockets to play the game. An existing brand name helps. Added or perceived value missing from the competitors works. Having a compeletely different price point, particularly a profitable one, also makes for worthy competition.

And I'll hit on those points again in a second. Right now, let's ask the compelling reasons why Apple can't afford to ignore the gaming market.

1. I spent all this money and it won't even play games
The 360 presents a pretty serious problem to Apple's intrusion into the living room. It's a media based machine which networks quite easily to the Internet and a user's local machines. It's an elegant and user friendly design in terms of both software and hardware. It can talk to iPods. It can play some serious games.

In other words, it's the Mac of the Microsoft world. Except ... it plays games. Oh, and it costs less.

2. Living rooms are multi-function areas
The iPod and the Mac have very different challenges. The iPod is a specific device for a specific task. The Mac is a multi-function device. If I'm going to place this thing next to my television, it's going to have to do the things I need in the living room. Play music, archive videos ... and increasingly one of the things people do in their living room is playing games.

3. OS X attracts a younger demographic
OS X is still a relatively new OS and is far more attuned to the thirtysomething crowd than the forty or fiftysomething. The importance of this generation gap is simple. The computer users of tomorrow are far more likely to be gamers than the users of today. Apple is missing out on a key component of their main demographic if they take a blind eye to the gaming industry.

So now ... back to those points. Could Apple adopt a Nintendo style strategy for the living room? Of course.

Existing brand name? Check.
Perceived value add? Check.
Affordable yet profitable price point? Check.

And Apple has shown all of those with the iPod. It's a similar strategy that Apple has proven capable of using time and time again. They don't need to make a big E3 splash or spend millions on advertising. The missing part is a strong first party development dedicated to making valuable entertainment commodities solely for Apple's hardware. Nintendo doesn't rely on ports because they take the charge themselves and put Mario, Samus, Donkey Kong, Zelda and the rest of the Mario Party crew out on the front lines.

I spent about four hours on Friday playing Mario Kart DS. Nintendo still makes some of the best games on the planet and as long they continue to do so ... they'll have a presence in the living room. If Apple isn't willing to try the same, they may well be forsaking the next empty spot next to someone's television to the companies capable of spending the money to get there instead.

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1 comment:

asdjnfweojnfor said...

This idea just hit me as I was listening to TWiT 48 where they were discussing Apple's 30th Anniversary. They have all the skills necessary. Case design, miniturisation and of course the Apple buzz machine. Steve Jobs also owns Pixar who, I'd imagine, could do a good job rendering graphics for games. I have no idea if they are interested in this kind of product but it makes for an interesting debate.