For game maker Aspyr, Mac App Store presents unique challenges

For game maker Aspyr, Mac App Store presents unique challenges

Mac App Store and Steam customers have different taste, so doesn't it make sense to tailor what games are sold where? Aspyr thinks so

When Steve Jobs introduced the Mac App Store in 2011, he said that Apple wasn't trying to compete with other app download services. While that may be true — Apple doesn't enforce any sort of exclusivity requirement — the Mac App Store has evolved to present some unique challenges to app publishers. Case in point: Long time Mac publisher Aspyr, which plans to mix things up a bit in 2014.

Right now, Aspyr sells its games through two primary online distribution systems: the Mac App Store and Steam. Most of the same games are available through each service, but that doesn't mean that customers of both services buy the same games, or buy them in equal amounts.

Aspyr's own research has shown that its Mac conversion of Roller Coaster Tycoon, for example, sells disproportionately better on the Mac App Store than it does on Steam. At the other extreme, the popular first-person shooter Borderlands 2, another Aspyr game, does considerably better on Steam than the Mac App Store.

The reason why one game sells better than another on one store can be myriad and complex. The Mac App Store, for example, employs requirements that can limit multiplayer gaming, so a game that has a strong multiplayer component, like Borderlands 2, is more likely to sell better through Steam, where Mac users and PC users can play together unimpeded. What's more, Steam frequently coordinates sales of games and downloadable content, and changes the price of Mac and PC versions of the game simultaneously — something that takes a lot more coordination on the Mac App Store.

But that doesn't explain all of the different buying behavior. Mac App Store customers simply seem to like different kinds of games than the average Steam buyer, too. Aspyr sales manager Michael Blair told me that Mac App Store customers are more likely to buy some strategy games and games with a more casual flavor, while Steam gamers gravitate more towards shooters and games with deeper gameplay.

Understanding the differences between Mac App Store and Steam customers is informing Aspyr's publishing plans going forward, according to Aspyr VP of publishing Elizabeth Howard. While they've tried to be as egalitarian as possible, Howard says they're changing things up in 2014 to try to tailor their offerings for each service as effectively as possible.

The good news is that Mac game sales, overall, are on the rise - rising faster even than Mac unit sales, according to Aspyr's own research. People buying Macs are buying more games for them than they have in years, a healthy indication that Mac users are once again considering their computer as a primary entertainment device. So-called "catalog" games — older titles in Aspyr's library — slightly edged out new game sales last year.

Aspyr hasn't announced its 2014 lineup but will be introducing new games very soon, and some will be exclusive to the Mac App Store while others will require you to go to Steam.

I'm curious how that jibes with your own experience as a Mac user. Do you buy games from either the Mac App Store or Steam, and if so, do you tailor your purchasing experience based on the kind of game? Please share your thoughts with me in the comments.

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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There are 15 comments. Add yours.

Dman238 says:

Personally I think it's just a BAD idea. If I were Aspyr, I would try to hav ALL my games on as many platforms as possible.

I'm personally a Simulation AND FPS kind of guy and I buy ALL my games on the M.A.S. Because I feel the games run much better and have higher frame-rates then on Steam. The only reason I use steam is when there is that FPS game that I can't get on the Mac App Store and them I'm forced to use it

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Peter Cohen says:

" I buy ALL my games on the M.A.S. Because I feel the games run much better and have higher frame-rates then on Steam"

If you're talking about the same game, it's the same code regardless of delivery system, so there will be no difference in frame rates.

Some games sold through Steam use Valve's Source engine, but many games sold through Steam do not, and use other companies' engines or their own custom frameworks.

Hollyw0od says:

Sadly Peter this is how most people think.

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mashono says:

I personally use both. A game like Civ V I purchased via Steam, while Star Wars Empire at War I purchased through the Mac App Store, it just depends really on downloadable content and the price of the game when I decide to purchase.

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Giwrgos Zortal says:

Ggggg

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AfterPad says:

I find the design of Steam distasteful, and I don't like needing to sign into ANY service owned by a 3rd party before I can play the games I've paid for.

I don't understand the harm in releasing games across both platforms. I bought Borderlands 2 on the Mac App Store because I don't care about multiplayer, didn't mind spending 5 bucks more, and really didn't want to have to log into Steam to play my game.

If Aspyr stops releasing games on the Mac App Store, it just means I'll be buying fewer of their games, because less of them will push me past the "deal with Steam's ugly UI and DRM" threshold.

I just don't see the win for them here. Seems like a little work and effort saved in exchange for a guaranteed sales reduction.

Hollyw0od says:

I'm sorry, you're entitled to your opinion but I'm just over here laughing at your logic

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valkraider says:

This discussion basically reinforces why I stopped gaming on computers. My console is easy. I just turn it on and play..

I shouldn't have to make arbitrary decisions to play a game, and any company that wants to force me to do so simply doesn't get my money.

I can spend my money on ten different hobbies. Time for companies who want my money to think about simplicity...

Hollyw0od says:

What really gets to me is that I bought civilization five on App Store and simply got an OSX license. I could've paid the same price and during their sale even less on Steam and gotten the game for both windows and my Mac

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SnakeHead says:

Good article Peter, definitely agree with you. When I game, most of the time I'm playing multiplayer with friends, and steam [mostly] lends itself much better to that. I can see my friend's online and join the game he's playing, while I'm talking with him over skype. I absolutely hate it when I have to try to find the server in a long list of gibberish server names in order to join the game he's in...

vauhner81 says:

I use both but for VERY different reasons. I have two children, 13 and 11 years old. I love buying my games on the M.A.S. because I only have to buy one copy and the three of us can all play as their macs are on my apple account. With Steam, even with Family Sharing, only one of us can play that game at a time.

I like Steam because when I buy a game there, I get all the OS versions for the same price. Windows, OSX, and with a lot of new games, Linux. So I am never hampered by what OS I decide to use, ever. I also love the social aspects of Steam. The GameCenter stuff for Mac and iOS is garbage overall.

So they both have their benefits and their drawbacks. And I for one, have no problem with Steam's UI, with their supposed DRM scheme, etc. You do know that you can start Steam in Offline mode without contacting their servers? It will work this was for 1 month before it requires an actual connection to verify. Another thing to note is most Steam games (Not the Source Engine stuff) work without Steam even running. You just make a link to the .app in the Steam folder and launch.

But if Aspyr chooses to market only certain games to certain markets, they are doing themselves and their customers a huge disservice. There is little to no benefit of withholding a game from one service on the grounds that 'games of this nature' sell better on the other.

Just my 2 cents.

Nikman Shah says:

In my case, I don't play any multiplayer games. So I don't limit my game buying decisions to one store alone. I buy from both Steam & the Mac App Store. The only governing decision to me is price. I buy from the store that is selling the cheapest version at that particular point in time. And in most cases, Steam wins the contest. But if it just so happens that the prices are the same between Steam & the Mac App Store, I will prefer buying from the Mac App Store.

DouglasLevene says:

I bought Civ on Steam because that was the only place I could and the experience was horrible. I travel overseas a lot and want to be able to play on the airplane and that proved impossible with Steam. Every single time I tried, the game wouldn't load and I'd get some idiotic message about needing to update and not being able to connect to the internet. So I shelled out the $$ to buy the same game on the Mac App Store and have been very, very happy. I hate Steam and would never buy another game on it!

Nikman Shah says:

I must have bought different Steam games than you because so far, all of my Steam games can still be played offline, as long as I clicked the option to Start Steam in Offline Mode when the Steam client app detects that I am not on the Internet.

Granted, most of my games are non-multiplayer focused games, so that could be one of the reasons.

Paul Turley says:

I also you both methods to buy games, but right now I only have one question. When is the new Wolfenstein going to be available for us Mac users on either system?