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.