Mac gamers deserve better than half-assed iOS game ports

iOS game developers, please stop messing up your Mac conversions

Developers, please stop sticking your games on the Mac App Store just because you can. I'm tired of digging through games with control schemes that make them a chore instead of fun.

Let me back up first.

OS X and iOS have always had a symbiotic relationship. When the App Store first opened, among the first iPhone games to be released were conversions of popular games that originated on OS X. Well-known Mac game developers — companies like Freeverse and Pangea Software — made a lot of money in those early days mining the burgeoning popularity of the iPhone and the public's desire to have fun games to play on it.

And that's because Apple made it easy for these developers to bring Mac games to iOS, because iOS and OS X are built on the same code. The stream works both ways: It's trivial in some cases to recompile a version of an iOS app that will run natively on the Mac thanks to their commonality.

Running natively on the Mac doesn't mean it'll run on the Mac well, however. Macs are fundamentally different devices than iPhones and iPads, however. OS X isn't a touch-driven interface.

A multi-touch interface is incorporated thoughtfully into OS X, made useable through the trackpads on MacBooks and even Apple's Magic Mouse, and when the game's design is right, that can be a lot of fun. An example of a iOS-to-Mac game port that works well here is Illusion Labs' Touchgrind BMX, a BMX bike stunt game that's free to play (and at the top chart on the Mac App Store's free games list this week).

Touchgrind BMX

TouchGrind BMX very cleverly works in multi-touch support to make it challenging, fun and immersive if you're on a MacBook or if you have a Magic Trackpad on your desk. It has mouse support, too, but I didn't find that nearly as fun as using it on a trackpad.

As a contrast, let's take another game (inexplicably) in the top ten on the Mac App Store's free games chart: Magma Mobile's Burger. It's a beat-the-clock game in which you have to stack ingredients in the right order to build burgers, fries and other fast food. It's fun, though strictly casual game fare, on the iPhone. The sort of game you'll use to kill a few minutes in a waiting room, for example.

No thought was given to how the controls translate. Instead of pressing on a screen, I'm moving a cursor and clicking. It's more work and it changes the game's core mechanic. The graphics don't scale well for higher resolution Macs. It's just a careless and sloppy port that's frustrating and dumb.

Now Burger exists for one reason: to encourage Mac users to download the iOS version. It was quick and easy to do, so why not bother? If all I was familiar with was the Mac version, I wouldn't have much of an incentive to look at it on the iPhone, or much of anything else that Magma Mobile has done.

As an aside, I don't understand why so many people are downloading this game. The only thing I can think of is that they recognize it from the iPhone.

I fully understand that the Mac market for games is significantly smaller than the market for iOS games. Perhaps some of these developers see the Mac market as incidental enough that it's not worth much more effort than throwing it onto the wall to see what sticks.

The Mac App Store has a lot more games in it than it used to. And not all of these games are crap - many of them are good, including many of those which originated on an iPhone or iPad. There are a lot of PC game conversions on the Mac App Store that are great, and some awesome original development too.

But I hate to see any developer treat the Mac second-rate. More often than not, that second-rate treatment means we don't get any games at all. As far as I'm concerned, games are that are bad aren't much worth bothering with, either.

Am I being overly critical, or are you tired of second-rate Mac game conversion too? Tell me what you think.

Peter Cohen