Arguing With Friends About Gaming For Fun And Profit

About 10 years ago, when I was wearing the very unique hat of “Mac gaming journalist”, I got to meet a lot of remarkable people. One such person was Corey Tamas, who I met just as he was taking over Mike Dixon’s much beloved Mac Gamer’s Ledge and transitioning it into MacGamer.com, which recently relaunched after a few years of hiatus. Corey is a family man with a huge heart, a big Doctor Who fan (like bow ties, Doctor Who fans are cool), and one of the people that I will forever consider part and parcel of “Mac gaming”. He’s good people.

That said, sometimes he writes things I just can’t agree with, which brings us to today’s “10 Reasons Gamers Should Choose a Mac Over an iPhone/iPad“. Besides being a weird apples vs. oranges comparison – why not have both? – the ten reasons range from shaky to silly to flat-out wrong. Corey has authorized me to do my worst, so as a general survey of what’s going on with iOS gaming, here’s 10 Reasons Corey Tamas Is Wrong.

## 1. Input

> “The biggest problem with gaming on the iPhone or iPad is the control mechanism.”

Corey points mostly to FPS games. I’ll give you that touch screen controls don’t really work with FPS games, and I generally find them to not work on any mobile gaming platform. There are plenty of ported arcade games that don’t really work on iOS either.

But I can’t imagine Illusion Lab’s Labyrinth 2, Zen Bound, or eBoy’s FixPix being nearly as involving or fun without taking advantage of the iPhone’s tilt controls. I can’t imagine Flight Control without being able to effortless draw and redraw flight paths using my finger. I can’t play Plants vs. Zombies on the desktop anymore – multitouch on the iPad version allows me to place plants and collect sunlight at a remarkable clip. Like all control schemes, it works in some places and doesn’t work in others, and largely depends on whether or not the developers spent the time getting it right.

As for the claim that “many great [games] don’t really hit their potential until you have at least 20 different ways to input” – any game that requires 20+ inputs is a game I’d rather avoid.

## 2. Customization

> “With iPad and iPhone games, the creativity runs in one direction”

Having cut my teeth on Quake mods largely through Corey’s work back in the day, I feel dirty attacking this point – but he should know as well as I do that the odds for a mod to not only get released but succeed is slim to none. What *does* enable creativity are well made level editors, and we’re not lacking in those: Enigmo, Blockoban, Labyrinth 1 and 2, iBlast Moki, Slotz Racer, and those are just ones that I’ve played. And most of these have better methods for sharing user created levels than building, say, a new TF2 map.

## 3. Storage

> “In computer terms, however, 64GB is pocket change.”

Three quick numbers:

My 32GB iPhone has 3.79 GB of apps on it. That’s 70 different games on the device (and plenty of non-games); with music and whatnot, I have 8GB free. So I could potentially triple the number of games I have before I hit the device limit, without removing any of the music I have on the device.

My 16 Steam games on my OS X machine are eating up 26GB. Most of those are using the same shared engine.
As for game size: I have all of four iOS games that clock in over 250MB. Most everything is sub-20MB (seeing as most game companies size their games so they can be downloaded over 3G).

So I don’t see a strong need to size my mobile devices like I’m going to carry around multiple WoW installations.

## 4. Screen

> “Even the iPad, which has a nice chunk of screen real estate, is a dwarf when compared to what comes with an entry-level Macbook.”

No argument that you certainly CAN buy a larger screen – Apple’s 30″ goes for $1800. That’s not exactly screaming like a worthwhile upgrade to me.

Also: given that most Apple machines are coming with graphics cards that start chopping framerates pretty hard at the highest resolution, does a larger monitor necessarily mean you’re going to have a better experience?

## 5. Library

> “Impressed by the number of games on the App store (which number north of 30,000)? There are far more games available on the Mac.”

If you count the flood of Flash games, there are far more games available on the Mac. On the other hand, if you count just the games that run natively in OS X, it seems poignant that in the two years since the App Store launch, the OS X game scene has been completely overrun quantity-wise.

That said, just looking at quantity is a poor measure for gaming platform strength, as is pointed out by gamers everywhere when Apple trots out the numbers.

## 6. Portability

> “It seems like a bit of a laugh to suggest that portability is a strength for Macs when comparing it to the iPad or iPhone, but the truth is: The portability is there.”

It only becomes a laugh in the next sentence, where a 17″ Mac laptop is cited as an acceptable portable solution in opposition to an iPad. 6.6 pounds is only “portable” in the most basic of sense: you can throw it in a bag and strain your back if you have to carry it more than 10 minutes. The advantages in computing power do not make up for quadruple the weight when we’re talking about “portability”.

Portability is not an advantage for the Mac over iOS devices, period, end of discussion.

## 7. Windows, Linux & Emulators

> “The first thing Mac users are going to tell you about gaming is that if it’s published on Windows, you can play it; not in a wrapper or an emulator, but in the real thing.”

As someone who has been a religious Boot Camp advocate since the day it became available, I’m not going to deny that there’s great appeal in running Windows on a Mac. It’s one of the reasons I continue to stick with Apple hardware, so that I can run both OSes in a sanctioned, supported way. But with Windows comes Windows headaches, and I don’t wish those on casual users who are just looking to game.

Emulators feels like a very odd card to play as an argument for OS X. If you’re going to be the sort of person who seeks out ROMs, you’re probably also the sort of person who is willing to jailbreak a device. At which point, there are your emulators, waiting in Cydia for you to splurge. And there *are* emulators in the App Store – the C64, the ZX Spectrum, and soon the Amiga. Apple’s requirements of having rights to the ROMs certainly makes their development slower (and much more unlikely for Nintendo platforms), but emulation has always been in that grey zone.

Also: what happened to Linux? Oh, right: there’s no reason to game in Linux.

## 8. LAN

> “In this day and age when it seems as though everything is done over the internet, the LAN capacity of a gaming device might make you wonder, but don’t underestimate the power of being able to hook two or more computers together and rock out.”

Starcraft 2. Command & Conquer 4. Bioshock 2. Modern Warfare 2. Diablo 3. Battlefield: Bad Company 2. AAA titles, all shipped or shipping without LAN support.

Next?

## 9. Copying and Selling used games

Corey’s story here entangles a few points about iOS purchasing and the used game market.

First, he’s gifting an iPhone 3GS to his daughter, but is unaware of any way to give her the titles he’s already purchased:

> “I had to tell her that she couldn’t sync the phone to her own computer and then take the apps she likes from my phone and keep them.”

But it would be rather trivial for him to activate his iTunes account on her machine, load in all his purchases that he’d like her to have, and then have her sync them to her new phone. Katie and I do this to excess – her purchases end up on my devices, and mine on hers. The limiting step here is iTunes activations – but iOS devices can sync purchases from however many devices you’d like, so long as they’re all activated on the “home” computer.

Then, an attempt to compare to having a game on CD:

> “I could hand over the CD for any game to anyone I like and that’d be perfectly legal, because I would no longer be able to play (either because I can’t put the CD in the drive to play it or because the code is decommissioned).”

I’m not trying to be mean here, but how many games in the last five years haven’t come with CD keys to be activated, network checks, or DRM schemes? You use a CD-key on a game that requires a network check and it’s **gone**. Bye bye, reselling.

So realistically, for small households that want to share purchases, you CAN do it on the iOS (although in-app purchases are a right mess), but you’re going to be out of luck with traditional retail games.

(The larger point here about reselling and trading rights in a world where game purchases are increasingly digital? Completely valid. But Steam suffers from it just as much as the App Store.)

## 10. All iPad/iPhone games work on the Mac, but not vice versa

> “If you like certain games that the iPhone or iPad excel at, such as Tower Defense or quickie casual games akin to the kind you find on Kongregate.com, you can probably find something almost identical on the Mac.”

The belief that there’s some unidirectional mirroring of game titles is silly. As an exercise to the reader, please find me direct Mac equivalents of the following 10 iOS titles:

* Flight Control
* Geometry Wars Touch
* Carcassonne
* Espgaluda 2
* Words With Friends
* Pro Evolution Soccer 2010
* Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
* Hook Champ
* Space Invaders: Infinity Gene
* Street Fighter IV

## Postscript

I am not going to pretend that iOS provides the $adverb $adjective gaming experience ever. It certainly favors short, quick experiences, which is not what you want if you need a long term gaming satisfaction. But it astonishes me how many gamers will treat iOS titles as inferior, as though every game must be a 40-hour epic to justify wearing the title of “game”.

I didn’t have a home console nor a computer that was capable of complex games until I was 12. So much of my initial gaming life was spent in arcades, pumping quarters into the likes of Double Dragon, Galaga, Punch Out, or Track & Field. I have a deep appreciation for games that are seductively simple, games that leave you wanting to try just once more round.

That’s what I get from iOS gaming: not a replacement for desktop gaming or console gaming, but for the arcade.