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10/3/2007
02:19 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Bungie Escapes From Microsoft. Apple, Revisit The Pippin!

Reports are swirling that Bungie Studios, the game developer responsible for the Halo series, the Myth series, and other good things, has arranged to buy back its name from Microsoft and part ways.

Reports are swirling that Bungie Studios, the game developer responsible for the Halo series, the Myth series, and other good things, has arranged to buy back its name from Microsoft and part ways.Microsoft purchased Bungie in 2000.

The split, first reported by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, has supposedly been confirmed by a gaming site that claims to have an inside source at Bungie.

Further validating the news, neither Microsoft nor Bungie has specifically denied the report, one that both companies would be eager to dispel given the importance of Halo to Microsoft and its Xbox.

Bungie's departure should be taken by Apple as an excuse to get serious about games again. But sadly, all we're likely to see is Apple lip-service to the gaming industry.

The first public glimpse of Halo was in 1999 at the MacWorld Expo NYC (there was an East Coast event back then in addition to the San Francisco one). The game was presented by Steve Jobs. It impressed Microsoft enough to buy Bungie. It was a savvy move, bolstering its own game offerings and denying Apple a major asset for the Mac platform.

Jobs never reacted to the loss of Bungie as if it mattered. He's certainly revived Apple since returning to the company. And no doubt he's still savoring what the iPod, iPhone, and Mac have done in the market to make Apple's detractors, like Michael Dell, look foolish.

But Jobs has never shown that he gets gaming or really wants it on the Mac. Sure, he's had Id's John Carmack on stage at Apple events and has made sure that top titles eventually get released for the Mac. But he has yet to make a really bold move into gaming, like buying Nintendo.

Apple has a history of half-hearted efforts in the gaming industry. Its Pippin game console, circa 1995 to 1997, ranks among the company's top flops.

In 1998, Apple hired Peter Tamte, formerly the head of GT Interactive's MacSoft game division, to run its consumer marketing. The hope was that Tamte might raise the Mac's profile for games. Not much changed at Apple, however. (Tamte subsequently worked at Bungie for a while.)

The accepted wisdom seems to be that Apple has been eager not to make its machines seem like cheap toys by promoting them as game machines. Given Apple's customer base in years past, graphics pros, there was a certain logic to that, even if video games have long made up a major portion of consumer software sales.

But Apple's customer base is broader today. I can't see a downside to courting game developers and making the Mac a top-notch gaming platform rather than an also-ran. And with Intel-based chips, Apple hardware can no longer be dismissed for poor performance.

Why bother? Games drive hardware sales and platform loyalty. Ask Windows gamers about why PCs are better than Macs and you'll get an earful.

The availability of Boot Camp and Cider to run Windows games on Macs is a mixed blessing. It will make more titles that originate on Windows available on the Mac sooner, but these technologies actually deter developers from creating original titles that run only on the Mac.

Now as a developer, you want to distribute your game as broadly as possible, so it's hardly a surprise Mac-only games aren't high-profile efforts.

But from Apple's perspective, it would be a boon to the platform to have an exclusive A-List title like Halo 3, which is good enough to encourage people to buy an Xbox just to play it.

Now maybe Apple sees reticence about Vista as enough to help computer users switch, but it seems to me that a more proactive stance toward gaming would hasten the migration.

Just as Apple's Newton laid the groundwork for the iPod and the iPhone, Apple's Pippin could be the seed for Apple game hardware that works. The Apple TV box -- Pippin's heir apparent -- needs improvement, so how about starting there?

Maybe if Apple asks Bungie nicely, they'll help.

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