Returning to Their Roots: Once Upon a Time Apple was a Killer Gaming Platform

Posted by Michael Pinto on Feb 19, 2009 in Tech, Videogames |

Casual games on the iPod Touch

The latest Apple commercial featuring 20 hot games on the iPod Touch brought a smile to my eye as it represents Apple getting back their pre-Macintosh roots of the Apple ][. The hidden secret to the success of any operating system is games. Now these don’t have to be games aimed at hardcore gamers, in fact what will sell a platform are casual games that you can drop in and out of easily.

The modern proof of this thesis is Microsoft Windows — the two secrets weapons for Bill Gates back in the 90s were Windows Solitaire which came with every computer and Microsoft Flight Simulator which is still around today. Sadly the Mac always had a sad track record with games because Apple had to focus on niche markets like graphics and education. Mind you from time-to-time some great games did come out for the Mac that changed the world (example: Myst) but in that post-Steve Jobs era of the late 80s and early 90s Apple seemed to forget that games existed at all in their marketing.

The golden age of the Apple ][

But it wasn’t always that way — in the first era of Apple (before the IBM PC hit the market in 1981) the Apple ][ was THE gaming platform of the era running circles around the Commodore PET and the TRS-80. Just like today Apple had the more expensive product (the first machines sold for $666) but you got your money’s worth because you got full color graphics while the competition was in black and white and running off of tape decks instead of floppy disks.

Now I realize that it’s hard to comprehend now, but in that primitive pre-IBM PC era a hardcore gamer was either someone who spent hours away from home at videogame arcade centers or that first generation of fanboys playing Dungeons & Dragons. The electronic games that people played at home by their nature had to be a bit more broad and basic like Pong. So the first generation of home computer games were what you might call casual games.

Zork I

Granted that many of these early titles like Castle Wolfenstein and Zork for the Apple ][ did have sci fi and fantasy themes, but they had to be designed to appeal to the widest audience while inventing a medium at the same time. In fact the graphics of that era were so crude you really had to really use your imagination with the game and most of the mental images we have of these games really comes from the box art which had little to do with the product itself. And for every title like Alien Rain there were titles with more mundane themes like Olympic Decathlon (sports) and Raster Blaster (pinball).

So when you’re looking at the latest commercial for the iPod Touch and seeing games that feature skateboards, fishing and tennis in fact Apple isn’t doing anything new. But instead what Apple is doing is getting back to their core gaming DNA which is to be a consumer computing platform which has a heavy focus on games. And don’t kid yourself that Steve Jobs doesn’t know anything about gaming, because before he started Apple with Woz one of his first gigs was at Atari. In fact both Jobs and Woz worked on the circuit board for the game Breakout — so you can say that videogames are the crux of Apple as much as Nintendo (which stated life making card games over 100 years ago), and even more so than Sony or Microsoft. At long last Apple is coming home to gaming where it always belonged…

Above: A 1982 ad for Atari Super Breakout! — this was a later version of the game, but looking at this you know that games were in the life blood of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

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