Steve Jobs And Gaming: An Accidental Takeover


Posted October 6, 2011 - By Stephen Johnson

Apple Founder Steve Jobs Dies

Steve Jobs was one of the most influential people in the history of gaming, and he never even tried. Jobs was clearly not a gamer, a fact that becomes obvious to any serious player who ever owned a Macintosh computer--gaming for the Mac is at best an afterthought. In a 2002 interview, Jobs himself named Nanosaur, a junky Mac-only FPS, as his favorite game.  Although he "only" set out to revolutionize the music industry, the personal computing industry and the film industry,  along the way, Steve Jobs changed the face of gaming history too.

In spite of Jobs' seeming indifference, Apple and gaming have become inextricably linked. Apple-designed computers and phones that are so accessible, so easy to understand and use, that millions of non-gamers have been introduced to digital fun through their iPhones and iPads, and the iTunes store provides a platform for game developers to easily distribute games and profit from them. Apple’s gaming market has grown so quickly that, in a recent product launch presentation, Apple’s new CEO Tim Cook, announced that the iPod Touch is the “the most popular game player in the world.”  Total stealth takeover.

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Jobs and Games: The Apple II Years

Way back in 1975, Atari founder Nolan Bushnell had the idea for a one-player Pong style game for his new 2600 system. He hired a young, unknown tech-head named Steve Jobs to help create the game. Jobs called his pal Steve Wozniak, and the pair set out to bring Breakout  to the 2600. For various technical reasons, the Jobs/Wozniak Breakout was not the one Atari used in the Atari 2600.

The next year, Woz and Jobs released the first Apple computer. They were built by hand, with wooden cases, and without monitors or keyboards. A year later, the first Apple II rolled off the assembly line, and the modern computer age was born.

While the Apple II’s “killer app” was a spreadsheet program aimed at businesses, home users and developers quickly turned to games, using the Apple II’s then-high-end graphics and then-powerful processing to create and play games like Oregon Trail, Lode Runner, Wizardry and the early Ultima games.

“Next month is the 30th anniversary of the first dollar I earned in the game industry, which was testing Infocom's third game, Deadline, on an Apple II in my bedroom in Cambridge MA,” said legendary Infocom game designer Steve Meretzky. “My Facebook newsfeed is full this evening, with friends saying that they wouldn't be in the game industry if it hadn't been for Steve Jobs and the Apple II. You can certainly add me to that roll call.”

The Macintosh Revolution

Jobs' next big creation, the Apple Macintosh, took the tech world by storm in the early 1980s, but wasn’t really about gaming. Even back in those days, serious gamers were using PCs. The PC’s larger install base and DirectX technology was better suited for game developers, too, and inside Apple, there was concern that the combination of gaming and the Mac’s revolutionary graphical interface would equate in the public’s mind to the device being a toy. Most games that eventually became available on the Mac were ports of titles that were originally created for the PC, although there are some exceptions. Breathrough adventure title Myst was developed for the Macintosh originally, and ported to the PC.

Another important Mac-developed early game is Marathon, created by Bungie. Before moving on to the Halo franchise for Xbox, Bungie cut its FPS teeth designing the series for Macintosh before moving on to the Xbox title Halo. Marathon introduced dual-wielding and voice chat as well as other features that are ubiquitous in the FPS genre now. In fact, Halo was originally intended to be a Mac game--an RTS, actually-- but Microsoft ended up with the franchise, and the rest is gaming history.


The Pippin: Apple’s Great Gaming Mistake

It’s hard to imagine Jobs presiding over the launch of ill-fated Apple game console The Pippin. Apple’s one foray into strict-gaming happened in the mid 1990s, after Jobs was fired from the company. Jobs went on to head Pixar, and Apple went on to create one of the worst-selling gaming consoles in history.  If you need evidence of the influence of the CEO on a big company, take a look at Apple's "lost years" without Jobs.

The Pippin, a joint venture with Namco-Bandai, was a failure of huge proportions. Released in a crowded console marketplace--the N64, PlayStation and Saturn were all on shelves, not to mention widespread use of PCs—the Pippin retailed for $599 and was less powerful than its competition. It sold only 42,000 units and few games were ever released.

Modern Apple

Jobs returned to Apple in 1996, and spent the next half-decade or so undoing the damage that had been caused by poor decisions like the Pippin made in his absence. The release of the first iPod in 2001 ushered in the modern age of Apple, and while the device was never intended as a game machine, there were a limited number of games playable on the early device. In a nod to continuity, a Breakout clone called Brick was included on the device, originally as an Easter egg, but later as a menu item.

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In 2006, the iTunes store began selling games for the iPod, offering nine games to supplement the meager offerings on the device.  As the processing power of the iPhone and iPod grew, the possibilities for games grew too. The original suite of simple games has become literally million of titles, in all genres and styles, are available on the iPod Touch and the iPhone.

Jobs and company's takeover of the smart phone market may prove to be his biggest legacy to gaming. Millions of people bought an iPhone in order to talk and text their pals, but discovered a versatile and powerful portable game system. Many, no doubt, also discovered a love of gaming through their iPhones.

The iPad, too, with its powerful insides, easy-to-use interface and large screen, offers developers an all but unlimited platform for creating more and more complicated and deeper games. The most high profile series developed specifically for iOS are the Infinity Blade games, action-RPGs that rival anything on the market, for any system.

Mike Capps, head of developer Epic games, said this about Jobs: “Steve advised us to ‘find what you love.’ He found what he loved, and he changed our entire world doing it. His passion brought so many talented people together to focus on innovation, on quality, on usability. Steve’s true legacy isn’t in the products built so far, but in his lasting vision that guides Apple in bringing us the future.”

Steve Jobs And Gaming: An Accidental Takeover


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