MGS sits down with Michael Rogers, the President of Aspyr Media. Read on for questions about Aspyr's history, dev process, high's and low's of Mac gaming and what the future could hold.
Jon Carr: Can you tell us the origin or inspiration behind the name "Aspyr" ?
Michael Rogers: We wanted something with meaning ("to aspire" to be great!), but also to spell it differently so that it was memorable and unique. It never occurred to me that people would pronounce it any other way, but a fun side effect has been all the creative ways people pronounce the name.
JC: Aspyr has been in business since 1996. Now 17 years later, what has significantly changed? Are some things easier, harder?
MR: Well, the "internet" - if you've not heard of it definitely give it a try! - has really changed, and continues to change our business. We started only shipping boxes, now we only ship titles digitally. This connectivity has also meant connecting with our customers more with social media, support sites, customer reviews, forums and more. We're able to stretch a products' "shelf-life" but it also means more updates and longer investments in the games we ship.
Apple is selling more machines now, that's been a huge change. We've been working harder than ever to bring more games, deal with system updates, hardware changes, etc. It's been great, but also a great challenge to support the evolving distribution landscape and the nature of long-term support of games.
A challenge we've always faced is getting people with ANY problems with our games to get in touch with us. We offer phone support, answer emails, check forums, talk to people on Twitter and Facebook, and more, but it can still be hard to get people to reach out to us! We really do want to help anyone who has purchased our games have the best possible experience. We really do want them to connect with us in some way if they're having problems. So please, help us help you!
JC: Our beloved Mac's and the gaming landscape has certainly gone through a lot of evolution and its ups and downs. What are some of the best and worst points?
MR: The best points have been that Apple is doing a great job of selling more Macs than ever. They are constantly upgrading the performance of the machines to higher levels - making a lot of great performing game systems in the Mac world. Of course, we always hope for better performance, and more features in the graphics systems. As soon as they reach the next level, it seems like we always want more.
I'm not sure there is a worst point, but the landscape of Apple and Apple's relevance has been an amazing journey and evolution. We started this before the iPod, before the iPhone, and early console gaming. It's an entirely different gaming world and it's had ups and downs, but it's immensely fun.
JC: Aspyr has been involved with some of the best gaming franchises out there. From Call of Duty, Star Wars, Tomb Raider, Civilization, The Sims and more. How does it feel to be such a force for Mac gamers?
MR: We feel incredibly fortunate to have relationships with the biggest brands and video game publishers in the world, but also to be able to focus our efforts and energy on this much smaller, but very special, market that we love. In some ways we are a big fish in a small pond, but also a very tiny fish, and it's thrilling to be on both sides.
Each piece - both the partner relationships and the customer relationships - is immensely important to us. We want to do a great job for both sides by bringing as many new fans as possible to our partners brands, and we do that by building the best technology, processes and structure to support Mac gaming.
The work that we do is much more than just a "port" of a game. There's a tremendous amount of effort in making the game play, look, feel and behave well on the Mac. Mac users can be demanding and hold us -- and really every Mac software title -- to a pretty high standard. The work and expectations are exponentially higher on these big brands. Obviously, it's a thrill to work on these games, but the development work, testing and support efforts are huge.
JC: What can you tell us about the process by which Aspyr chooses a game to port, or is offered one? Any there any kind of games you would avoid even if brought to you first?
MR: We work hard to be great partners with the best brands in the entertainment industry. So, we always start there first. However, if a game can't meet the standards for performance, play, "feel" of what a Mac game should be, meaning for whatever reason, it's not possible to deliver that experience with a particular title, then we might avoid that game.
Our development process requires source code access and we believe that's the only way to even attempt a Mac game. If a partner company has a brand that won't allow that effort and has decided to settle for making a game "acceptable" on Mac or just run the title through "emulation" or "enablement" technologies, then we would avoid that.
JC: Sometimes we see games ported by a Mac game studio such as yourselves, but later on a sequel or new game in the franchise will be done by a different studio, or even ported with wrappers like Cider or Wine. Do relationships break down, or is it all simply about money and contracts?
MR: Our success with a game may lead some partners to believe they'd see equal or greater success by doing it themselves or with a competitor. It's interesting how executing very well can ultimately lead to the loss or threatened loss of that business. Sometimes something that's really hard can look simple to accomplish, and that leads to people trying it on their own or through shortcuts. You see that in a lot of areas of life and business.
Additionally, leadership changes can mean strategy changes and that can affect our relationship. The process of securing new content is ongoing and never finished. We are always in a place of defending our business and role. We firmly believe it takes expertise and dedication to the Mac platform to make good products that people enjoy, and we have that dedication as shown with our 17+ years of doing this.
JC: You announced Bioshock Infinite well in advance of its Mac release. Generally we only see games announced significantly closer to their release dates. Why was Infinite different?
MR: Mac game development and publishing is reliant on lots of approvals and moving pieces, and often can be a bit unpredictable. Therefore, we often don't discuss ship dates with the belief that the negatives of being wrong potentially outweigh the benefit of being right. But, we're always looking at ways to improve and through our community relationships we'd heard a desire to know more about the timing of our releases. Our fans had expressed a desire to support us, we felt good about the timing of Infinite, so we thought we'd try something different. We won't always be able to do this, but if we can try and meet a need we will.
JC: Obviously Bioshock Infinite is this summer's big release from Aspyr. Can you tell us about anything else we might see this year?
MR: No specific announcements today! We always believe our best days are in front of us and couldn't be any more excited about Bioshock Infinite, as well as the rest of our lineup.
JC: Thank you for your time!
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