Should Apple Buy EA and Razer to Help Gaming? It Worked With Beats
I originally started this article back right before WWDC 2020. I updated it for 2021, but at that time I didn’t feel like I had a full picture. That has changed with WWDC 2022. We have a full set of Apple Silicon chips, at least on the consumer side, and some huge changes to Metal and gaming support. All the information needed is here. But what else does Apple need and could a pair of high profile additions make Apple a gaming powerhouse? Let’s take a look.
A Noticeable Absense
Apple TV+ was very much a service in its early days when a couple years back. It’s grown with big budget, acclaimed shows like Foundation, Ted Lasso, and Severance However, its first real hit stands out: Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet. The show is similar in premise to HBO's Silicon Valley, but instead of a tech software startup, it focuses on the team behind a fictionalized World of Warcraft-type MMO. For a show that is distributed by Apple, the company is noticeably absent and really only appears in the Quarantine Episode between seasons 1 and 2. In Apple’s place is a company that many consider to be its gaming analogue: Razer. This got my brain thinking, would it make sense for Apple and Razer to team up?
A Very Un-Apple Move... Or Is it?
To most people in the Apple-sphere, the thought of the thought of buying a Windows gaming powerhouse doesn’t make sense. Apple doesn't buy known companies, they buy startups on the cheap and incorporate the technology into their perfection…I mean company, we’re talking about Apple and not the Borg right? Razer has a different demographic and don't fit Apple's "image." They are a very different company with different priorities: Razer's primary R&D is in Singapore and their official headquarters is a nondescript office in Irvine, south of Los Angeles. They focus on gamers, something Apple has had in issue with in the last decade or so. Buying another company so different sounds like something Apple would never do.
A Musical Precedent
Except, that they have. In 2014, Apple paid $3.2 Billion for Beats. It had been rumored for a while, but nobody believed it until it happened. It was the largest acquisition that, to this day, Apple has ever done. In fact, with the exception of Claris International, whom I am not entirely sure Apple realizes they still own, Beats was really the first time Apple has had a subsidiary. That brand's image is mainly tied to sports and music, especially hip-hop culture. The match seemed like almost something out of Weird Al's White and Nerdy video. Lots of people, myself included, dismissed this move as completely out of place at the time.
We were proven utterly wrong and Apple became a much better company because of it. It turns out the work culture, which is the important part, was completely compatible with Apple. Beats complemented Apple in ways in which they were lacking. Not only did Beats thrive with access to Apple's resources and second-to-none silicon division, it really helped Apple too. Sound on Apple devices has gone from subpar at best on past devices to a strength with the current Macs and iPad, delivering some of the best OEM sound in their segments.
Retaining the Beats has led to some duplication to be sure, but its duplication with choice. My Beats Fit Pro are functionally equivalent the AirPods Pro, but there as those, such as myself, who prefer the traditional sports design of the Beats over the more iconic AirPods design. In fact, I have three different sets of Beats wireless headsets right now and not a single pair of AirPods. The Beats work better for me. The AirPods work better for my friends. We’re all happy with our choices. This is how a subsidiary should work, different brands and images working towards one goal.
Then there's Apple Music, built from the bones Beats music. Apple Music became the successor brand to iTunes, which itself was built upon the purchase of SoundJam MP two decades prior. While not as dominant as the iTunes Store before the subscription era, Apple Music is really only second to Spotify in terms of customer base. It’s hard not to call it an overwhelming success. The move was so successful that Beats' stomping ground of Culver City has become the home of Apple's successful services division.
It has all worked brilliantly both practically and financially for Apple.
Apple’s Uphill Gaming Battle
When Apple has talked about gaming in the past, it has been almost always about casual gaming. AAA titles have been few and far between with the Mac loosing significant ground in the last few years despite ditching OpenGL for the superior Metal. The very hyped VR plans that played promptly at WWDC just a couple years ago practically died with a whimper when Valve dumped Steam VR for the Mac. Meanwhile eSports are huge and Nintendo is raking in money hand over fist on the technologically outdated ARM powered Nintendo Switch. In fact, Nintendo is able to charge the full $60 for a game while an Apple developer struggles to get $10. This is why so many games have resorted to the dreaded Micro transactions.
As of WWDC 22, Apple has all the physical skills and to make for a successful gaming company. The ingredients are all there. Metal 3 has largely caught up with DX12 and Vulcan, and most gaming accessories work across Apple platforms. The platform Apple engineers have done a great job. They also have another ace in the hole, games made for one of Apple’s four major platforms can be easily be made to work with the other three. It happens all the time on Apple Arcade.
So why is gaming so weak on Apple platforms? Quite simply, Trust or lake thereof. They haven’t had a whole lot of reason to trust Apple, There’s been a long history of disinterest, incomplete features, and Apple announcing things at WWDC they don’t follow through on. The Catalina 32-bit apocalypse and the court battle with onetime keynote partner Epic Games aren’t helping matters either. That said, new hardware and new technology have have hope for the future.
In fact, in many ways Apple Silicon is a rebirth from scratch of the Mac. Apple has to convince developers to come back all over again. What we got out of the WWDC 22 keynote was a good start, but its not like EA, we’ll talk about them in a little bit, is bringing its entire recent game catalog to the Mac and iPad. We got three AAA game announcements.
Apple’s largest hurdle, however, is end user perception. Apple have a very negative reputation among gamers. This is one that even technical brilliance can be hard pressed to overcome. Sony and Microsoft overcame them to replace Nintendo and Sega as the top gaming platforms, but Apple has a larger mountain to climb, There’s been 20 years of “you can’t game on a Mac” and the bad memory that is the Pippen.
What Apple may needs is gaming equivalents to Beats to break through this mountain of ice.
EA -Apple’s in the Game?
Apple’s largest issue with gaming right now is catalog. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo got past that issue by owning game studios. Apple doesn’t have any and developing their own would take years. Fortunately for Apple, one of the most dominant game studios is interested to Apple as an owner: EA.
With EA, we’re talking a game publisher with huge IP across multiple platforms, multiple highly respected game studios, their own Origin game store, the Frostbite engine, and oh yeah, they’re the preferred developer of Star Wars games. If you’ve played Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order, you know what I’m talking about.
Besides, gladly throwing billions at EA, how should Apple handle this? Start by leaving EA in Redwood City and make them Apple’s gaming hub. Leave operations alone, making the games Apple exclusive would be incredibly stupid and probably anger Disney and the sports leagues for licensed IP. Gaming would create another revenue source independent of their hardware sales. The idea of Apple as only a hardware company died with Apple Computer becoming Apple Inc in 2007.
While leaving EA mostly alone, serving Apple platforms would also be a must. Creating Mac development teams to port the important members of the back catalog and requiring that all new releases of the past few years be brought to Apple platforms. To this end, Apple might also think about bringing Feral Interactive, who has worked closely with EA on ports, under their umbrella.
EA’s enormous catalog would also provide a lot of leverage. Sony is buying Bungie and Microsoft owns or is acquiring, basically half the game industry at this point. Set up a “we’ll scratch your back if you scratch ours” type arrangement. I don’t think we’ll see Halo go cross platform, but having Zenimax and Blizzard Activision titles on Apple’s platforms would be huge. The EA catalog would also definite help if Apple were to create a premium game subscription service above and beyond the very casual oriented Apple Arcade. Especially if it were a cross-platform subscription.
Then there’s the true dark-horse asset here: Origin. First, games need separate from the App Store, this has been apparent for a while. Games have been treated like apps when they’re entertainment. If anything oversight needs to be under Eddy Cue’s services division. But having their own cross-platform game store has one other huge opportunity, working out a reciprocity agreement similar to Movies Anywhere across game stores.
This is where Apple gets regulators off their back while keeping platform integrity. You can buy it anywhere you want, but the game has to be served to your device by an Apple-owned store. For Valve’s steam and the other game stores, they don’t have to worry about having their own apps on the Mac, you could make purchases on the web if there was a great Steam sale. Apple could also compete cross platform using Origin or whatever it’s renamed as the primary game store on Apple’s platforms.
The final main advantage of getting games out of the App Store of it all, they get to negotiate with Epic in a way everyone saves face. Let’s face it, Epic’s Unreal Engine is vital to gaming on Apple platforms. While what Epic did was wrong, Apple trying to cut off the Unreal Engine and punish game developers who followed the rules was simply idiotic. It brought Apple all kinds of attention that they don’t need. They turned a small problem into a large one.
The Razer’s Edge
Remember when I told you about the image issue? They don’t just have one for gaming software, they have one big time for Apple hardware. Apple’s the computer equivalent to Volvo. They’re definitely premium, but safe and kind of boring. For the average computer user, that’s not a problem. They get the work done. Problem is that you don’t think of Volvo as a performance brand. You want something flash. Well, gaming is the same way. Real gamers don’t want safe and reliable, they want flash. They want multi-color LEDs, they want to show off. Apple Silicon hardware can more than handle for gaming, but that’s not Apple’s brand. Why create something new, when a drop-in fight already exists?
This is where Razer could come into the fold. Like Apple, it’s engineers like to push boundaries and build things to exacting specifications. Razer speaks both Apple and gamer and can translate between the two. They have a cult-like following and a top down model from computers to accessories to chairs. They are uniquely qualified to quite literally be the Apple of gaming.
Razer is also a company ready to take its next step. It started as an accessory maker and stepped up its game to building some of the best gaming and non-gaming Windows laptops on the market. However, it lacks the resources of a larger company like Apple. This is where Apple fits the needs of Razer unlike no other company. Not only does have Apple have an almost unlimited supply of R&D money, Apple Silicon has been way ahead of the curve in performance and efficiency.
Razer would have access to both hardware and software for not just their laptops and SFF desktops, but iOS and ipadOS offer Razer a second chance at gaming-focused phones and tablets with a unique identity differ than the iPhone and iPad. Computers wouldn’t have to follow the same design slots as Apple. They could do things that Apple would never be crazy enough to do, 17” Razer Blade with a future M2 Max or ultra anyone? Razer could also make use of spatial audio technology for immersive game audio. Razer wouldn’t have to wait for Intel or AMD. Further more, existing Razer models could be upgraded to run macOS and bootcamp while future Apple Silicon ones could Apple’s business future in optimizing the ARM version of Windows for Apple hardware.
There’s also an integration advantage they don’t get with Microsoft. Each distribution of Apple’s services are tailored to the device. Just imagine the Apple logos replaced with Razer ones. Razer Synapse integrated at OS level and Chroma part of HomeKit would be killer.
TV: The Final Platform Frontier
Then there’s the platform that Apple has struggled with. So much so that it didn’t make the WWDC 22 keynote, tvOS. The AppleTV has been something, at least in the last few generations that Apple knows is important, but doesn’t know what to do with. The current AppleTVs exist in a spot where basically no-one wants to be in, far more expensive than a Fire TV or Google TV device, but not a game console. Apple could start to fix this on the streaming side by releasing two products: a $150 A14 powered AppleTV with 64 and 256GB versions as well as a S5 or S6 powered AppleTV Mini. This should handle most family needs for streaming and light gaming as well as acting as HomeKit hub.
But what about more? What about truly taking on Nintendo and Sony? tvOS16 includes all the Metal3 and game controller improvements in the macOS 13 and iPadOS 16. Once again, making a Mac or iPad game run on tvOS takes very little effort. Apple’s ecosystems have the potential to be the next stage in game development where whatever device you have is your AAA game console.
This, again is where Razer’s brand could come into play. Imagine a console powered by an M-series, M-Pro, Max, or even Ultra chip. Black with Multi-color Chroma accents launching with a full slate of EA games. Now imagine there’s multiple machines to fit different price points. What’s more, they’re smaller and quieter than the competition. That’s something gamers could flock to. That’s something Razer engineers would want to do. Razer’s design and Apple’s ingenuity. What’s more, there could be a huge uptick in demand for M-series chips dropping the price for Apple.
The catch here, is Apple and Razer are high margin businesses. Game consoles are not. The HD Xbox Series S is $299 and the 4K Series X and PS5 are $499. You’re not going to be selling a console for as much as a PC. Nobody would buy it. To get into this space, at both he consumer and gamer level, Apple will have to think of it as a way to sell services. You sell the device at cost and make it up with content.
What the future holds for Apple and gaming is anyone’s guess. They’ve taken additional steps forward and have all the tools available to make a gaming platform. How serious they are and whether they’re willing to adapt is entirely up to Apple. I’ve shown one possible future. The ball is in Tim Cook’s hands to craft the real one.