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Interview: Steam on Mac OS X is 'the biggest event in Steam's history,' John Cook says

When Valve confirmed Mac support for Steam last week, I emailed the Joystiq team with the following claim: "this is arguably the biggest gaming news on Mac OS ever." It seems Valve shares the sentiment, as the company's John Cook – director of Steam development at Valve – calls it "the biggest event in Steam's history." He also answered some more of our questions via email, so read on!

Joystiq: Just to clarify, Steam users with games already purchased on Windows and that have Mac versions available will have those Mac versions accessible to them immediately in Steam, for no extra charge?

John Cook: This is supported by "Steam Play." We are using this feature to provide cross-platform access to all Valve games to those who already own the PC version. We hope other developers and publishers will use it in the same way.

Some blogs have reported that Valve "hates the Mac" – From Gabe: "So, they seem to think that they want to do gaming, but there's never any follow through on any of the things they say they're going to do. That makes it hard to be excited about doing games for their platforms." So, as a followup, was Apple involved in this endeavor at all? Did they provide any programming resources or platform-level assistance?

First, the statement that Gabe hates the Mac is erroneous. In fact, he worked on a 6Mhz Lisa running a Mac emulator in his first post-college job and is involved in the current Mac work on a daily basis. As for Apple, yes -- we've been working with them on this project and we're looking forward to expanding that relationship as we launch Steam for the Mac.

Gallery: Valve Mac faux ads | 6 Photos

We've heard rumblings that the project was codenamed "Piston" and has been in development since early 2008. Can you confirm? If not, how long has it been in development for?

It's Steam for the Mac and it's coming in April.

How large of a project is this?

We consider this to be the biggest event in Steam's history since the service was first launched. There are several people involved, from the UI team working on Mac support in the Steam client to graphics engineers working on the native version of Source and our games. It's a big effort.

Do you think the presence of Steam on Mac OS X will encourage development or porting efforts for other PC game publishers? If so, why?

That's one of the primary goals, yes. Steam has proven to publishers and developers that the PC games is still thriving, it just needs to be attacked from more directions than retail. And like Steam on the PC, it took some proving with Valve titles to get third parties interest. We believe Steam for the Mac will be a similar, but much shorter, process.

Why now?

We recently announced Portal 2 in cooperation with the Steam community, and that's an example of the transition we're going through between entertainment as a product and entertainment as a service. Another example of entertainment as service would be the 100+ updates to Team Fortress 2 that we've released since it launched in 2007. As a result of that on-going service of Team Fortress 2, our highest sales for the product actually occurred 18 months after we launched. In general, service businesses need to be as close to and as connected to their customers as possible.

In order to support entertainment as a service, you need open, high performance Internet clients, and the Mac does a great job at that.

Is any part of this decision to support the Mac related to the rise of Apple's iPhone platform?

Nope. Our efforts right now are all about the Mac.

Will the Valve games ported to Mac OS be available in an Orange Box-esque bundle?

Valve's games will be offered natively on the Mac. Pricing and specific availability dates are TBD.

Will the Telltale games, which are on Steam now and are being ported to Mac OS X, be available on Steam on OS X?

We are having discussions with all the 1,000 publishers and developers currently offering their games on Steam and hope that many, if not all, eventually bring Mac versions of their games to market.

Thanks, John!

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