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A Close Look at Turner's GameTap Service
posted by: Sean Hilliard
publisher: GameTap
developer: Turner Broadcasting
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date posted: 01:31 PM Thu Oct 13th, 2005
last revision: 09:01 PM Thu Oct 13th, 2005

Click to read.GameTap was previewed Oct. 8th at the U.S. Download Festival, but the rest of us have to wait until this Monday, Oct. 17th to get our online gaming fix. GamesFirst! sat down with Rick Sanchez, Vice President of Content for GameTap, who was kind enough to both confirm and deny some rumors about the service, as well as drop some bombs.

TBS Inc. is licensing nearly 1,000 games from 17 publishers, with 300 of those games scheduled to be available at launch. According to Sanchez, more games will be added each week.

\"The number of new games is going to change a lot from week to week as new titles are acquired and prepared for delivery,\" Sanchez said.

The service will cost gamers $15 a month, with a two-week free trial period. This fee is not unlike the Yahoo! Games on Demand service, which also costs $15 a month. However, unlike Yahoo!, GameTap does not have multiple subscription plans, with limited access programs that allow gamers to play fewer titles for a cheaper price.

There are a lot of top-notch publishers included among the original 17 signed up to GameTap - including Ubisoft - but none of them are first-party developers, like Nintendo. However, Sanchez says that the company is working is working on more.

\"Our wish list includes having every top publisher in the industry on GameTap,\" he said. \"Stay tuned for an announcement (about this) in coming weeks.\"

Some of the games expected at launch include Pong, Pac-Man, and Tom Clancy\'s Splinter Cell, as well as Sonic and Tony Hawk\'s Pro Skater 2. According to Sanchez the \"line-up will span all of the classic arcade and console games to PC games as recent as last year, such as Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow.\" GameTap will be big on emulation, offering classic console games playable through the GameTap emulator in addition to contemporary PC titles.

Yahoo!\'s Game on Demand service only offers PC games.

There will also be some exclusive GameTap games that can\'t be found anywhere else.

\"A lot of our classic content is currently out of print unless you own the original consoles or arcade units,\" Sanchez said. \"We are the only service to offer Dreamcast games.\"

The system used to play games on GameTap is a little different from services like Yahoo! Games on Demand. Instead of downloading part of the core game and streaming in levels while connected to the service, like Yahoo! does, GameTap users will download an encrypted form of the game that they can only use while connected to the online service.

\"To reduce wait times, Turner employs secure caching technology that allows users to store downloaded games on their own computers, so that frequently-played titles get retained for quick access,\" Sanchez said.

In addition to the games content GameTap offers, Sanchez emphasized the original programming that will appear on the service, calling it the \"most exclusive offering we have.\" One of the shows features Space Ghost interviewing game developers. Will we see Space Ghost sit down with J Allard to discuss mountain biking, Halo, and Ferraris (three things Allard is fond of and/or developed)?

It could happen.

\"To reach GameTap\'s broad audience spanning novice to expert gamers, we\'ve created original programming that features something for everyone,\" Sanchez says.

In addition to Space Ghost, gamers can expect \"how-tos with a twist, to insider looks at how celebrities play games.\"

Sanchez also affirms GameTap\'s commitment to helping, not hindering, the normal retail cycle of a game. Their goal is not to not threaten retailers like GameStop or EB Games.

\"Our role is to work with publishers, not against them,\" Sanchez said, \"so we won\'t be releasing a game before it enters the standard retail channel. The goal of GameTap is to offer a new post-retail channel for games.\"

However, GameTap will have some exclusive features. A big announcement has been made regarding the Myst V: End of Ages behind-the-scenes documentary that the service produced. Not only is it on the collector\'s edition of the disc, but it\'s also featured on GameTap for download.

\"Ubisoft saw the quality of content we\'re doing at GameTap and asked if we\'d produce the documentary for (them),\" Sanchez said.

Will the game itself be far behind in arriving? Possibly.

\"It is up to the discretion of Ubisoft to decide if and when it will appear on GameTap, but we\'d certainly welcome it,\" Sanchez said.

There will be a lot of talk about gaming on GameTap, thanks to the service\'s version of AOL Instant Messenger, which allows gamers to chat with each other in real time. However, Sanchez dropped his first bomb:

\"This service will not be immediately available at launch,\" he said. This kind of news will certainly depress gamers who were expecting the sort of community on GameTap that the press releases had promised.

However, could gamers\' hopes be raised by being able to finally see if boxers or briefs would win in a fight?

Apparently not. Sanchez teased GamesFirst! with the news that there would be a marketing release in the coming weeks about this and other new shows.

Well, at least there will be MMOs, right?

\"Not initially,\" Sanchez said, \"we are exploring online multiplayer options for future iterations.\"

If this wasn\'t bad enough, he had one last bomb to drop on gamers.

\"At the moment, there are no M- or AO-rated games,\" Sanchez said. All right, so there won\'t be any Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas \"hot coffee\" for us to, err, spill.

That isn\'t really as much a problem as gamers being able to frag their way through a room full of monsters.

Without M-rated games, GameTap will have to compete with rival services like Yahoo! Games on Demand mainly on the strength of their emulation. However, without big-name first-party developers, there may be some reluctance to try the service. PC games tend to skew towards a more adult audience anyway, and many popular titles (such as the award-winning Deus Ex series, available on Yahoo!\'s service) are rated M, targeted at a mature audience, and sought out by adult gamers.

Attracting that initial core audience will be key. Think about Steam, Valve\'s online downloading service, and how much of a pain it was at launch. It\'s supposed to have improved over time, but when is the last time you logged on to the program? I can\'t even remember the last time I visited the Web site.

How will GameTap fare? Only time will tell.

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