Tomorrow (May 31st), GameTap is going to launch a functional and aesthetic face lift to GameTap.com.
I've been meaning to write up some thoughts on the company, concept, and potential for several months, and tomorrow's relaunch --and a Joystiq.com interview with GameTap VP of Marketing David Reid and their VP of Content Rick Sanchez (who I've met, is a sharp (and nice), and has been very responsive to my questions) spurred me to action.
If you're unfamiliar with the GameTap service, the oversimplification is it's a Turner Broadcasting offering, and lets you play (usually) older PC game hits on your PC. It's a subscription model (that is, until tomorrow), with nearly 900 games on-Tap (*snicker*).
The Joystiq interview has got some good stuff.
Stuff like, "Turner Broadcasting has this core competence in acquiring content", which is ostensibly how TBS, Cartoon Network (seriously dislike the usability of their Website), and GameTap got started.
The difference is GameTap was Turner's first direct-to-consumer model, and it's grown to be more than just games -- as it also has a "GameTap TV" arm (also available via your computer), and recently announced a new, original IP traditional (video game-related) television series.
So, what changes with tomorrow?
"What you'll see more of is a less purist game business model and more of an overall broadcast model. Like our ad-supported games service."There's a fundamental switch from a "cable model", to a "film / TV model, with three new "tiers":
- Subscription (the current GameTap model, and likened to "video-on-demand"
- Digital Retail Business (new on Thursday, and likened to "box office premiere")
- Free service (new on Thursday, and analogous to "free broadcast television")
There's also some other good stuff in the interview, like a succinct (and diplomatic) breakdown of GameTap's version of "episodic" (which they've made work, with Sam & Max), versus Valve. And there are bigger media change nuggets in the interview, like what the interviewer calls "co-releases in retail and on the service" (the first being Tomb Raider: Anniversary), but Mark Cuban has been calling "day-and-date" releases (like what he and Steven Soderbergh did with Bubble and it's same-day theatrical / DVD release). Media distribution is changing big-time.
And I'm excited that America McGee's Grimm -- a 24-episode treatment of children's fare, a la the 2000 PC hit Alice (one of my favorite PC games). But it's American McGee, and while I think he's brilliant (again, a la Alice), Bad Day LA and Scrapland got me hyped and then left me cold. And they took loooong development hikes. So despite GameTap saying they make episodic content work by "only talking to developers who can actually deliver on a schedule", my sense is McGee isn't great on that front. On the upside, he's an entrepreneur's entrepreneur, and I'm impressed by his Spicy Horse Shanghai game development studio (love their logo), and his Carbon6 / TMIEC cross-media IP development houses.
Oh, and Mac owners are going to get start playing via GameTap this summer.
But I want more:
Seriously. Maybe I'm greedy. And maybe it's my product management background. And maybe it's that I'm really good at making product / service suggestions with other people's stuff (my bonuses aren't tied to their success or failures ;-).
I've attended a few sessions where companies like GameTap, Encore, Inc., RealNetworks, and Microsoft verbally joust about their online services.
Not to get all We-are-the-World on you, but from a business perspective, why can't Microsoft pull a DirecTV partnership with GameTap, and give GameTap an additional distribution pipe, giving both of them additional revenue, and me an additional play pipe?
This seems like an obvious win-win-win (GameTap-Microsoft-me):
- Additional distribution pipe (and revenue stream) for GameTap.
- Additional content partner (and, therefore, content) for Microsoft -- for Xbox Live Marketplace (via GameTap TV) and Xbox Live Arcade (via GameTap games)
- Additional revenue for Microsoft (depending on how they structure their "consignment" take on XBL Marketplace content).
- Additional way for me to play the games I want, on the platform I want.
I envision something like a "My Subscriptions" Xbox Dashboard blade, where I can get to my value-added subscriptions (which would also be embedded in appropriate existing blades). These would be services (GameTap, DirecTV, Zune Marketplace (detest that site), etc.) that I pay for on top of the Xbox Live subscription cost, or I'm already paying for outside of Xbox Live.
I can't figure out why this isn't happening already. I mean, Turner's parent company is Warner Bros., who's already a strategic XBL Marketplace content provider (and see here for more, and here for music). And Adult Swim is already dumping a ton of content onto XBL Marketplace, so this seems like a logical extension.
Either that, or I'm missing something big. And probably obvious.