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Turner gives vidgames a post-retail afterlife

Turner Broadcasting is offering vintage video games a second kick at the can with its new GameTap broadband service, built around a library of more than 1,000 console and arcade games that aren't available in stores anymore.
June 1, 2005

Turner Broadcasting is offering vintage video games a second kick at the can with its new GameTap broadband service, built around a library of more than 1,000 console and arcade games that aren’t available in stores anymore.

The Turner TV model of buying big libraries to provide the initial backbone of new channels (picking up the Hanna Barbera vault to fuel Cartoon Network is a prime example) was the inspiration for GameTap. Accordingly, many of the service’s games are retro titles from the ’70s and ’80s, and none were developed for the current generation of consoles. ‘Right now, game companies only have a short time at retail to sell their games,’ says GameTap inventor Blake Lewin. ‘What Turner is creating is a kind of syndication window for games, like we have for films and TV shows on our networks.’

Of the 1,000 game titles Turner has picked up from 17 different publishers, 300 will be available when the service launches in the fall; the rest will roll out gradually in weekly installments to freshen up the offering. To keep the service kid-friendly, Turner is eschewing mature-rated games in favor of all-ages fare like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 and Sonic the Hedgehog. Lewin says the selection will be updated continually, and he also plans to add educational software to the library in the next year. Gamecos are paid a straight license fee for their libraries or titles, and 80% of the deals inked so far have been for five-year exclusive windows. But game studios interested in pitching should check their development slates at the door because the GameTap team is not interested in launches, preferring instead to let retailers duke it out for these new titles. ‘We know where our window is,’ says Lewin.

To infuse its service with additional value above and beyond the retro appeal of reconnecting with golden oldies such as Pac Man and Pong, Turner will be producing a ton of related video extras like behind-the-scenes footage of the game development process. The GameTap team has also picked up original concept art, TV ads and retro news footage about gaming.

GameTap may borrow from Turner’s on-air marketing playbook to support new releases in popular franchises belonging to its game partners. So just as TNT broadcast the first two Matrix flicks when the third movie hit theaters in 2004, Lewin says when Ubisoft releases the fifth installment of its popular Myst game series this fall, GameTap could potentially promote the launch around the older Myst titles it offers.

In terms of straight-up mechanics, subscribers who’ve ponied up their US$10 to US$20 download special software from the web onto their desktops. Once installed, the GameTap service takes over the whole computer, drawing consumers into an immersive environment where they can search for downloads in the game vault, or hit the MediaPlex and check out original streaming video.

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