Rerouting the ‘Tap

Sorry to be a bit late in posting, but there is some important news in Gametap land. The service is being acquired by European company Metaboli, which offers a Gametap style service exclusive to Europe. The deal lays it down like so: both services will keep their names in their respective regions, and Gametap will still be maintained in Atlanta, but Time Warner will step down by year’s end and Metaboli will be in complete control of business decisions and management.

We have known since August that Time Warner has been looking to sell Gametap, so this does not come as a surprise. The question now is whether this will cause any major changes, for good or bad. For instance, price changes have been on the minds of many people on the ‘tap forums. Gametap’s system is fairly simple – it offers a few free games via web browser and the official client, while a $10 monthly fee nets you all the games. So far the scheme has worked out better than hoped for. Classics like Deus Ex and Fallout have been free for everyone to play, no strings attached, while the subscription service offers a lot of games for less than the price of one MMO.

On the other hand, Metaboli uses a two tiered scheme, where the basic subscribers have to wait a while for brand new games to become available. Their premium service is also more expensive, and that’s before you convert from Euros to dollars. While Gametap promises no price changes for now, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

The other question is what the services will end up providing in regards to future game offerings. In its current form Gametap tries to release just about everything; they add everything from recent PC games to indie games to original software to arcade classics to PC edutainment. It is a balanced diet, and it has let to a library of 1,000 titles. Metaboli is quite a different beast. They do not have nearly as many games, and browsing their library shows that their main focus is on offering modern PC titles.

This is an area where Gametap is a bit less consistent, but that is offset by the fact that they have a staggeringly good library of Capcom and SNK arcade games, and original releases like Sam and Max. While it seems the old games won’t be leaving Gametap, we have no idea which of these two ideologies the new merged company will apply towards their future releases.

The only clues I can find come from this Gametap forums post by a supposed co founder of Metaboli. Key points from the post are:

– A claim that usage statistics show Gametap members playing PC games consistently, while arcade classics are forgotten a few weeks after release.

– He says they see no reason, for now, to change Gametap’s $10/month fee.

– He reminds us that licensing new PC games can be costly, echoing statements from other posters saying that licensing rules and prices differ in both regions. These facts make it difficult for anyone to guarantee anything about future releases or prices.

My hope is that the acquisition doesn’t change much outside of the business aspect. Each service can have a bit of crossover if they like, but with an aging PC, I have no ability to play new games, and even if I could, I don’t have any desire to play buggy PC ports of Assassin’s Creed or Alone in the Dark. I’ve kept Gametap around for two years now thanks to their passion for and knowledge of gaming’s past, present and future. This, in turn, has lead to a library full of pleasant surprises, favorite classics, and even import games. If Metaboli wants to add a bit more of a modern flair, by all means they can try, but I don’t want Gametap to become a subscription version of Direct2Drive.

In reality, I know that there will be changes, and plenty of buzztalk about how great they will be. I guess Gametap’s original, retro-tinted mission has failed, Even before the merger it was clear that they were slowing down their releases of classic games, and those aforementioned usage statistics wouldn’t surprise me one bit. If Metaboli does what I think they will, it will prove once and for all that the current industry is no country for old gamers.

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