Opening the GameTap

The digital downloadable games service expands its business model to incorporate free, ad-supported play

GameTap general manager Stu Snyder says the new free-to-play ad-supported model will expand the economics and audience of GameTap. “We already have 2 to 3 million uniques a month and you can do the math really quick over an annual basis—that’s an audience that we can tap into via advertising,” he says.

GameTap’s new free service is slated to go live on May 31 at

For the uninitiated, GameTap is currently a subscription-driven digital downloadable games service. Using a GameTap client, gamers can download around 850 different games to their PCs as long as they are part of one of the subscription plans. The basic month-to-month plan is $9.95 per month.

Offering free—albeit limited—versions of services is a common practice in various areas of the videogame business. Acclaim offers users free-to-play MMOs that are ad- and micropayment supported. While not heavily ad-supported in relative terms, the free Xbox Live Silver service lacks online multiplayer but manages to convert some users into Gold subscribers who access all of the features for $50 annually.

About nine months ago Snyder and the GameTap team began to realize that its paid-subscription-only model is counterproductive to expanding the reach of the compelling service. He wanted to “open the tap” for all potential consumers.

“With 2 to 3 million uniques per month, we realized we weren’t monetizing that many uniques to our website,” he says. “We kind of looked back and said, ‘gee, we should [offer an ad-supported version].' Also, our demographic was looking for an easy way to play games without making a huge time commitment or financial commitment. So we figured why not have all options for all gamers?”

He adds, “We believe that the more people who get to see GameTap and get to experience GameTap will ultimately become gold members.” Users can also switch back-and-forth between free and paid memberships on a month-to-month basis if they choose.

With this newest expansion of GameTap, free users will be able to upgrade to another free level that Snyder calls the “green” level. Users can still play games for free, but multiplayer and community features will open up, although registration will be required.

The paid gold level offers all the features with no ads at the current GameTap subscription rates.

There is a catch for those who don’t want to pay for GameTap. Only around 30 full versions of games will be made available to freeloaders, including Metal Slug, Joust, Rampage, Robotron 2084 and others. Free catalog titles will be in a weekly and monthly rotation and there will be advertising both before and after the games.

Being part of a gigantic media conglomerate like Turner certainly doesn’t hurt GameTap’s ad-supported ambitions.

“We have relationships with the advertiser community that are second to none,” Snyder explains. “With our networks of TBS and TNT and Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, CNN, our gaming product now is something that they all want in their portfolios.

“We’re adding incremental value to our existing advertisers who want to be in the games space,” he says.

GameTap appears to be evolving at a rather rapid rate. The service launched in October 2005 with around 300 titles and has nearly tripled that amount since. GameTap’s library has also expanded from older PC titles to include “GameTap Original” games such as Myst Online: Uru. The company also recently announced an initiative called GameTap Indies for independent game developers. GameTap TV was added post-launch and features videos aimed at the 18-49 “slightly male skewed” GameTap audience.

Snyder also says that GameTap would be moving its TV programming from its client to the web, as well as launching a digital retail store where users will be able to buy and download new and cataloged games for keeps.

The company is also readying an announcement with a “major” videogame publisher as part of a strategy to align more GameTap games launches with retail release dates.

“…Digital distribution continues to grow,” Snyder says. “There is an audience out there that wants their games in this distribution method so we are working with publishers to get games day and date, and if not day and date then we’re working with them to get titles months from retail release, not years.”

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