Where Old Games Go To Die

The good folks at Gametap comped me an account for a short while, and I’ve spent a few days playing with it. It’s…interesting.

First off, despite my self-professed love for direct-to- drive systems, the very proliferation of them is somewhat astounding. On one machine I have Stardock’s totalgaming.net, Steam, and now Gametap. I’m waiting for them to start playing Corewars on my machine, each trying to sabotage the others.

The value proposition underlying Gametap is a subscription model. For about $10/month, you gain access to their library of games, which spans a good variety of titles from a number of platforms, from the Atari 2600 up through Windows. Presumably, if you stop paying them their $10/month, you lose the ability to play those games – just like Xbox Live.

When Gametap first launched, they placed a strong emphasis on their back library of retrogames. This, oddly, had the effect of repelling me from their system. After all, I already owned most of those games, and wasn’t paying anyone for the privilege of playing them. Over time, their library of modern and semi-modern Windows games has grown substantially. At this point, they have a significant enough library of Windows games that for some people it’s probably worth signing up just to get access to them.

Really, though, I think the Gametap marketing manages to completely misrepresent their product. There are some critically great things about the system that they manage to not explain well. Fortunately, for them, I am here to explain why it’s worth it to pay a subscription for access to these games, instead of just doing it for yourself a la carte.

1. No Stupid Installers

All the games in Gametap seem to run from within the Gametap application, which operates as a simple shell. Consequently, every game is installed in exactly the same way: click a button to get the game.

2. No CDs to lose.

Amusingly, earlier on the very day I installed Gametap, I had installed Jagged Alliance 2 from CD. And, of course, the game won’t run without the CD in the drive, because apparently, computer game publishers are gibbering morons who are intent on pissing away one of the few advantages their dying platform has. Gametap saves these publishers from themselves. All of the copy protection is rolled into their authentication scheme. When I installed Gametap later that evening, I saw they had Jagged Alliance 2 Gold and immediately trashed my CD-based version.

3. Nice visual browser

Sure, it’s whooshy and pointless, but I like the visual overview of the game library.

4. Sam & Max, Freelance Police

Gametap is helping sponsor the new Sam & Max games. So if you were going to buy them anyway – and you should – a Gametap subscription is arguably the cheapest way to get them. Sure, you won’t be able to play it once your subscription runs out but c’mon. When was the last time you replayed Grim Fandango, anyway? Be honest: never.

5. Seamless Emulation of Old Platforms

Yes, I have a Genesis emulator, a Nintendo emulator, and so on. I have games for the various emulators. But you know what? It’s sort of irritating to set up, and I have to keep everything organized just so for each emulator, and either remember the different keys they use or reconfigure them, so the end result is I don’t actually play any of those games because the psychic cost of entry is too high. Gametap lowers that psychic cost of entry, in return for cash.

There are a few disadvantages that are worth mentioning.

1. Video Commercials For Games With Slutty Chicks That Play When Your 5

Year Old Niece Is In The Room And There’s No (Obvious) Goddamn Pause Button

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory.

2. It’s Diskariffic!

If you’re playing on a machine without that much disk space, you may as well kiss your free space goodbye. Since games don’t tell you how much space they require, this can be troublesome. Probably not a serious problem for people playing on desktop systems.

3. Windows only

In my fantasy world, I could be playing Jagged Alliance 2 Gold on my MacBook Pro running Mac OS X. While riding my flying pony.

These drawbacks, it seems to me, are not serious enough to harm the value proposition. If you can live with the idea of “renting” access to a game rather than owning shiny pieces of plastic, then I think it’s a sensible and worthwhile system.