When Turner Broadcasting Systems launched GameTap in October 2005, the gaming community took only cursory notice. Despite the fact the PC-based subscription service put a few hundred titles at gamers' fingertips, GameTap was merely a curiosity, at least among the people I encountered. Its extensive collection of past PC releases and carefully emulated arcade and console classics made for a nice trip down memory lane, but it wasn't embraced as an essential service.
A lot has changed since GameTap's release, though. In the last few months I've seen and heard more mention of GameTap in gaming forums, podcasts and editorials than I have in its two-year lifespan. Although it doesn't yet seem to garner the same attention as other high-profile content delivery services, like Nintendo's Virtual Console or Valve's Steam platform, GameTap looks to be gaining ground.
The service's march toward widespread appreciation has been a slow one. Gamers took notice when GameTap landed a contract with Telltale Games that culminated in the October 2006 release of the first episode of Sam and Max: Season One. The move brought GameTap instant credibility, especially for Sam and Max fans still mourning LucasArts' cancellation of the franchise's previous sequel. GameTap scored further points by resurrecting the previously dead-in-beta Myst Online: Uru Live in February 2007.
GameTap needed a franchise whose reach extended beyond Sam and Max's cult status, though, so it smartly enlisted one of gaming's most well-known icons: Lara Croft. GameTap acquired vintage Tomb Raider games early on and followed up by providing Tomb Raider: Legend to subscribers in May 2006, just over a month after its retail release.
GameTap's monthly subscription fee, which had been reduced to $9.95 a month, offered an attractive proposition for Tomb Raider fans who would otherwise pay full retail price for Legend. And when Tomb Raider: Anniversary hit shelves in June 2007, GameTap launched the game the same day as retail and bookended the release with extensive complementary content. Anniversary's release was preceded by an exclusive nine-part GameTap TV documentary on the history of the franchise and was followed by the Tomb Raider-themed debut season of Re\Visioned, an animated GameTap series devoted to exploring gaming icons from new perspectives. The first season of Re\Visioned, which is still underway, depicts the early exploits of a Minnie Driver-voiced Lara Croft, as imagined by a variety of animation luminaries, including Aeon Flux's Peter Chung.
Few gaming properties enjoy the name recognition of the Tomb Raider series, and GameTap has lavished more attention and bandwidth on the franchise than any other platform or service. Its Tomb Raider content is, in effect, its killer app. It's the gateway media for new subscribers who, once they take a look around, realize GameTap has even more to offer.