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DICE Feature: GameTapping into Classic Content: Rick Sanchez on Why Old is New

Gamasutra sits down with GameTap's vice president of content at DICE to get the details on how Turner Broadcasting's broadband entertainment network, which pioneers a monthly $14.95 subscription for ‘all you can eat' classic games for your PC, came about.

GameTap, Turner Broadcasting's "broadband entertainment network", continues to attempt to pioneer an intriguing business model – a monthly $14.95 subscription for ‘all you can eat' classic games for your PC, licensed from some of the biggest game publishers around.


GameTap's Game Vault

GameTap has already licensed hundreds of games from publishers including Activision, Atari, Eidos Interactive, G-Mode, Intellivision Lives, Midway, Namco, Sega, Taito, Team 17, Ubisoft, Vivendi Universal Games, Codemasters, Cyan, Ironstone, Taurus Media, Electronic Arts, Capcom, Take-Two Interactive, First Star Software, Dreamcatcher Interactive, Knowledge Adventure, 3000AD, SNK Playmore, Interplay, Riverdeep, and Telegames.

While at DICE, Gamasutra took the opportunity to chat with Rick Sanchez, who is vice president of content for GameTap, about how the service is faring so far, and the ideas behind its genesis. Sanchez is charged with overseeing and implementing the content strategy and acquisition management of games, as well as overseeing the production of text-based editorial content and directing the production of video-based content for the firm. Most recently, Sanchez served as vice president of publishing at IGN Entertainment, and previously developed interactive content for Ultra Game Players and Next Generation magazines at Imagine Media.

GS: How did you fall into games?

Rick Sanchez: “I always loved video games, ever since I was a kid. I had a 2600, and an old Apple IIe. I was in [Washington] DC, working on interactive exhibits for the Freedom Forum. Online stuff was just getting going, and Next-Gen Online has just launched. They had a posting for a job working on multimedia projects for Next-Generation Magazine, so I applied for that, flew out, and started working for the magazine and IGN.”

GS: How do you switch from writing about games, to working for a game company?

“With GameTap, they were looking for someone who could bridge operational stuff, and content. To be able to look at some of these games we have in our system, a lot of which are ten or twenty years old, and figure out, ‘Are they good games? Are people still going to want to play them?'

So there's an editorial component about that. But also being able to put together processes, and a team that can get a game working, like some of the classic DOS ones on our system. It's really hard to get a DOS game to work these days.

Assembling a team that can make that happen, and who can work with publishers to make sure the game is right, was a nice combination of skills that I had. My content background is also important because a big part of my job is creating the original programming for GameTap. We're working on original shows with music celebrities to come in, tell us what kind of games they like to play, that kind of thing.”


Gaslight

GS: Now, is there a difference between an old movie that you can still watch, and an old game which – you've overcome the technical difficulty of running it – but is it still worth playing? It's got terrible graphics, dated gameplay...

“The example I like to use is Birth of a Nation. It's a landmark film, right? It's really, really important milestone in American cinema. If you wanted to watch it today, unless you got a copy that someone had found a technical way for you to watch – you could never watch the original. It was a specific 16mm format. If you got an original copy today, you couldn't watch it.

“If you did watch it, you'd be bored to tears. It's a painfully hard to watch movie, partly because of its age, partly because of anachronisms in it, partly because of its subject material. It's a film that, in a lot of ways, glamorizes the KKK. Not that I'm comparing games to that. But as just a milestone in filmdom, it's big, it's out there. They transferred it to tape to people can watch it.

There is a lot of technical work that did go into that film, so you can watch it at home, on tape, or on DVD. The question of, 'is it any good?'. You know what? Most people say it was worth watching one time. There are games like that out there, as well. There are landmark titles that people should play once, if they're interested in games, or care about games.

I'm not going to say Pong is Birth of a Nation – but if you look at a game like Pong, it's very rudimentary. There are two paddles and a blip. But that gameplay was the foundation for so many titles, even new games that are being made today. It's interesting to go back and try it, to see what it's like. And while that might not be a title that does extremely well for us on GameTap, it's great to have it so you can see what it's like.

But let me take a different example. One of my favorite movies is Gaslight. I love that film. But even the best copies I've seen of it are very degraded. The sound quality is poor. But it's still a phenomenal film to watch. It's still great after all these years. My analogy in games would be Yars' Revenge on the 2600 - my favorite game as a kid. If you plug in Yars' Revenge today, the play mechanics are still a lot of fun and the graphics aren't detracting. The quality and craftsmanship that went into Yars' Revenge in the first place has held up over time. Some games haven't. But that one, I think, really has. So yes, it is worth playing some of these games.”

GS: Is it going to be more nostalgia, people remember playing these games, or is it going to be more classics, game students going back and playing all the old great classic games to see what they were like?

“I think it's both. Some games you will only ever play once, out of nostalgia. Dragster, for the Atari 2600 – I'll just use that system again because it was my first console. My brother and I, we sat around the Christmas after we got Dragster for weeks and played it over and over again.

I don't know that I would necessarily want to play Dragster again, accept once, maybe with my brother because we need to relieve our youth.

But there are other titles – I'll go back to Yars' Revenge. It's still really a good game. It's been re-released half-a-dozen times. It's still fun, it's a good like quick hit, and it's something you can play while you're downloading one of our newer games.”


Video game classic Yars' Revenge

GS: How did GameTap originally come about?

“Actually, I wish I could take credit for that, but I can't. There's a guy named Blake Lewlin, long-time Turner employee, who was originally working on interactive TV. And everyone knows, interactive TV has gone nowhere over twelve, fifteen years of development on it. So he got tired of that and was looking for other projects, other ideas. He was looking at what Turner's core competency was, which is taking other people's catalogs, their content libraries, packaging them up together in a new brand, and turning it into a really compelling content offering.

TBS started off as an aggregator of other people's content. Turner Classic Movies, for example, is an aggregator of other people's content. Cartoon Network started off with the Hanna-Barbera properties. Blake took a look at the landscape, and said ‘No one is doing this with games.' And so he started a service for it.”

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