The Revolution that killed GameTap

Nintendo didn’t give tons of new Revolution info at the GDC this week. The announcement of a new Zelda game for the DS was probably the most-hyped Nintendo news. But they did say that Revolution’s download service would include not just past Nintendo games, but also Sega and TurboGrafx-16 games.

That’s great news for gamers, but bad news for GameTap. The two biggest problems with GameTap — which lets you play some 350 old school games on your computer for $15 a month — are the lack of Nintendo games and the fact that you have to play on the computer. You don’t realize how much Nintendo dominated the 8-bit and 16-bit eras until you go back and play those games — but can’t play Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Castlevania, and all the rest. Decap Attack and Phantasy Star II (good as that game was) just don’t cut it. The Revolution’s “virtual console” won’t have this problem, since it’s a Nintendo product.

But now the other problem is solved too. First, while an old school game library feels totally empty without Nintendo games, it also feels incomplete without all the rest (sort of a mini long tail in action). And more significantly, it doesn’t feel right playing old console games on the computer. You want a good old console controller with an A and B or A/B/C buttons. GameTap is cool, but because it’s on the computer, it doesn’t feel much different from playing any other emulator.

With the Revolution, you can use a console controller and play the games on your TV, the way you played them back in the day. You can sit on the couch, not on the uncomfortable desk chair. And you don’t have to worry about a screen saver, general protection error, or sudden IM interrupting the game.

Nintendo could still screw this up by charging $5 a game, but this is a case where the iTunes model — 99 cents per — actually makes sense. A $200 (or $150, please) system with a cool controller, different games and a huge chunk of the 8-bit and 16-bit libraries available for a buck apiece? If Nintendo plays this right, they’re going to do very well come fall.

— March 25, 2006

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