Turner Set to Tap Games

Jumping into a $10 billion arena, Turner Broadcasting System Inc. this fall plans to launch a broadband-entertainment network offering video games on-demand, supplemented by promotional, informational streaming content.

In the works for two years, GameTap will launch with some 300 games, then roll out more titles each week.

Working off a flat-fee-based model, Turner officials said they have already reached deals with 17 publishers covering nearly 1,000 games, excluding current titles.

"This gives gaming developers a back end," Turner president of domestic distribution Andy Heller said. He called the service platform-agnostic, relative to video games that emanated from arcade, console or PC applications.

Among the games subscribers will be able to access on GameTap: Ubisoft Entertainment's "Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell for PC," Sega of America Inc.'s "Sonic 1, 2 and 3" and Activision Inc.'s "Tony Hawk 1 and 2."

GameTap will offer subscribers unlimited play of the titles on two household computers. To access the service, players will download and install Turner-developed client software from gametap.com that acts as a gateway to the library of games.

A 3-D interface menu will categorize games by tiers and other subsets. Once selected, the title displays an "infocard," housing a description, the platform, the publisher's name, a screen shot and bonus material, which will include classic commercials for the title and related programming content, created by Turner.

GameTap will be hosted on servers at Turner's Atlanta headquarters.

Heller -- who declined to identify Turner's financial investment in the project -- believes GameTap will help affiliates to sell their high-speed services, as well as promote the creation of more content for the broadband world.

He added that Turner only Tuesday began to notify potential MSO and telco affiliates about the service, which he said will "require a broad pipe to get the full effect of the graphics." He envisioned striking three types of affiliate deals: promotional/marketing partnerships; wholesale arrangements; or "bounties" for sign-ups.

Officials at Turner -- which will begin beta-testing the service for game play, credit-card authorization/payment and other customer-relationship-management elements in late May and into June -- expect to charge consumers $10-$20 monthly.

Turner will demonstrate GameTap at E3, the gaming-industry conference in Los Angeles May 17-19.