Tapping GameTap

by Looney4Labs


With all the nattering about GameTap generated by the Uru Live and Sam & Max communities, I decided to tap in and see what the buzz was all about.

Ab Ovo

Let’s start at the beginning.  I surfed to the website, www.gametap.com and toured around to get an idea of what this site is all about.  Then I downloaded the GameTap software -- the emulator program which gives access to the games and allows you to play them.  Thirty minutes later, I was connected and exploring GameTap.

The first thing I noticed was GameTap TV.  It is playing when the first screen opens.  From here, you can watch on-demand short videos of your choice.  They deal with everything from where your favorite character might live to Space Ghost interviewing luminaries such as Steve Wozniak and Rand Miller.

Looking Around

Next, I found the Game Vault where all the goodies are stored.  GameTap currently has over 600 games.  The Vault is divided into several sections making it easy to find the game you want.  It is searchable by game name, game type, console type, or GameTap picks.  From there, you click to add games to your favorites list.  The Vault will open at your list from that point out.

Titles Available

Most folks’ main question is “What games do they have”?  At the moment, the Adventure category includes 64 titles, with about half falling into the pure adventure category.  The other half includes games like the Tomb Raider series which are often considered action/adventure.  Titles include some text adventures, several of the Myst series, various Quest for Glory games, a few Space Quests, and the first three Zorks.  Most of the adventure games are from early periods of adventure gaming, but I noticed several released after 2000. I assume this section is where Uru Live and Sam & Max: Season 1 will be.

There are 13 Board and Card games, 23 Role Playing Games (RPGs) including a few of the Might and Magic series, and the first Baldur’s Gate.  The 61 offerings in the Family category include Cluefinders, Jump Start, Lego, and Reader Rabbit games.  There are 30 Simulation titles and 51 in the Strategy category.  The remainder of the 600+ consists of Action, Classic Arcade (which my husband loves), Sports, Fighting, Puzzle (not adventure-like puzzles), and Racing titles.  These numbers will certainly increase, as GameTap regularly adds games.

Playing the Games

When I joined GameTap I wanted to have the widest possible range of experiences.  Therefore, I downloaded and played a different game every day or so.  I started in the Adventure category but branched out to include the Board and Card game, RPG, and Strategy categories. 

The game files and saves are stored on your hard drive, but you must be connected to GameTap to play them.  This explains why a broadband connection is required. Downloading is easy.  Click on the desired game.  This brings up a “card” with information about that game, its controls, and bonus material.  Special game requirements and the manual on PDF, if available, are also here.  Most games don’t have special requirements and the manual is not available for all titles.

Downloading the Games

Downloads begin with a click on the “Get the Game” button.  GameTap estimates the download length.  I noticed the first time is usually incorrect, so don’t panic.  The figure will jump a bit, finally settling down to a more accurate approximation.  Download times vary from three minutes for Mahjong to three hours for Beyond Atlantis 2.  45-90 minutes was my average download time, but this figure is totally dependent on your connection, your computer, and the game you choose.

The long download time is only for the initial download. You can play another game or use your computer for other tasks during this period.  Thereafter, to play, open GameTap.  Go to your Favorites (if you designated the game as a favorite).  Click on the title, and then on “Play the Game.”  The game opens within a few seconds; a minute at most.

Playing Across Genres and Platforms

A great feature of GameTap is the availability of console games for PC play.  I enjoyed “dipping my toe” into these old titles as well as into genres new to me.  Doing so allowed me to discover I like strategy games, a genre I never before considered playing.

It is also entertaining to play the older games without having to fiddle with my computer settings.  Not that every game ran flawlessly.  Most ran just fine with no tinkering, but not all. 

Not Always Perfect

In particular, the first Myst requires QuickTime 6.5.2.  The current version of QuickTime is 7.0.  I uninstalled the current version and installed the older one.  Myst ran beautifully, but I soon discovered my son’s iTunes will not function with that version of QuickTime.  So, it was back to the current version.  My personal computer guru tells me it is possible to simply swap the QuickTime (uninstall-reinstall) files each time I want to play Myst, but that is more work than I’m willing to do.

Darkstone, an RPG that intrigued me, ran wonderfully, but a few letters in the text did not “translate” correctly making it extremely difficult to read.  I uninstalled and reinstalled with no improvement.  I called tech support.  They were very friendly and helpful, going so far as to call the company in Canada that published the game.  But in the end, we were not able to correct the problem.  After some research, I found a universal criticism of this game upon release was that the fonts were difficult to read.  I’m not sure how much that fact contributed to my present problem with Darkstone.


GameTap can be installed on two computers at the same time, and has up to seven sub-accounts.  It includes parental controls, and many games are configurable to the way you like to play. 

GameTap is ALT+TAB friendly when watching GameTap TV or surfing the game vault.  However, running the games and tabbing out usually froze my computer. 

I did not try to play any game with a gamepad, but the FAQ says it “supports some, but not all” gamepads.  It may or may not work with your favorite one, and tech support will not help with this.  However, there is a list of supported gamepads in the FAQ.

GameTap allows you to chat with your friends while playing games, though I did not test this feature.  It also allows you to challenge friends and to be challenged.  I don’t like challenge play, so I turned that feature off.  I do like that you can see the list of games available on the website before enrolling. 

Starting and Stopping

Joining GameTap is smooth and easy, requiring the gamer to create an account and register a credit card which GameTap guarantees against fraudulent use.  I’m still a member, so I can’t tell you how easy it is to quit.

It takes a phone call to customer service at 1-866-722-5295 to suspend the account.  I include the number because it took me a bit of digging to discover this was the number you must use if you wish to end your subscription.  You cannot stop it by email or chat support.  

My Biggest Frustration

GameTap installed and ran easily on my desktop (specifications below).  But in spite of many hours work (in excess of twenty hours), it never would install on my laptop. 

My computer guru spent two days on the phone with the GameTap technical support folks, uninstalled, reinstalled, disconnected peripherals, and shut down virus and firewall software.  None of these steps were necessary on the desktop.  He tried it with the laptop hooked to the port and unhooked from it.  He tried with only the laptop on, since we share a single DSL line, and with many other configurations.  He updated and backdated drivers.  At some point, I think he tried standing on his head.  Sadly, nothing worked.

I know that GameTap will run on laptops, but it stubbornly will not run on mine.

GameTap Technical Support: A Mixed Bag

In any on-line experience, technical support and customer service are major elements in customer satisfaction.  GameTap tech support is available four ways: phone, on-line chat, email, and a searchable database of the most frequently asked questions (FAQ). I had several occasions to use GameTap’s tech support, with mixed results.

Phone Support Options

The first level phone support is excellent.  My wait time was minimal and the techs I interacted with were friendly, courteous, knowledgeable and most importantly, stayed on the line with me until my problem was resolved.  I hate talking to tech support when they give me a list of things to try and then hang up with an admonition to “Call back if none of those things work.”  That did not happen here.  The techs stayed on-line with me while I tried the various solutions, hanging up only when the problem was resolved or all solutions were tried and failed.

Problems arose with the “tried and failed” phone support scenarios.  In those instances, the second level tech support folks are supposed to call within three to five days to continue working on the problem.  I had two problems that generated the “tried and failed” outcome (the Darkstone text, and a failure to install GameTap on my laptop).  It has been three weeks since my first attempt to solve these problems with the first level tech support folks. As of this writing, I am still waiting to be called back.

I did try calling tech support after nine days and asked about the wait time.  They apologized and gave me an extra month of GameTap for free, but the two problems mentioned above are still extant.

On-line Support Options

Chat support is very easy to use, though there are some strange lag times between when I post and when I get an answer.  I used it three times for questions I could not easily find the answers to on the web site.  Each time my questions were answered quickly and correctly.

I used the on-line FAQ several times.  Sometimes I found my answer, and sometimes not.

The email support just plain did not work for me.  GameTap said I should have a “detailed answer” in 24 hours.  I’m still waiting. 

And Several Small Frustrations

Some games have the manuals available, but some don’t.  This is not a problem with simple games, but was definitely a problem when I attempted a complex strategy/RPG hybrid called Disciples II: Rise of the Elves.  The game ran flawlessly, and there is an in-game tutorial.  But, I’ve never played this type of game.  I need in-depth instructions like those found in the manual.  I eventually found some information at another website.  The GameTap folks are in the process of uploading more manuals and I commend them for it.  Nevertheless, not having a manual for the Disciples game was a major disadvantage for me.

A frequent problem I’ve encountered is that the Log-out toolbar disappears anytime I leave the home page. To get it back, I have to Alt+Tab out and back.  Easy enough if I’m not playing a game.  However, if shutting the game down does not bring the toolbar back, I am forced to use Ctrl+Alt+Delete to bring up Task Manager.

Also, the interface could be more consumer friendly.  I had to call tech support to find my downloaded games in order to delete one.  If you are wondering, they are under “My GameTap,” “Local Storage,” “Advanced Storage Options.”  From there you can see which games you’ve downloaded and delete them.

Final Thoughts

I joined GameTap not quite sure what to expect and, frankly, thinking I would not like it.  Surprisingly, I really enjoyed it.  It’s a great way for me to play some of the classic games without mucking around with my computer settings (which I am uneasy doing).  I’m excited that GameTap is helping make it possible for Uru Live and Sam & Max to return. 

GameTap seems to be the perfect vehicle for episodic releases such as the new Sam & Max.  I normally don’t care for games released in episodes.  My pragmatic side reels from the total cost of the “complete” story.  Placing these games on GameTap negates this problem.  It’s almost as if GameTap was tailor-made for just that type of release.

GameTap is also an easy way to indulge myself with games from other genres which have piqued my curiosity.  I don’t want to buy a game in another genre and then discover I don’t like that style of gaming.  GameTap allows me to sample games to my heart’s content.

I think GameTap is a good “deal.”  For less than the cost of lunch ($9.99 per month), it provides many hours of entertainment for my family.  It is my sincere hope that GameTap will add more pure adventure games as they continue to grow.  Doing so will only increase its value to myself and others like me. 

Update, 27 Oct. 06


It turns out the problem with GameTap and our laptop was a router problem.  It is up and running on the laptop just fine now.

Also, GameTap's pricing structure has changed.  Check their website for more information.

Lastly, as promised, the number of titles available is now 719 and  continuing to increase.


Short List

Home to Uru Live and the new Sam & Max episodic releases

GameTap emulator software allows many games to play on XP PCs

Current cost is $9.95 monthly charged to credit card

Must have broadband

U.S. Only (at this time, but they are supposed to be planning to expand into other markets)

Over 600 games available in many genres

Can be installed on 2 computers

7 sub-accounts allowed

Parental controls available

1st level tech support excellent, with higher level support being less than satisfactory

Tech support and customer service available on-line, chat, phone, and email

Manuals may or may not be available for games

Gamepad may or may not work

Game files and saves stored on your computer

Must be connected to GameTap to play

Initial game downloads vary from 3 minutes to 3+ hours

Can play other games or use computer for other functions while downloading games

Subsequent opening times to play the game should be less than a minute (depending on your computer specs)

Sign up on-line, but must phone to discontinue

GameTap Requirements:

Windows 2000/XP

Pentium III or AMD Athlon 800 MHz or better

256 MB RAM

5 GB available storage

Video Card: 3D-capable video card with 32 MB VRAM or greater

Direct X 8.X and Open GL 1.1

Broadband internet.

Computer that Installed and Ran GameTap without Problems:

Win XP Professional SP1

3.2 GHz Intel Pentium 4

1 GB Dual Channel DDR400 SDRAM


Sound Card: DirectX Version:  9.0b (4.09.0000.0902)

52X32X52 speed

Video Card: 128 DDR NVIDIA Geforce FX5200 Ultra

Laptop that Never Successfully Installed GameTap:

Operating System: Windows XP Professional (5.1, Build 2600) Service Pack 2

Processor: Intel(R) Pentium(R) M processor 2.13GHz

Memory: 1024MB RAM

DirectX Version: DirectX 9.0c (4.09.0000.0904)


Display Memory: 256.0 MB

Current Mode: 1024 x 768 (32 bit) (60Hz)

Driver Name: ati2dvag.dll

Driver Version: 6.14.0010.6543


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