Cloud gaming currently sits at the cutting edge of games. With Stadia and xCloud using the long-hyped technology to bring the latest triple-A blockbusters into homes without downloads or discs.
Ironically, though, the same technology is also rather handy for allowing people to play the retro console and computer games they loved in their youth. Which is where Antstream comes in. The service officially launched last year, having had a successful kickstarter campaign, and this year kicked on with some key senior hires and licensing deals with the likes of Taito and Atari.
Streaming such games from the cloud means no fiddly emulators or dusty old hardware, plus it has huge benefits when it comes to running community competitions and it allows the original creators to be paid for their work. We catch up with Antstream CEO Steve Cottam to find out more.
What is Antstream?
Antstream Arcade is a friendly place to play the most iconic games ever created, as well as old-school cult classics. We’ve reinvented retro gaming with unique challenges, tournaments and global leaderboards for fans old and new to connect to games they loved and discover new treasures, all through the power of game streaming. You can play on your phone, your laptop, your TV – the choice is yours!
Why is streaming right for retro games?
Our ultimate vision is to offer all games, from the first-ever released to modern titles. As we move forward, we are looking at games with bigger file sizes, and we wanted to create a consistent experience across our entire library regardless of size. With streaming, we can ensure the quality of the experience is consistent, and ubiquitous across all devices . Gamers typically have multiple devices and we wanted to make the transition between them seamless. Streaming makes it more immediate to start playing and having fun.
How did you end up launching Antstream?
My heart has always been in gaming. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to bring my passions together. At the age of 12 I taught myself how to code, learning assembler on the MSX, Amiga and PC. I continued to test and learn and make games in 1994 when I signed Nitro Racers with 3do and had a blast doing it.
I have always been in tech and had a stint in the corporate world, but I kept a foot in gaming. I wanted playing games to be as easy as watching a clip on Youtube.
Antstream has been around for a few years now, can you talk us through the timeline here?
It started out as a hobby project, but the business started to take shape in 2015. In 2016 we applied then graduated from a Microsoft startup accelerator program which gave us a great jump start with credits to work with Microsoft Azure Cloud services.
After this we raised seed investment from Creative England and then from industry legend Jon Burton of TT Games fame. This gave us the capital we needed to build the product that you see today. As we grew, we went to market to find a strategic partner to help us grow and ended up closing a Series A round with Tencent Holdings. It’s been a year now and the team is up to 40 people and we are continuing our development and expansion into North America, Asia and Europe.
Any good anecdotes along the way?
Not as much of an anecdote, but a moment of realisation of the love for retro games. I was wandering around a Mobile Games trade show where all the latest and greatest games and tech was on display. Looking at a number of empty display stands with reps eager to talk to anyone walking by. I noticed one booth with a queue of young gamers surrounding a machine. I walked up to see what it was and as I looked closer, I realised, to my surprise, that it was an old Centipede Atari Cabinet. It was a huge hit!
That’s when the penny dropped – that amidst all of the latest software, something that was decades old was the hottest thing in the room!
What kind of device support do you have?
We actually started out on Xbox One and still have players using it. Microsoft are important partners to us, not only on Xbox One but also via the Cloud and Azure, so we’ve been working with them very closely. Watch this space! From the very start, the Antstream vision was to create a gaming experience that let people play how they wanted, to give them the freedom to play or replay some of the greatest games ever made. Our mission is therefore to work with partners and find ways for consumers to play on the devices they want. We currently support Android, Amazon Fire sticks, MacOS, PC/Windows, Nvidia Shield and Linux.
How have you found getting the rights to the games you need?
This has been a painstaking process and a labour of love. We have travelled the world for over five years now, working with partners, building relationships and finding ways to work together. We still have a lot of work to do, but the effort invested to get to this point has been immense.
It’s also been one of the great pleasures of my job in meeting title holders and their teams – getting to know them on a personal level has been a huge privilege. Some great moments for us are when we get to remind some partners of games they forgot they owned! These hidden gems are something that really separates us in the market – and lets collectors and enthusiasts of long-lost retro games finally find the games they’ve been searching for all these years!
It’s disheartening to know there are so many games not being played by old and new fans, a problem that the music and movie industries have largely solved.
Say I used to make games in the golden era of computer gaming, should I get in touch?
Absolutely, if we haven’t already spoken, please get in touch. We want to bring life back to titles that have slipped through the cracks of time, whilst we’ve made some great strides in the past year alone, there’s more work to be done!
You’ve spoken against emulation, noting that many original creators are broke, so how are you recompensing them?
Much like how vinyl sales skyrocketed after Spotify, what we hope is that we can contribute to and be a part of the growth of the entire retro industry. Antstream Arcade exists to make these amazing games accessible to everyone whether they are 7 or 70 years old. Convenience is everything in today’s market.We offer a generous revenue share to the rights holders of the games. Being able to give back to the people who influenced my life and career is incredibly rewarding.
Competition seems to be an important part of retro gaming, be that high scores or head to head, how do you encourage that?
Our tagline is ‘Challenge Accepted’ and we carry this through in everything we do. Antstream is built on the premise of friendly competition, high-score leaderboards and tournaments are a key part to retro gaming. When our users add their friends they can see how they stack up amongst their peer group, or they can go global and see where they rank. We have some great players in the platform now, but I am sure someone out there can and will beat them!
What are the biggest challenges for Antstream going forward?
I think changing perception around streaming and breaking away from preconceived notions of quality is important. Provided you have a good connection, you’re going to have a high quality experience – and this is something we believe we’ve cracked with Antstream.
The immediacy of accessing thousands of titles, the management of our library and the assurance of quality via cloud hosting – these are all benefits which would not be possible without streaming. There are now several players in the space, who’ve encountered similar challenges, but recognise the same benefits and the unlimited potential which it brings to gaming.