Steve Cottam of Antstream Talks Nostalgia, Retro Games, and Streaming

Published: July 21, 2023 10:03 AM /


Steve Cottam against Manic Miner

This Friday Antstream Arcade expands their streaming service of 1,300+ retro titles to the Xbox family of consoles. With Antstream Arcade, an extensive catalog of arcade and other retro titles all the way up to a few PS1 games will become available to stream directly to your Xbox. 

At the moment game streaming as well as retro-game preservation is an important topic, so to understand it more we sat down to talk with Steve Cottam, CEO and Founder of Antstream, to get his perspective.

Retro Rights

In the beginning, Antstream not only had to be the ones always to approach companies to try to license their games, but would find themselves showing up to companies who didn't even know they still owned the rights to certain properties trying to license them.

"It's frustrating because there are a huge number of games where no one knows who owns the rights or someone says they own the rights but they can't prove it. [...] I'd love for the industry to get to a consensus and say these games we don't know who owns them, if you want to use them any proceeds go to charity or something. I think that would be great."

Metal Slug on Antstream Arcade
I absolutely jumped to play this game

"There's a lot of smaller developers that created great games back in the day, that [Antstream] is a lifeline to," Cottam said, taking care not to mention which game specifically. "We wanted to talk to a developer, and he couldn't afford the train fare to get to London - which was only $30. He left the games industry and fallen on hard times, and we can give him some additional revenue."

Cottam did reinforce that unless they have the rights, they're not going to put anything on Antstream Arcade. Continuing to talk about licensing discussions, Cottam joked, "Maybe we're being too ethical, but we're trying to do it the right way."

Game Streaming

Cottam pointed out a few factors that he contributes to the success of Antstream Arcade and its staying power.

"Because of our strategy [...], we're not treading on anyone's toes. A lot of the problems cloud gaming companies have had, particularly with Stadia, [...] is streaming HD content and the cost of that," Cottam said. "One of the cool things about retro games is it uses less bandwidth."

Antstream Arcade is beginning to beef up its PS1 library; with 40 Winks available now, it's not long until titles like MDK, Glover, Worms, and more are going to be available to play on Antstream Arcade.

Antstream Arcade showing similar games to the one you've selected
Who would have guessed that not trying for 4K/60 would make it easier to stream?

"By the time we get to modern content, the costs in the data centers will be reduced and the capacity issues will be largely solved,” Cottam said.

On top of streaming games with smaller resolutions, Antstream has also been able to use its own technology to ensure that all native apps for Antstream Arcade, including the Xbox family of consoles, have the best performance with the least latency.

Antstream Arcade on Xbox

Bringing Antstream Arcade to Xbox has been on the roadmap since 2016 when they went through an accelerated program with Microsoft. Unfortunately at the time they didn't fit the policy guidelines so weren't able to remain on the platform. The last couple of years through internal changes, as well as changes in the Xbox platform, it became a possibility.

Cottam talked about how Antstream Arcade doesn't just provide players with a place to play retro games but with a friend system, leaderboards, and achievements (tied into Xbox Achievements) that provide a unified experience.

Tournaments on Antstream Arcade
Try out games you've never played before as tournaments against others, no way in hell I'm getting 150K score though...

In terms of what the future of Antstream Arcade will hold as well as the $80 lifetime access purchase that they're offering for the first time, there are also plans for a UI upgrade near the end of the year, online multiplayer in the pipeline, and more games being continually added to the service.

What Is Antstream?

Cottam's interest in playing and creating games began well before the concept of Antstream. His passion began with Manic Miner. Cottam credited Manic Miner, created by Matthew Smith for the ZX Spectrum in 1983, as the first game that made him want to learn how games worked. This interest is ultimately what set him on his path to creating Antstream.

The second level of Manic Miner on Antstream Arcade
It took me longer than I care to admit to reach the second level in Manic Miner

Cottam initially worked at Torc Interactive creating 1994’s Nitro Racers before his career led him further into corporate IT. Hearing about Cottam's transition out of video games I wanted to understand what it was that brought him back.

"I'm a big gamer, as you'd expect, and I love retro games," he said. "I think I was always frustrated that getting access to the games I love was way harder than getting access to music and videos." He said "Getting retro games meant downloading an emulator, downloading ROMs from illegal sites, and figuring it out. It wasn't a great experience."

Pairing his knowledge of corporate IT - streaming Windows to different devices - and his love of retro gaming together he realized "there's a huge opportunity to use streaming tech in gaming." While streaming video games is a far more common idea today, Cottam was having these realizations in 2013.

"Like a lot of these things, it started out as a hobby project. It was me and friends building this stuff on the weekends thinking 'can we do it?'" Cottam reminisced. "We built a prototype where we'd play various retro games over the cloud and then we started showing it to people."

At each stage of Antstream Arcade's creation and development, as it was shown to others in the industry, they were met with constant wonder as to why a service like this didn't exist. This encouragement from so many who saw the project made Cottam realize there was a want for this product and he could do something about it.

Making it past five years of release with an ever-expanding list of platforms that Antstream Arcade is being released on, as well as those supported, Antstream plans to continue making a name for itself as the place to play retro games.

TechRaptor would like to thank Steve Cottam for sitting down and talking with us about Antstream, retro gaming, and game streaming.


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