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Exclusive Interview: Antstream Arcade CEO Steve Cottam Talks Retro Games

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Retro games are becoming more and more popular again, but they can sometimes be difficult and/or expensive to access in these modern times. Fortunately, that’s where Antstream comes in. Antstream Arcade is a cloud streaming app where you can play over 1300 retro games from consoles like Amiga, Atari, Game Boy, NES, PS1 and many others. All you have to do is download Antstream, spend a small amount of money for access to the library, and that’s it. You can easily play hundreds of nostalgic and fun games for as long as you want.

Steve Cottam, the man behind Antstream Arcade, is a long-time fan of retro games, his love for them is unmeasurable. In our interview, he discusses how he created the Antstream app, his favorite retro games, the importance of a great streaming connection for gaming, and more!

The interview with Steve Cottam, CEO of gaming platform Antstream Arcade

[Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity. You can find out more about Antstream on the official website Antstream.com. ]

Antstream banner
(Antstream)

Wiktor: I want to ask about the whole idea behind Antstream because I can feel a lot of passion behind it. Can you tell me, tell us about the whole idea behind Antstream? And what inspired you to create it?

Steve Cottam: I’m a gamer, always have been. I grew up on in the 8-bit days, I was learning to code back in the 8-bit days on a ZX Spectrum and MSX before moving on to the Commodore Amiga. I think one of the things that frustrated me was that unlike my music and movies, the games that I love were really hard to get access to. I mean, I could download an emulator, and download the ROMs. But it was still a little bit dirty.

And it has happened in music. There used to be services like Napster, where people would pirate music, and then Spotify and Apple came along and proved that if you create a great service, and you price it really well, people are willing to pay for the content. So that was really where the retro thing came from. All of this, decades of these incredible games, let’s legitimize it and make them easily accessible, let’s make it as easy as Spotify and Netflix.

Wiktor: I think one of the best things in this app is the multiplayer mode. Did you initially intend to have it as a part of this project? Or was it just a spontaneous idea?

Steve Cottam: Yeah, it was. Part of the mission with Antstream is making these games available and with that comes preserving. But if you’re going to preserve something, it’s got to be interesting to the people that want to discover it. 

It was all about, how do you make games interesting to modern gamers? Competitive play is such an important part of gaming now. And with retro games, there are so many unique, great little experiences within them. Things like boss fights. Now, if you’re a new gamer coming in, and you might really love playing a boss fight in the game, but you might not want to play the 10 levels before it to get there. So you’re dropped right in at the boss fight, and we give you a minute to complete it, let you battle your friends and see who can do it faster, and see who can get the most points. We just create these really micro fun and engaging competitive matches.

On plans to add more classic games to Antstream Arcade

Wiktor: Your library on Antstream is full of classic games, some more known, some unknown. Do you plan in the next few years to acquire more iconic retro games for the platform?

Steve Cottam: We’re always adding new games, or always adding old games, I should say. What you say is absolutely right. There are the games everyone’s heard of: the Pac-Mans, the Space Invaders, Star Wars, etc… but there’s also some amazing little games that no one’s ever heard of. We got a game, I think, a Commodore 64 game called Potty Pigeon. It’s just sort of, pigeon flies around and does its business on the things below. But it’s just a fun little experience.

We can take these kind of obscure gameplay things and make them fun. But yes, we’re constantly adding new games. We’ve just announced some of the Factor 5 games. So there’s Turrican challenges and an old favorite of mine called Katakis. We’ve got loads of games that we’re going to be announcing this year, that I can’t tell you now, but we’re constantly adding new games into the catalogue.

Katakis game on Antstream
Katakis game on Antstream (Antstream/Factor 5)

Wiktor: It’s exciting. I spent three days playing Strikers, I think it was 1999, the one with the planes and upgrading your airplane. I mean, it was such a fun thing. I just didn’t know how, but I spent three days playing it. And I just didn’t realize how fast the time flew. And there are games that, like the old Alien game, for example, I was really skeptical about it because I thought, wow, it looks really, I don’t know how to say it, I don’t want to, say it’s a bad thing, but it looks cheap from our modern perspective. But when I started playing it for the first 15 mins, I was like, no. But later, later and later, and I don’t know, after a few hours playing, I was fascinated because, wow, it’s such a nice experience. And it’s nice to have an app like this to experience it.

Steve Cottam: Well, and that’s the point. And when you make it really accessible, when it’s as simple as downloading an app and clicking and trying it, and you can spend a few seconds and get a feel for a game and pick another. In fact, if you think about how people consume other content, for example with TikTok, people just constantly swiping through dozens of things, and YouTube even. I guess you can use Antstream a little bit like that. You find something you love, and then you just play it over and over again.

On the high accessibility and ease of use of Antstream cloud gaming

Wiktor: Or just enter, play for a few minutes, quit, go to another game. I was also really surprised how this app is not stuttering… it’s really good. It has a really good connection. It has everything like with modern consoles with modern PCs, even with modern subscriptions, to play in the cloud. It’s wow, it’s really, really good.

Steve Cottam: We’re very proud of the streaming. One of the best comments I like receiving is when we show Antstream running off at trade shows, and various other places, and the gamers are genuinely surprised that it’s streaming, and that some people don’t even believe it’s streaming. So that to us is a really big triumph because there was a lot of skepticism around streaming. A lot of people will ask, and I can totally understand the logic, ‘Why are you streaming a Commodore 64 game when you could get 1000s of them on your phone?’

But it’s actually all about the user experience because if you’ve got a PlayStation game, they’re up to around a gigabyte in size, and as we start to roll forward, the games will get bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and I always wanted the same experience. It doesn’t matter what game you play, it doesn’t matter if it’s a Commodore 64, or a PlayStation game, or even something later. I hit play, I want to be in the game instantly and enjoying it.

Wiktor: Yeah, I mean, I’m too young to remember it. But I saw a few videos about the PS1 games and how long they took to, to boot up. And I mean, I can’t’ imagine how people now are very happy, how quickly they can get into those games. And I’m really happy with them. Because I don’t like to wait for my games to boot up.

Steve Cottam: We have a target where we try to make sure the games start within a few seconds. So I know with other cloud service – and to be fair, if your Xbox cloud, and they’re doing AAA, there’s more complexity to that – but sometimes you can sit there and wait three to four minutes for a game to start. And I’m not patient enough for that. I just want to be in straightaway.

Wiktor: I think we all aren’t so patient. But what are your plans to improve more and enhance the experience of Antstream in the future?

Steve Cottam: Oh, there’s so much coming. I’m really excited about what will happen this year. You’ll see it available on more devices, so you get to play in more places. There is a whole new user interface coming, which we’ve announced and if you go to our YouTube channel, there’s something called Antstream Connect, and you get a sample of what’s coming, with more competitive modes, rewards, badges, and trophies and things like that.

The team, studio is headed by Mike Rouse with an incredible background in the industry have taken the Antstream concept that I originally came up with, and they’re just taking it even further. It’s really exciting to see what they’re doing.

Super Turrican game on Antstream
Super Turrican game on Antstream (Antstream/Factor 5)

On network connections and streaming with Antstream

Wiktor: I see there’s a lot of potential there in Antstream. I, personally, think that this may be one of the best cloud apps for games.

Steve Cottam: Thank you.

Wiktor: I used Xbox cloud games. And they are, just like we talked before, they are taking too long time to boot up, and they are glitchy and sticking, and you need to have a very good internet connection. But with Antstream, doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how bad network connection we have, just enter and you can play. And that’s it.

Steve Cottam: Yes, it does work really well, and we’ve got some very, very clever people that work on the streaming side of things. We do have an advantage, it is easier to stream a retro game than the AAA, but I’ve seen exactly what you’re describing, if I’m traveling, I’ll always try whenever I get onto a Wi-Fi connection, I’ll try and try Antstream to make sure it works. I’ll do that at the airport, and I then look at other cloud gaming providers to see if they work. A lot of times you’re right, we can play Antstream, but actually the others can’t cope with the constrained internet. So yes, I think that’s, it’s good for us.

And look, the theory for us is that, the internet’s constantly getting better, and bandwidth is constantly improving. So you’ll get to a point where all the cloud gaming services won’t stutter. They’ll all work seamlessly. I think we’re a few years away from that yet, but, by then Antstream will have evolved, and we’ll have newer modern games and some bigger games as well. So we’re doing at the right pace, I think.

On what people love about getting to play older games again

Wiktor: What do you think people love about older games that make them want to revisit them? Not only on Antstream, but in general.

Steve Cottam: So I think there are a number of elements to that… Look, the obvious one is the nostalgic element, if you find a piece of music, a movie, a video, anything really. You can play a game that you played as a kid, and it takes you right back to when you were there.

And this is actually one interesting part and is another reason why the challenges worked really well in Antstream. Because sometimes when you go back to that old game, it’s not quite as good as you remember. Gameplay has moved on, but actually, you can then take little elements of it and still make it really, really fun for the challenges.

And the other piece of that, is that snackability of the content. So one thing that’s pleased me actually with Antstream is that the age spread between teenagers to 20s, 20s [to] 30s, 30s [to] 40s, and above. It’s fairly evenly spread as an age demographic, which is great because it means we’ve got a lot of players coming in and they’re enjoying the content, even though these games were created long before they were born in a lot of cases. So I think that’s about discoverability.

Also, I don’t know if you’ve ever had this, but for me when I went into my dad’s attic when I was a teenager, and I’d find his album collection from the 60s, and for me, that was so cool because, although this stuff was 30–40 years old, I felt I’d discovered something new. So for a younger player now, they come into the service, and actually, they’re discovering new content, new experiences.

Mr. Tuff game on Antstream
Mr. Tuff gameplay screen from Antstream (Antstream/SCi Games)

Wiktor: I couldn’t discover the game from the 60s. But I discovered a game from the 90s. I was born in 1999. And my first game that I played in was Captain Claw. And now recently, I discovered it’s playable again, with some few minor upgrades. And like I said, it’s just like, you pick this retro game, and you treat it like it’s a new, fresh game. And you’re excited again. And I love it.

Do you think that modern games can or, in most cases, are just copies of each other? You know, with a few minor upgrades?

Steve Cottam: It does feel that way, sometimes it’s the gameplay itself. I mean, I play modern games as well, obviously, but yes, it does feel… I’m just doing the same things repeatedly, you know? Whether it’s a first-person shooter, for example, they all kind of feel roughly the same. Obviously, you’ve got the story and different weapons and things around them, but I think that’s a challenge, isn’t it? Because, there’s only so many different ideas out there. For types of games, and all the rest of them are just derivatives of another. It’s the same for movies, isn’t it? How many movies are kind of based loosely on the same plot? But yes, I think there’s room for many, many more.

On adding more recent games to the platform

Wiktor: Are planning to add more games that are suitable for newer generations, from like, not from the 90s, but from the 2000s, and maybe 2010s? If we consider them retro games.

Steve Cottam: Yes, there are a couple of things we’re doing in there, actually, which I think I can probably share with you. One of them is we already do this, we take a lot of indie, retro games. This is where developers have made new games, but for the original hardware, so you’ve got new MegaDrive games, or new NES games or new Amiga games that we add to the service. So they’re still compatible with that original hardware, but we run them on Antstream, and they’re brand-new games.

But we are also now starting to look at what other modern retro games we could include. So things like Shovel Knight, is a good example of a kind of modern retro game. It is a modern game, but it still feels like a retro game, so we’re starting to think, well, maybe there’s room to bring some of those types of games in.

Wiktor: I feel like with each generation, like with each decade from now, we can easily say now that PS3 games are retro games.

Steve Cottam: Yes. This is it, and it constantly, constantly rolls forward. So yes, the overall goal of the business is that one day, and this is a decades long plan, but at some point, we want Antstream to be something that has the first game ever created, to the game that came out yesterday. But for now, we’re very focused on the retro and rolling forward.

Masterblazer game on Antstream
Masterblazer game on Antstream (Antstream/Factor 5).

CEO Steve Cottam on his favorite retro games

Wiktor: What are your favorite retro games? Not just the ones you have on Antstream, but maybe ones you want to put on Antstream?

Steve Cottam: Oh, big, long list. I’ll start with one that is on Antstream, and that that’s more because of nostalgia for me. A game called Manic Miner, which came out in I think 1981 or 1982. A platform game started off on ZX Spectrum. That means a lot to me because that was the first game I played that really got me interested in games. And I learned to code off of wanting to recreate it. So that’s always got a kind of place in my heart.

Then rolling forward a bit. There was a game called Gradius in the arcades, which was a Konami shoot ’em up. And it was the first time I saw a game that, had lots of colors and incredible sounds and this really kind of chirpy music. The Gradius series, has always been a big favorite of mine.

But then coming slightly further forward and things that, let’s be honest, I don’t suppose we’re going to be getting these on Antstream anytime soon. But the Mario 64, Mario Galaxy. I absolutely adored the Mario Galaxy series. Mario Odyssey, I really enjoyed. I was not ever a big fan actually of the 2D Mario’s, I still struggled to play with them. It feels like Mario’s on ice all the time. I never get used to it. But yes, Mario Galaxys I played those until I collected absolutely everything in them.

Wiktor: I don’t know if you ever had those in the UK. But there are old arcade games, we will just get, for example, on the bike and just steer it by balancing on it.

Steve Cottam: Yes, What was the game? Hang-On? Was it super hang-on? Wasn’t it, a Sega game, I think, did that?

Wiktor: Yes, maybe it was. I don’t know if there even is possibility to put games like this, or maybe VR, or other retro games in the form of a VR experience on Antstream?

Steve Cottam: Potentially. I mean, as the technology evolves, we can take it any direction. I think the thing for us is understanding what the gamers want. And, I think if there’s demand from the fans, then we’ll certainly look at it.

Wiktor: I can’t wait to just put on a VR headset and go on Antstream and play that game.

Steve Cottam: Oh, yeah. That would be pretty cool.

On potentially adding more mature content to Antstream

Wiktor: Do you plan to add more content, like, maybe for adults? More mature content, like shooters and all that, fighting games, like, Contra or Street Fighter

Steve Cottam: Yes, we’re constantly looking for new games. And it’s a mix, we want it to be family-friendly service. We want it to be something that, the parents and the kids can enjoy. But you’re absolutely right. I’m a big fan of games like Street Fighter 2. 

One of the challenges for our business, there’s so much content out there. I think we identified a list of around 30,000 games that we wanted to bring onto the platform. But they’re not free. We have to get the budget for them. So the more people who subscribe to the service, the more we can go out and bring more games on. So spread the word, and we’ll get more.

It’s a big, big mission. But we’re working on it. And we’re growing. This will be an exciting year, but ultimately, it comes down to how many people support us, and we’re lucky that it’s growing so fast. The more that come, the faster we grow.

Where to find out more about Antstream Arcade

That’s it for my interview with CEO Steve Cottam. I really enjoyed our chat and getting the opportunity to try out Antstream for myself, beforehand.

The Antstream Arcade app is available to download on Xbox, PC, Android, iOS and others to let you experience the massive library of retro games. Check out the official website for more information at Antstream.com. Are you excited to try Antstream? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord!

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Wiktor Reinfuss

Big fan of all sorts of pop culture stuff. I also enjoy ambitious cinema. Games, music and graphics are all within my interests. I have a great fondness for the Arrowverse series, especially The Flash.

Wiktor Reinfuss has 122 posts and counting. See all posts by Wiktor Reinfuss