Piracy is bad. We all know that, but it can’t be denied that there is a legal grey area when it comes to downloading certain game ROM’s – especially of games you already physically own or those that are considered ‘abandonware’.
Other forms of media have had their piracy curbed over the years when affordable streaming services are offered; examples include Spotify for music or Netflix for TV shows and movies – proving that if a service works well enough and is affordable, consumers will use that instead of continuing to be a rum-soaked pirate. Arguably, though, there is not yet a solution for retro gaming – even with Google Stadia on the horizon for more modern releases. That’s where Antstream hopes to fill in the gap.
In a recent interview with Ars Technica, CEO of the future service, Steve Cottam is confident Antstream is well on its way to something big. After smashing a £50,000 goal on Kickstarter (which still has a few days to go, by the way) he’s on the lookout for new investors as he simultaneously hunts for licencing deals – the real crux of what will make or break Antstream.
Luckily, he’s well on his way to licencing conquest having already acquired the right to stream 2000 games. With 500 being available on launch day (and on average ten being added per week) the bulk of the games are on 80’s UK computer systems (where the service is based) and include the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and the Amiga, but also games from the arcade and the Sega Genesis. Hopefully, the games library will eventually be expanded to include the PlayStation 1 and early PC games, but also the NES. As you can imagine, Nintendo is a hard nut to crack when it comes to licencing, so I bid Cottam an enormous “good luck’” with that endeavour.
Cottam claims he spent three years flying around the globe seeking out licences. He goes on to say that some companies didn’t even realise they had the rights to a game until he made contact. Speaking of licences and the holders of such allowing them in a streaming service they’re a third-party of, Cottam tells Ars Technica; “When you talk to the IP holders, they’re not happy that all their games are being downloaded and shared illegally. I was quite frustrated by the fact that I could go online and pretty much get any movie, and I have Spotify for all my music, but for games it was just a really, really tough experience. [AntStream] is really about trying to put games on equal footing with movies and music in terms of accessibility.”
Further licencing reasons disallow Cottam from publicly stating which emulators they’ll be using for Antstream, but he can say it will be a mix of open source and commercial software. Some are complete from third-parties, while others have been altered by Antstream in-house.
Latency shouldn’t be an issue thanks to real-world tests in the UK according to Cottam. He averaged about 45ms on a decent connection. Antstream will be running on a multitude of different internet services such as Google Cloud Storage and Microsoft Azure in the hope you’ll never get left in a latency black hole either.
Further features include social media like systems where you can challenge other players to high score competitions. There will also be a host of built-in challenges for most games as well as an achievement system. As for the formats the service will stream to, currently, smartphones, PC/Mac and the Xbox One are what to be expected when it launches. PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch apps are also in the pipeline.
A fantastic service still needs to be reasonably priced, however, and while no set pricing has been announced yet, Kickstarter backers will only pay $50 per year. I guess it can be assumed that everyone else will pay more than that – but even then, that’s only just over $4 a month. No release date has been set yet either, but with the Kickstarter campaign basically over it should only be a matter of time. Watch this space.