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SYFY WIRE gaming

A streaming service for retro games? Crowdfunded platform wants to be your guilt-free ROM provider

By Benjamin Bullard
1980s ZX Spectrum game console

When it comes to getting your hands on that nostalgia-tinged game you (or maybe even your parents) stealthily used to play on your elementary school’s aging Commodore 64, clicking that ROM download icon is colored in a million shades of legal grey. 

While a few orphaned games with lapsed IPs may be free and clear; most are still under some kind of rights control — even, in some cases, to the surprise of the company that inherited the license. Retro gaming ROM websites make tons of old-school games available, sure — but how can you be confident you’re in the clear before you start swinging across that patch of quicksand in Jungle Hunt?

That’s where Antstream, a new crowdfunded streaming platform still in the planning stages, could come in. Still taking on new investors after sailing past its original Kickstarter funding goal, the UK-based service is hoping to become a one-stop, subscription-based streaming shop that beams out classic (and even not-so-classic) retro titles straight to your smart phone, computer, and Xbox One (and, they're hoping, the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4). 

Antstream CEO Steve Cottam tells Ars Technica the service could legitimize the hugely popular (and hugely illegal) practice of getting your old-school gaming fix on the DL, offering an ever-expanding slate of titles that originally appeared on Commodore, ZX Spectrum, arcade cabinets, and SEGA (with the fingers-crossed hope of adding PlayStation 1 and NES titles in the future). 

Remember how iTunes served up a palatable, for-pay alternative to what used to be a wild west frontier of illegal music downloads? Think of Antstream as having the same goal — but for old games.

“It's like when everybody was downloading with Napster and Kazaa, and everybody said 'Nobody's going to pay for music, I can get it all for free,’” Cottam explained. “Then iTunes came along, they priced it reasonably, made it a really good experience: For $1 I can get this music, it's higher quality, no friction, works perfectly. It just makes sense. That's how I see us doing it. We have to offer the content at a really great value, and give a really great experience that's more pleasurable than doing things illegally.”

Antstream works by doing all the game emulation on its own servers, away from your device. That leaves your device with the simple task of downloading the Antstream platform as a gateway, and then firing up any of the old-school gaming titles it carries. Latency delays, Cottam told Ars, shouldn’t be an issue for most of the low-fi games on offer, based on pre-launch, real-world streaming tests.

So far, Antstream has said it’ll have at least 400 titles available from day one, but the service — staffed by longtime industry pros who Cottam says are all avid retro gamers — has reportedly already negotiated licensing deals for more than 2,000 games. The service hasn’t announced a launch date yet, but when it arrives, it’s planning to cost a flat $50 per year for those who pitched in for the crowdfunding campaign, with a full pricing plan to be announced later when Antstream makes its debut in the U.S. and Europe.

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