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The Start-Up

Antstream does for video gaming what Netflix did for movies and TV shows

Andy Martin speaks to Steve Cottam about Antstream – the service bringing back those old games from your childhood

Wednesday 21 October 2020 16:12 BST
Using the Antstream service to play retro games on the TV
Using the Antstream service to play retro games on the TV (Antstream)

When Steve Cottam was a kid, growing up in Crowborough, Sussex, his father would regularly say to him, “Switch that computer off and go and get some fresh air!” He should have been climbing a tree or playing football with the other kids. His dad is not saying that any more. Not now that young Steve is founder and CEO of Antstream, which threatens to do for video games what Netflix has done for films.

“Video games captivated me as a kid,” he says. The first game he got into back in the early 1980s was called Manic Miner. You could play it on the old ZX Spectrum, the early home computer with rubber keys developed by eccentric genius Clive Sinclair. “I really wanted the Commodore 64, but we couldn’t afford it.” He was obsessive: “I played and played and played.” But it wasn’t enough for this boy to just play the game. He had to see how it worked. Aged 10, he simply unscrewed the back of the computer and took a peek inside. He became a manic miner of computers. He took the motherboard to pieces, went “Ah ha!”, and then stuck it all back together again and went back to playing the game.

“I wouldn’t want to have lived in any other era,” Cottam says. “Back then you could take things apart and work a lot out for yourself. You can’t do that any more.” The ZX Spectrum was his introduction to software. After that he graduated to the Commodore Amiga. “I learned a lot from that,” he says, teaching himself how to do music and artwork. He read magazines and borrowed lines of code from other people. “It was in print and you had to type it all out. There was no cut and paste. If there was an error you had to go back and look for the missing full stop.”

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