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HappyCloud launches, aiming to help gamers achieve almost-instant gratification

Posted by Scott Kirsner  May 9, 2011 07:30 AM

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Why shouldn't playing a new videogame on your PC be as speedy and seamless an experience as clicking "play" on a Netflix streaming movie?

That's the premise behind HappyCloud, a new start-up with operations in Cambridge and Israel that's starting a beta test today. Using a special piece of client software that downloads game content from a far-off server as it is needed, HappyCloud says it can cut today's typical game download times by more than 85 percent. (The HappyCloud client is a two megabyte download.) Unlike rival game-delivery technology from start-ups like OnLive or Gaikai, the company says it isn't actually running the game on a server and streaming the video output to your computer; that helps eliminate any lag-time, they say, and it enables them to display the game's imagery without any loss in resolution. (It also reduces HappyCloud's bandwidth and server costs.)

HappyCloud's co-founders are the brothers Jacob and David Guedalia (Jacob works in Cambridge, David in Beit Shemesh, Israel); just last fall, they sold their mobile software start-up iSkoot to Qualcomm for a price tag reported to be in the $60 million to $80 million range. (The company had raised $32 million in venture capital.)

"We've virtualized the game," Jacob Guedalia explains. "The game is executed on your PC, but all of the game content is hosted in the cloud. So there's no latency, because the game is being executed locally. Once you get the initial content buffered, it'll behave exactly as if you've installed the game on your personal computer. As you play, the server is compressing the next pieces of content you'll need and sending them, and your computer is decompressing them."

HappyCloud is using cloud services from Amazon and Akamai to host and deliver the game content. Guedalia says that game developers don't need to make any changes in order for their game to be delivered via HappyCloud. "We can literally just take the game off the DVD," Guedalia says. The company is already working with several game publishers: Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment, Paradox Interactive, Frictional Games, and Take-Two Interactive. HappyCloud plans to take a percentage of the sale price of each game. "We can also support rental and subscription models," Guedalia says, "but we're not doing that right now." The service currently works only on PCs.

Guedalia says HappyCloud has been in the works for the past two years. "Compared to music and movies, the time it takes to download a game has been a huge bottleneck for people," he says. "The goal is to enable the one last remaining piece of media to be accessed on demand." Eventually, he envisions being able to deliver games to inexpensive set-top boxes connected to TVs, obviating the need for dedicated game consoles in the living room.

HappyCloud has about 10 employees, including general manager Eric Gastfriend, and has raised about $1 million from many of the same seed investors who backed iSkoot, including Jesselson Capital and Miles Gilburne, a former AOL executive.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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