Happy Cloud Hits the Mainstream, Tries to Make PC Video Games Faster to Download and Play

This morning was a busy one for Eric Gastfriend, but he made time to chat about his Cambridge, MA-based startup’s coming out of beta. Its goal: to make high-quality PC video games as fast and easy to access as the social-network and casual games that have swept the country over the past few years (think Zynga, Playdom, and increasingly Electronic Arts, which owns Playfish and now PopCap).

The Happy Cloud, if you can get past the name (OK, it’s actually fine), has opened up its on-demand game store to the general public today, with 10 PC games from three publishers—Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Paradox Interactive, and Frictional Games. The games themselves range from first-person shooters (F.E.A.R. 2) to adventures (LEGO Harry Potter, Amnesia). They are free to demo, says Gastfriend, the company’s general manager, and if people buy the full version of a game, the startup splits the revenue with the game publisher.

Happy Cloud tries to drastically cut down the amount of time it takes to download PC games—from around six hours (or overnight), which is the status quo, to just a few minutes. Gastfriend, a recent Brown University grad, has probably been thinking about how to do this for a long time. He’s been playing and working with video games since he was five (and making websites since 5th grade).

“If you make games easy to access, frictionless, and simple and easy to learn, then it turns out everyone and their grandma wants to play a video game,” he says. “Hopefully, Happy Cloud can bring a high-quality experience to a more casual audience.”

Unlike other approaches to streaming games, Happy Cloud works by buffering the first few moments of the game and tricking the system into thinking the game is fully installed, when in fact Happy Cloud’s browsing and caching algorithms are constantly figuring out what parts to download next. The company says this approach gets rid of time lags (because the game runs locally on your PC) and poor resolution issues (because there’s no video compression) that come with streaming.

The two-year-old startup has been in private beta trials since May. In its first month, Happy Cloud logged more than 2,500 unique visitors, Gastfriend says, and half of them signed up for e-mail blasts. The company has since found that half of its traffic comes from outside the U.S. (mostly Europe and South America). So although the public launch today is only for U.S. consumers, the startup is looking to add more countries.

Happy Cloud currently has 10 employees, split half and half between Cambridge, MA, and Israel. It previously raised about $1 million in angel financing and will be looking to raise another round, Gastfriend says. The company was founded by Jacob and David Guedalia, serial entrepreneurs who sold their last company, iSkoot, to Qualcomm last fall.

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