Within a minute of logging into my trial account at games-on-demand service The Happy Cloud I was playing the full PC version of LEGO Batman. "Instant gratification" is a phrase the company likes to toss about, and it certainly fits the bill.
"Happy Cloud brings gamers instant gratification," says Eric Gastfriend, Vice President and General Manager of Happy Cloud. "We're giving AAA first-person shooters the seamless accessibility of a Flash game-no waiting overnight and no installation. Try-before-you-buy is finally a reality. That's going to open up real gaming to a whole new audience."
This isn't the sort of streaming video game technology offered by Onlive, in which the game plays on a separate server and the video is streamed through your PC monitor or television. By the time a Happy Cloud game finishes downloading to a PC the player has a full install of the game on their hard drive, playable with or without an internet connection. The key to Happy Cloud's technology lies in the way the games are packaged before a player begins downloading.
Each game available for purchase through The Happy Cloud is already pre-installed and pre-packaged on a virtualised file system on the network. Rather than transferring the setup files for LEGO Batman, the service is delivering a fully installed copy to my hard drive, with all the right files in all the right places.
That differences means that once my computer has the bare minimum files needed to launch a game, I'm ready to play. LEGO Batman took under a minute. LEGO Harry Potter, a much larger game, took around two minutes. Once the game launches, files are downloaded in the background as I play. Eventually I'll possess the whole thing, and I won't have to connect to The Happy Cloud until I'm ready to purchase and play something else.
"This is true cloud computing; the game is virtualised and pre-installed in the cloud," says Jacob Guedalia, who co-founded the company with his brother David. "By enabling a cloud computing platform for games, Happy Cloud will supercharge digital distribution for the gaming industry."
I've seen technology like this before. Another games-on-demand service, GameTap, used something similar to deliver its streaming titles. It wasn't quite this fast, but the selection was also much better.
As it stands, The Happy Cloud currently hosts only four titles: LEGO Harry Potter, LEGO Batman, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and Mount & Blade: Warband. That's four games from three publishers, though the company says many more publishers are in the pipeline.
The Happy Cloud is going to need those publishers to survive the PC market. With Steam offering thousands of games and relatively fast download speeds (LEGO Batman only takes a half-hour to install from Valve's service as it stands), I'm not sure simply getting people playing faster is going to cut it.
Later this year The Happy Cloud plans to roll out console versions of the service. If they can deliver the same sort of speed in a console environment with a robust selection of games, then perhaps that's where its best chance of success lies.
The Happy Cloud is currently in beta testing. To request an invitation to the beta, visit the webpage.