‘We did get there first’: Seattle game streaming startup CEO laments Google’s video game unveiling

Rainway CEO Andrew Sampson at TechStars Seattle Demo Day in 2018. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Google today jumpstarted the ninth generation of gaming hardware with the announcement of its Stadia project at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco. Big on hype and short on details, Stadia promises to use Google’s cloud-computing power to let players jump straight into high-end, fast-paced games from existing devices without any need for additional hardware; if you can run a YouTube video at 4K, you’re already set up for Stadia.

In Seattle, however, there’s already a startup doing what Google pitched on Tuesday.

Rainway allows users to stream video games from personal devices to any other machine in their possession, as long as it has a browser and can comfortably run video at 60 frames per second. After raising investment dollars for its beta last year, the 2-year-old company that graduated from Techstars Seattle in 2018 made its official launch on the Windows platform at the end of January.

“We did get there first,” Sampson told GeekWire over the phone from GDC. “It’s always good to beat the big guys to the punch.”

Sampson fired off a set of tweets after Tuesday’s announcement, noting how Google “misrepresented” the performance of its beta tests for the new streaming service and said the search giant “goes on to pretend as if they are the first to get high-quality games playing in the browser.”

Sampson told GeekWire that “Google doesn’t understand that openness is a big reason why people love playing video games.”

“Some of the games that we love, like [Defense of the Ancients], are the result of people having access and control over the games that they’re playing,” he said. “By taking away the box, and taking away the ability to actually modify the game, what market are you serving, other than the publishers directly? People want to be able to configure and tinker. Being able to upgrade your console and PC is part of that experience. Getting rid of it is almost baffling.”

Rainway has an announcement coming later this week regarding its availability on the Xbox. Since its launch, the company has racked up more than two million hours of gameplay.

Stadia isn’t the first attempt to create a streaming service for video games. The most notorious attempt thereof, as has been pointed out on Twitter several thousand times by now, is OnLive, founded by Steve Perlman. It was initially announced in 2009, launched in 2010, had laid off all its employees in 2012, and was officially discontinued in 2015.

The shortest version of the OnLive story is that while it played well under lab conditions, typical consumer internet service couldn’t run cloud-based games without lag or input delay at the time, which meant OnLive couldn’t hope to provide a comparable experience to playing locally. At best, it was a way to try a game before you bought it for another system.

OnLive’s patents were eventually purchased by Sony, which would later use the infrastructure built by OnLive’s competitor Gaikai to launch its PlayStation Now service.

The track record may not be amazing, but of course, the most significant difference is that it’s never been tried by Google before. Today’s announcement did leave more questions than answers by a significant margin, however, such as how Stadia’s gaming services would be priced, how it’s going to maintain a “no hackers” promise in the face of the challenge it just threw down to the entire world, or what happens to the games you buy if, for example, Google decides to stop hosting them. Theoretically, a Stadia exclusive title is entirely dependent upon Google’s continued financial solvency, and if it’s ever taken down, the game vanishes from history.

While other companies are going further in on digital media, such as Microsoft planning an all-digital Xbox One SKU, Google Stadia is the first to abandon the concept of not only physical media, but local copies of downloaded content. It’s a risky, disruptive play.

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