While more multiplayer games are being developed than ever before, building and launching a successful online multiplayer game remains one of the most difficult endeavors in the software world, said Siddharth Dhulipalla, CEO of Hathora, in an interview with GamesBeat.
The biggest challenges developers face are choosing and correctly implementing the technologies to enable multiplayer as well as finding an architecture that can operate and scale.
The New York company has been working in stealth mode for about a year. Hathora has 10 people including contractors and it is hiring.
How it works
Dhulipalla said his company is like an equivalent to AWS Lambda for multiplayer games. It’s a serverless platform that spins up compute for you for the exact time that you need it and then the compute goes away so that you don’t have idle servers. Hathora spins up servers when and where you need them.
“You move away from a model of how many servers you need and in what regions,” Dhulipalla said. “Our platform ensures that we’re spinning up servers as close to your users as possible. We’re already in 10 regions. And on top of that, we ensure that they’re routed to our game servers via the most efficient networks possible.”
The result is low latency, or minimal time between interactions, regardless of the region where they are based. Developers can do this by “containerizing” their application so that it can be made available anywhere in the world.
Developers have to figure out how to set up a project structure, and whether to use peer-to-peer or client-server architecture. They need to choose among TCP, UDP, WebSockets, or WebRTC for networking. And they have to figure out how to implement authentication and handle persistent data.
Armed with a passion for multiplayer games and extensive experience building and operating scalable systems, Hathora has been working on a solution: a framework for building multiplayer games.
Hathora can be used for turn-based multiplayer games such as chess or Scrabble-like games. It can also be used for real-time multiplayer games like Among Us. And it can be used for real-time social applications like chat, delivery tracking and more.
The company built Hathora to provide the most streamlined development experience when starting a multiplayer game from scratch. The framework provides the right abstractions such that a game can be prototyped in minutes and scaled to millions of users. It’s a self-serve product.
“We’re super excited about the trend of multiplayer becoming the dominant form of entertainment,” he said. “And we’re super excited to help any developer trying to build multiplayer experiences, and really lowering the barrier of entry to having a great launch and great player experience.”
Venture investors include Upfront Ventures, Founders Fund and Lunar Ventures.
“As the gaming industry shifts to ship games faster and with smaller teams, Hathora serves as the much-needed infrastructure partner to accelerate development and allow game studios to focus on the core game design and player experience,” said Kevin Zhang, partner at Upfront Ventures, in a statement.
And angel investors include Seth Sivak, a vice president at Blizzard Entertainment; Mike Atamas, CEO of OCP; Nate Mitchell, cofounder at Oculus and CEO of Mountaintop Studios; and Brandi House, general manager at Probably Monsters.
“Hathora’s focus on delivering top-end performance at scale empowers game studios like ours to build multiplayer experiences that meet or exceed the expectations of the modern online player base,” said Tim Morten, CEO at Frost Giant Studios, in a statement.
Frost Giant Studios plans to use Hathora for its upcoming real-time strategy game.
“The team at Hathora knows what it takes to create high-quality infrastructure that scales across the globe, and I’m thrilled they’re simplifying the path for more multiplayer games to successfully launch worldwide titles,” said House, in a statement.
The art of multiplayer
Multiplayer games are often viewed as a special art that is available only to the biggest teams with the longest runway. The company provides multiplayer hosting to enable smaller companies to do the same thing.
“What we’re really trying to do is drastically lower that barrier for multiplayer development,” Dhulipalla said. “We think that one of the most challenging layers in the stack is the infrastructure part. And that’s what we’re tackling with our product.”
The company isn’t providing backend services like identity or matchmaking. Rather, it takes game servers and it hosts them on its own platform in the cloud. There are already other companies (like Pragma, Playfab, Beamable and LootLocker) that provide backend services. Others provide game engines or money for publishing or actual distribution.
But server hosting has lagged behind in innovation, Dhulipalla said. It still requires building a team of infrastructure experts, and operations remain a challenge.
“People are craving these rich social experiences, kind of multiplayer gaming is right there at the forefront. The trend we’ve seen is demand for multiplayer games is growing and the player base is demanding,” Dhulipalla said. “We see bigger and better types of multiplayer games and what we see is that technology hasn’t really kept up.”
The team, including cofounder Harsh Pandey, comes from infrastructure companies such as Palantir and Databricks, which have offloaded a lot of tasks in the enterprise software-as-a-service space. Dhulipalla and Pandey met at Carnegie-Mellon University, and they wound up at Palantir together.
“We know what it takes to run these things at scale, and it’s not simple,” Dhulipalla said. “We’re bringing our expertise and infrastructure to the gaming space, which we feel is lagging behind on the developer tooling and infrastructure area.”
Launch days are big deals for multiplayer games. Hathora handles the part of handling server hosting and orchestration, which means figuring out how to have enough computing power on hand, and where that computing power should be.
“It actually started when I was developing multiplayer games during lockdown, which was my first foray into gaming,” Pandey said. “I used to be able to build apps over a weekend. But with multiplayer games, there was a wall that I hit. And we saw the news all the time about botched launches and bad player experiences.”
One of the challenges is creating a global presence for hosting games. Typically, a single datacenter can handle demand in one region. But games need a global presence on day one. Cloud providers have datacenters around the world, but Hathora partners with the cloud providers and manages the use of those centers on a global scale.
Players can also interact with any server instance, which makes scaling to more users simple. This is a kind of stateless enterprise software. It’s like handling the problem of getting 100 people each into a million servers without having a lot of latency problems.
“To achieve the required immersion for multiplayer games, all players need to actually be routed to the same server instance,” said Dhulipalla. “So if you and I are playing the same game, we’re physically playing the game on some server that’s running in some datacenter somewhere. That actually makes the scaling challenge is exceptionally difficult. And it makes a lot of the existing cloud technology or middleware obsolete.”