The Data Source #8 | The State of Multiplayer Application Development 🔨 ⚙️
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Hey everyone 👋🏽
I’m back in The Data Source groove with a topic that’s been on my mind lately: Web-based application development & the server infrastructure supporting it.
Web browser-based applications are having a moment. From scoping the market over the last year or so, there were many browser-based software startups, big and small that raised significant venture capital funding: Visual collaboration suite company Lucid raised $500M+ at a $3 billion valuation. Collaborative design interface startup Figma was valued at $10 billion at its last raise of $200M. Universal code search startup Sourcegraph raised $125M at a $2.6B valuation. Replit announced a $80M raise for its browser-based IDE. Hex landed $16M to build out its collaborative data workspace. Web application debugging software, Replay, raised ~$6M. Design and documentation tool, Arcol raised $5M+. And, modern spreadsheet, number-crunching application, Causal raised $4.2M.
Could more tools be built on the web? Absolutely. In fact, the web browser is becoming one of the most popular hosting mediums for application software and developers today are constantly experimenting with what can be made possible in the browser. Looking at the list of tools above, what stands out to me, besides the fact that they all run on a web server, is the way they are architected. While they each serve different purposes, they are at the core collaboration and productivity tools, architected as multiplayer gaming software.
In the world of multiplayer video games, two or more players can participate in the same session of a game in a remote environment, supported by a highly reactive back-end infrastructure. Key elements of the experience include:
Real-time communication and collaboration through a common interface
Cross-platform interaction where participants can engage with each other regardless of the device they are on.
A persistent-state environment where the virtual session continues to exist even after the users have logged off and there is no one interacting with it (think version control in GitHub).
While not every single application needs a highly reactive, multiplayer gaming infrastructure, I anticipate seeing more and more developer-specific tooling built in this way on the web. Software development is a collaborative task involving teams of developers working in their own remote, persistent environments and who are constantly interacting with one another. I see an opportunity for more companies to leverage multiplayer architectural designs to foster better developer experiences, bringing together the accessibility of the web and the technical sophistication of native applications.
But what this also means is that the back-end infrastructure supporting next-gen web services will need to be completely re-designed to support the performance, scale, and availability of these applications. The traditional web stack was not built to support the development and hosting of data-intensive applications. For years, companies had to build their own custom back-end infrastructure (e.g. spin up containers, orchestrate their own session management systems, manage client-side interactions, distributed synchronization of shared states, queuing systems, etc.) to support and customize their multiplayer experiences. Wrangling the web and standing up infrastructure reliably is no easy feat.
What if there was a way to replace ad-hoc systems and effectively take the infrastructure considerations out of web-based application development?
Think about what Temporal did for managing complex distributed systems in the cloud. Temporal re-imagined the way cloud applications were traditionally built through its microservices orchestration platform. With Temporal, developers can express their back-end infrastructure in terms of simple workflows that can be orchestrated to run in a particular sequence and on demand. What the tool ended up creating was more than just a way for companies to build out their services in the cloud, it established a new standard for developer experience and productivity where developers could run their infrastructures reliably without ever needing to orchestrate each of the underlying pieces themselves.
As more and more companies migrate over to the web, I see an opportunity around building the Temporal equivalent for web-based server infrastructures, i.e., a toolkit of building blocks that orchestrate and manage the browser-based application development workflows so developers can spend more time building software than wrangling their web services. But that’s not to say that the market for multiplayer browser apps is here yet: Despite the recent surge of browser-based apps, we may still be a few years away from seeing meaningful demand for this new type of server infrastructure. But I’m excited for what this could mean for next-gen web-based app development and perhaps if better building blocks are in place, more creative multiplayer applications can get developed.
Thinking about building the next-gen infrastructure for supporting web-based products? Let’s chat!
My Twitter DM and 📩 (email@example.com) are open!
Work-Bench is an early stage enterprise software-focused VC firm based in NYC with our sweet spot for investment being at the Seed II stage, which correlates with building out a startup’s early go-to-market motions. In the data world, we’ve been fortunate to invest in companies like Cockroach Labs, Arthur, Alkymi and others.