It’s been more than a good year for Discord. The chat app already raised a $100 million funding round earlier this year that saw its valuation soar to $3.5 billion, and now rumors are circulating that they’re in the middle of yet another that would send its valuation rocketing to $7 billion — doubling twice in six months.
But calling Discord a “chat app” doesn’t really explain why it’s had such a meteoric rise. Discord’s main mechanical function is certainly as a “chat app,” but the secret to its success is much more than that — it’s a community app. Discord began as a gaming-adjacent service that made it easy to talk to friends while playing together, but has grown to be much more than that. Over time, it’s rolled out features that have turned it into the go-to platform for internet communities and extension of gaming-related brands, and a number of savvy business decisions since are positioning it as a competitor to workplace-oriented apps like Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Discord was founded by Jason Citron and Stanislav Vishnevskiy in 2015, who wanted to create an app that made it easy for groups of players to organize and talk mid-game. Citron had experience as an entrepreneur prior, having sold a chatting app for mobile games called OpenFeint in 2011 for $100 million. Citron and Vishnevskiy marketed Discord as aggressively better than the competition — long-used apps like Skype and Teamspeak — and Discord’s audience grew naturally from there. Reddit users were early adopters of the app, using Discord servers as a secondary platform for their communities and eventually as a platform just as important as the subreddit itself. As more subreddits started adopting the app, the user base grew, and now Discord is what it is today: a living, breathing hub of online activity with over 6.7 million active servers as of this year.
🤿 Deep Dive
Discord bridged the gap between traditional chatting apps like Skype or Teamspeak and social media, recognizing the ways that people who played games — and then internet communities at large — liked to organize and interact with one another.
Discord’s first major selling point was its voice chat feature. While apps like Skype or Teamspeak required the exchanging of clumsy friend codes or usernames, all you had to do with Discord was get a link to a server and click on a voice “room” which other users in the server can drop in and out of at will. Voice calls don’t have to be set up by one user and accepted by another to go through like they do in other apps; voice chats on Discord are always “open” and easily joined and abandoned.
Discord’s quality and easy-to-use voice chat are perhaps its greatest functional appeal, but the suite of features it provides to organize communities is the secret to its success. While there is a one-on-one or even group chatting function in the app (users can add friends just like they can on other social media apps), Discord is primarily organized by “servers,” customizable hubs where large numbers of users can gather, chat and play games together.
Discord is so rife with the language that game players and internet users are familiar with, both in a literal and functional sense, that it’s expanded beyond games and is just a de-facto chatting app. According to The Verge, over four billion minutes of conversation happen on the app every day. Some other impressive statistics that show just how ubiquitous Discord has become are:
- 6.7 million active users;
- 850 million messages sent per day;
- Servers with nearly 600,000 members, and more.
More recently, Discord has positioned itself as a helpful tool during the COVID-19 pandemic for social gatherings, classes, and office meetings alike. Early on into the pandemic, Discord expanded the number of users a single video call could support in an effort to make the free app useful for classrooms making the shift to remote learning. The app has also been used by some in lieu of Slack, which has underperformed during the pandemic and has multiple major outages over the last several months.
Discord is content rich in a way that Slack often isn’t, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those features are all needed — or even wanted. Discord was and still is primarily focused on gamers and online communities, and its features and customization are more conducive to that. But the service’s reliability, customization and growth are something to cause slack to look back over its shoulder
📌 Product Feature Highlights
Video game critic Tim Rogers creates elaborate and characterful video game reviews on a Youtube channel and Patreon page he calls “Action Button Entertainment,” for which he’s reached an audience of hundreds of thousands of viewers and 2,600 paid backers. Though his content exists primarily on those platforms, Rogers’ “Action Button” community lives on Discord. With permission from the server’s moderators (with the caveat that users’ names be blurred out), we’ve included screenshots of the Action Button Discord to show some of the service’s many features in action.
The Action Button server is very characterful, but this is what Discord servers mostly looks like: On the right is a list of all active users, organized by “role” or category — “Truckers” are the two owners of the server, whereas “Mavens” are moderators and “Gremlins” are noteworthy individuals or Patreon backers of a certain dollar amount. Scrolling down further on the right would reveal another Patreon backer tier in “Goblins,” of which there are several hundred, and below that are just regular users listed as “online,” of which there is an even greater number. Across servers, these roles can be named different things, be assigned different colours and granted different permissions across the server.
In the center of the screen is the main text channel where users can chat about certain topics. At the top of the screen is the name of the currently viewed channel. In this case, it’s the rules page for the server, which only the moderators can post on and which users are told to visit before interacting in any of the server’s channels. On the left hand side are the game’s many different channels, organized by category. “#introductions” is for new users to say hello; #music-ditch is for users to talk about music; #tech-trough is for talk about tech at large. Further down, as you’ll see in later screenshots, are “GOBLIN QUARTERLY” text channels where the server has organized book clubs, game clubs, discussion of Rogers’ latest reviews and more
The chat function is also quite detailed. A search function at the top right of the screen allows for very precise searches of a channel or user’s history. New users may want to sift through everything to find the threads that Rogers himself has been active in. They can do that by following the search bar’s instructions to find all messages from the “actionbutton” user.
Action Button’s server is certainly wacky and creative with its naming conventions, but the freedom to do that speaks to why Discord is so popular with gamers and online communities. On the user end, Discord is a place for like-minded fans to congregate, socialize and play games together. On the creator’s end, Discord is a brand extension. The extensive customization allows creators and companies to represent themselves the same way they do on other platforms, and allow users to be part of that brand. Rogers frequently uses words like “goblin” or “gremlin” in his videos — and users on Discord are those goblins and gremlins rather than just “users.”
Discord Audio Chat
Even Discord’s flagship audio chat has more bells and whistles than it at first seems. With a simple button press, any user in an audio chat can turn on their video camera with ease. Another allows you to stream your screen to any other users in the chat room. Large servers can put restrictions on how many people are able to occupy a voice chat, and even restrict certain chat rooms to certain “roles.”
This screenshot shows five users on the left hand side of the screen in a voice chat called “Goblin-Public-Access,” which users can use whenever they’d like to talk to one another. One user is streaming their screen, where they’re playing a game, to the other four in the chat. Some users have their microphones and headsets muted — maybe they just don’t want to talk or want to passively view the stream. If they’d like to type rather than talk, two text channels exist above the voice channel for users to type messages related to what’s being discussed over voice or video. In this chat, there appears to have been a spirited debate on literacy and public education in Brazil, of all things. Discord chat’s multiple features don’t just exist independent of one another, but interact with each other naturally.
👁️🗨️ Final Verdict
Discord understands the way its users like to congregate and interact and has become so popular because its creators come from the same background as its primary audience. Every feature present on Discord seems obvious in hindsight. Myself having come from a background of playing games with friends through Skype, I can’t imagine going back to a service that doesn’t have the wide variety of features and playful customization options present on this platform.
Discord really is more than a chatting app — it’s a space where communities are born and thrive, where friends can be made and where fandoms can be explored. But beyond that it is simply an incredibly strong social app for groups of all sizes from the hundreds of thousands down to a handful of friends. Its creators have made a number of smart pivots and put power in users’ hands so that Discord doesn’t just become what its founders think users want, but can actually be moulded by users themselves.
It’s not hard to see a future where Discord takes over Slack’s role next and becomes the go-to app for online interpersonal communication, period. The only hurdle it faces to bridge that divide is its branding. Discord’s logo is a game controller. If you click on your username multiple times to copy your friend code, little text pops up that says “Double copy! Triple copy! Dominating!! Rampage!!” and so on. It’s a platform designed by and built for gamers. One user posted on the Discord community forums two years ago that the app’s gamer-centric presentation, and a bot that called a female employee “love,” were preventing their company from making the full-on switch to Discord.
It will be hard for Discord to ditch that messaging as its what led to their rampant success. Maybe a branching off of a second service specifically for business is what’s on the horizon, or maybe Discord will make a full-on pivot from a gaming/internet brand to a communications brand. Either way, Discord is here to stay and it’s only going to get bigger.