What is Discord?
With its launch in 2015, Discord rapidly grew to be one of the most popular platforms for gamers to come together and connect. A text, voice and now a video chat platform, it has more than 140 million active users and 19 million active servers.
Servers are Discord communities that contain various chat, voice and video channels that allow users to communicate and share content pertaining to a specific focus and rules. The multiple channel options allow the moderators of any server to manage big communities by moving members to smaller groups, instead of being limited to one giant thread where everyone posts.
For people unfamiliar with Discord, the hype around it may seem overrated as it may appear to be similar to simple chat rooms for gamers. That cannot be further from the truth, as the Discord servers are actually closer to proper online communities because of the advanced features offered by the platform, such as real-time video/audio conversations, custom roles to distinguish users, custom emojis, etc. For this reason, even though Discord was initially built to help gamers for the purpose of chatting and live-streaming, it has been embraced by many types of communities in recent years.
How did it become so big?
It's not that Discord was solely for gamers since the early days of the service. Even at the beginning, around 30% of servers were related to non-gaming communities, it's just that the developing team never paid them much attention until last year.
In the beginning of 2020, the company ran focus groups and user studies to better understand how people were utilizing Discord. One overwhelmingly resounding response was the misconception that's for gamers. This is because people with various other interests such as organizing hobby clubs, study groups, lessons for recreational activities, etc. had a hard time getting used to an unfamiliar app full of gaming jargon and symbols.
This sparked a major redesigning and rebranding journey which would make the platform more appealing to a broader audience, and which surprisingly coincided with the pandemic lockdown. Suddenly, millions of people stuck at home turned to the internet for socializing, and this propelled Discord into mainstream popularity. Discord's engagement increased by 47 percent within the first half of 2020 itself, with all sorts of servers springing into usage; from knitting clubs and gardening communities to study groups and fashion circles.
With the push to diversify the platform's accessibility timed with the surge in participation in online communities, Discord was able to not only introduce itself to millions of new users but also prove to them that it was the best at what it did.
Discord's architecture is distinctly unique from any other social media (like Instagram or Facebook), online community platform (like Reddit) or video/audio calling tool (like Skype or Zoom) since it incorporates all of their aspects. This special model upon which Discord is built has multiple benefits for users:
a. Creators get the unique advantage of being able to mold a following into a community, where fans can engage not only with the creator but also with fellow fans. This allows for deeper and extensive processes of social bonding and helps reduce pressure on the creator to stay relevant just by constantly producing new content.
b. It also helps to support creators in directly engaging with and efficiently monetizing their community without the usage of third-party services like Patreon.
c. Unlike social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, the value of the content created goes beyond the purpose of its distribution and building a following; interactions with the fans do not immediately end post content consumption.
d. The added Stage Channels feature competes against platforms like Clubhouse (and now, Twitter), as it provides special spaces for engaging in focused audio conversations with specific members while interacting with an audience.
e. Servers with customized banners, emojis, etc add personalization, which further ensures greater engagement with spaces that feel comfortable.
While competitors of Discord such as Google Meet/Duo, Zoom, Skype, etc. placed emphasis on building various tools for teleconferencing and creating a more professionalized image, it instead focused on improving the quality and reducing latency of its features.
How does it make money?
Since Discord has become so big, it is natural to question how it generates revenue enough to accommodate all the changes and increased scalability to manage the influx in users and servers alike.
As like in most of the other aspects, Discord stands out from the rest of social consumer apps in this measure as well. From the very beginning, the core founders followed a no-ads policy that has been clarified to not change any time soon.
Instead, it primarily monetizes on Nitro subscriptions, a premium service sold by Discord at either $9.99/month or $99.99/year. It comes with a plethora of additional features such as high-res videos, animated emojis, etc.
Initially, when the platform was still oriented towards gamers, Discord added a Steam-like feature where users could buy games directly from the platform. However, when the venture failed, the developing team realized that it had underestimated its utility as a social communication app and that users come to Discord to connect with each other more than to simply play games. Instead, now it allows creators to sell their games on the app at a 10% fee.
The paid feature of boosting servers also adds to the app's revenue.