Discord – Your Place to Talk
Discord won during the pandemic by transforming from a niche-service for gamers to chat about multi-player online games, to becoming YOUR place to talk.
In March 2020, during the beginning of the pandemic, Discord changed it motto from “Chat for Gamers” to “Chat for Communities and Friends” (Curry, 2022). The new motto marked Discord’s pandemic-enhanced transformation from a digital communication platform exclusively for gamers, to a digital communication platform for friends, communities, and businesses.
Created in 2015 as a platform to facilitate communication amongst multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) gamers, Discord “is a voice, video and text communication service used by over a hundred million people to hang out and talk with their friends and communities” (Discord, 2022). Discord originally spun out of a MOBA game called Fates Forever, released in 2014. The game, despite interest and acclaim from the gaming population, didn’t catch on and ultimately shut down in 2015 (Viktor, 2022). Jason Citron, the co-founder and CEO of Discord said in a 2015 interview, “We could theorize about why a game didn’t work, but at the end of the day, it didn’t work,” he said. “Making games is challenging. It’s a combination of novelty, pop culture, and operations. It was a very emotionally difficult time” (Takahasi, 2015). It was during the development of the game, however, that Jason and his team realized there was an unmet gaming market need: an all-in-one free voice communication chat app, or a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). While other voice communication application services existed on the market in 2015, such as Skype and Teamspeak, none of them provided consistent low-latency communication and high-security. Discord was able to meet this need by providing a delightful and playful application that offered gamers communication with minimal delays and internet protocol (IP) protection through distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) protection (Takahashi, 2015). Discord was also innovative through its use of private and public servers devoted to specific games (Geyser, 2021).
But how did a multiplayer mobile-gaming voice-communication platform become a leading digital communication platform for non-gaming communities and businesses across the globe? What has led to Discord’s meteoric rise? In March 2019, when instant messenger users in the United States were asked “Which instant messenger or video call services do you use regularly?” less than 1% said Discord (Statista Global Consumer Survey, 2015). As of March 2020, that number rose to 8%, and as of January 2022, that number rose to 13% (Statista Global Consumer Survey, 2022).
Discord was already experiencing immense growth pre-pandemic, but as evidenced in the figure below from Geyser’s 2021 article, the pandemic solidified Discord’s status as a preferable digital communication platform.
In 2020, Discord was valued at around 7 billion, but “in August 2021, Bloomberg reported that Dragoneer Investment Group was expected to lead an investment that would value Discord at around $15 billion” (Geyser, 20210). Discord’s immense growth pre-pandemic aligned with the “growth of e-sports, through games like League of Legends, Overwatch and Fortnite, which all had rather limited communication tools” (Curry, 2022). Discord was carving out its brand as the leading digital communication platform for gamers. Still, despite growth pre-pandemic, Discord remained a platform that served a niche, but growing, audience of online multiplayer gamers.
During the pandemic, however, Discord began to attract users beyond gaming. As Zendesk noted, “Demand for Discord’s service skyrocketed outside of gaming circles when much of the world began sheltering in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual classes, book clubs, study groups, restaurateurs, and digital conventions are all using Discord to gather online” (Zendesk, n.d.). Discord, in-addition to creating immense value during the pandemic, also began to capture more value through its freemium business model. Discord’s revenue comes from three main offerings: Nitro (a premium subscription model that allows users share larger files, customize emojis, and enjoy better higher resolution streams), games sales and partnerships, and server boosting (which allows users to increase the quality of their server performance) (Viktor, 2022). As evidenced in the figure below, adapted from Campbell (2022), Discord’s yearly revenue skyrocketed during the pandemic, increasing by roughly 300%.
In June of 2020, during the midst of the pandemic, Jason Citron wrote an article entitled with their new tagline: Your place to talk. He wrote, “…over the past year, we’ve been asking you what really makes the magic of Discord. It turns out that, for a lot of you, it wasn’t just about video games anymore,” he continued, “Today, many of you use Discord for day-to-day communication. You’re sharing thoughts about books, music, and art, creating servers to just be yourself and share moments with friends.” He ended the piece writing, “Discord is your place to talk” (Citron, 2020).
Anonymous. (n.d.). MMOGames.com | Fates Forever. Retrieved February 13, 2022, from https://www.mmogames.com/game/fates-forever/
Campbell, S. (2022, February 12). Discord Statistics 2022: How Many People Use Discord? https://thesmallbusinessblog.net/discord-statistics/
Citron, J. (2020, June 30). Your Place to Talk. https://discord.com/blog/your-place-to-talk
Curry, D. (2022, January 11). Discord Revenue and Usage Statistics (2022). Business of Apps. https://www.businessofapps.com/data/discord-statistics/
Geyser, W. (2021, August 31). Discord Statistics: Revenue, Users & More. Influencer Marketing Hub. https://influencermarketinghub.com/discord-stats/
Statista. (2022). Global Consumer Survey 2021 (p. 37). https://de.statista.com/download/Statista_Global_Consumer_Survey_Methodology_EN.pdf
Takahasi, D. (2015, September 10). Hammer & Chisel pivots to voice comm app for multiplayer mobile games. VentureBeat. https://venturebeat.com/2015/09/10/hammer-chisel-pivots-to-voice-comm-app-for-multiplayer-mobile-games/
Viktor. (2022, January 19). The Discord Business Model – How Does Discord Make Money? https://productmint.com/the-discord-business-model-how-does-discord-make-money/
Wise, J. (2022, January 25). Discord Statistics 2022: Valuation, Revenue & Users. //earthweb.com/discord-statistics/
Student comments on Discord – Your Place to Talk
It’s amazing how Discord’s audience has grown to so many areas outside of gaming, and it seems as though this growth was unplanned by the Discord team and it happened almost entirely organically.
Thank you so much for this interesting and thorough post, Maxwell! I am the one who adapted Discord in the pandemic time because of Animal Crossing. It is fascinated to see how it has been developed so far, especially when crypto kicks in, a lot of communities rely on this platform to do things like air drops and staging. And also, there are many study rooms in Discord, which shows how expansive it could be. It is curious to see how Discord will adapt this trend of metaverse and grow.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Serrino! So many crypto-native organizations rely on Discord as their primary mode of communication!
Thank you for your post. It’s interesting to learn that multiple companies originally focused on the gaming sector broadened their targeted audience. Twitch is probably one of the most famous examples, having successfully expanded its streaming services to include content dedicated to artwork creation, music, talk shows.
Thanks for profiling Discord, Max! During the pandemic shift to online teaching I was in the middle of building a training program and our user research showed that Discord was *by far* the community platform of choice for our demographic – young adults 20-25 in Nairobi, Kenya. This was great insight as we needed somewhere for the learners to gather that was safe and distanced, but wasn’t the LMS that they used for their classes. It’s clear from your writing that Discord’s pivot from gaming to community broadly attracted more users, but I’m curious about one thing – it looks like users increased by about 50 million each year in 2019 and 2020, but 2018 alone saw an increase of 220 million users. Do you have a sense of what could have caused that? Obviously still really impressive to see consistent growth during the pandemic years. Thanks for this insight!
Awesome spotlight on Discord–thanks for sharing, Maxwell! I am curious to know your thoughts on if you think this server will maintain as individuals return back to work and opt for more in-person conversations. Conversely, in your opinion, why do you think Discord prevailed as a “winner” while Reddit, an ostensibly similar platform, is not reaping the same growth despite its long withstanding reputation and “network effects”? Lastly, when more individuals move to the metaverse, how do you think Discord will grow, shrink, or pivot in response?
Very interesting post! I first learned about Discord from my little brother (who plays League of Legends) at the start of the pandemic, and it was cool to see how this parallels a broader trend in Discord’s expansion. One interesting area that I’d like to learn more about is how Discord (and similarly, Slack) facilitate new forms of organization. For example, Eleuther AI (https://www.eleuther.ai/) is a decentralized, volunteer organization of AI developers that coordinates itself purely through Discord.