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ENTERING THE CHAT

Once a go-to for gamers, Discord is vying to be a chat app for all

discord
Discord
A Discord server.
  • Scott Nover
By Scott Nover

Emerging tech reporter

Published

Picture a combination of Slack, AOL Instant Messenger, Zoom, and a sketchy chat room, and you have something approximating Discord. It’s essentially an all-purpose chat app, built around closed communities—called “servers”—that speak to different interests.

After launching in 2015, Discord caught on first with gamers, who use it to discuss games and watch each other play. “[A server] can be a safe place,” says Discord CTO and co-founder Stanislav Vishnevskiy, “for a small group of people you know, a larger community of like-minded people, and everything in between.”

What is the Discord app used for?

The Discord of today has more than 150 million monthly active users, and 19 million active servers each week. Vishnevskiy says the small servers are where people “develop true connections and belonging”—90% of Discord’s private servers have fewer than 15 people. But topics now vary widely, as the company starts to draw (and court) communities of all stripes. To get a sense of the increasing breadth, here are a few of the servers I can’t live without:

  • A gaming community. Just the one, though: Breath of the Wild is for discussing the eponymous (and G.O.A.T.)  Zelda game from 2017.
  • An open-source data group. Project Owl users chat about geopolitics and current events.
  • A fan community for Brit pop-rockers. The 1975 is mainly for music convos and listening parties.
  • An independent journalists’ co-op. Sidechannel is a group of Substack writers, including Casey Newton and Charlie Warzel, who host a server for their collective subscribers.
  • A meme stock community. Stock chatter like you’ll find on Discord’s WallStreetBets has helped retail investors become a powerful force in financial markets.

Here’s a look at the Discord desktop experience for a user participating in multiple servers:

How does Discord make money?

With its growing scale, a platform might try to drive revenue through advertising. But Discord has so far refused. “We have intentionally pursued a business model that does not rely on monetizing our users’ data,” Vishnevskiy says. While there are opportunities for some brands to engage with loyal customers—Chipotle held a virtual job fair on the app, and fashion retailer All Saints held a fan Q&A on Discord’s Clubhouse-like audio feature—the most successful ones seem to treat their servers like a fan club.

Discord’s primary revenue stream is Discord Nitro, a $99-per-year subscription service that gives users access to perks like customizable emoji, personalized profiles, better upload speeds, streaming capabilities, hi-res video, and “server boosts” to improve their servers. Discord declined to share how many Nitro subscribers it has, but the Wall Street Journal reported that Discord generated $130 million in revenue last year, up from $45 million in 2019. In the same time period, its monthly user base doubled.

Of course, growing up—or going public—could come with a new set of expectations. When it first launched, Discord became a haven for white nationalists, and it was used to help organize 2017’s deadly Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Va. Since then, the company has had built a trust and safety team from scratch; as of last year, it constituted about 15% of Discord’s staff. Discord also started a curriculum for volunteer moderators to better self-police servers, and in the second half of 2020 it reportedly booted 2,000 extremist communities.

Next up: reaching profitability.


Discord’s revenue and other numbers

$7 billion: Discord’s current valuation

$100 million: Discord’s latest funding round

$130 million: Discord’s 2020 revenue, up from $45 million in 2019

$12 billion: Value of an acquisition offer from Microsoft, which Discord reportedly spurned in April

150 million: Discord’s monthly active users

19 million: Active Discord servers each week

6-10: Users on the average active Discord server

800,000+: Members on Discord’s largest servers, which include Official Fortnite, Genshin Impact, Valorant, and Minecraft (all games).


A Q&A with Discord’s CTO

Here’s some more from my conversation with Discord co-founder Stanislav Vishnevskiy:

🎮  On Discord’s gaming roots:
“Discord is now used by people for activities that go beyond gaming, [but] we continue to see playing games as a significant way that people spend time together on our platform.”

🤝  On the pandemic year:
“Our workforce has doubled since the start of 2020 and we’ve put a large emphasis on trust and safety. Our focus right now is continuing to build on this momentum.”

🎟️  On the creator economy:
“We are experimenting with tools to better service [creators’] needs, including monetization. Recently, we have been testing ticketing for events with a small number of communities in a closed beta.”

😏  On the IPO rumors:
“We cannot comment on any rumors, but can say that we are incredibly confident in the strength of the business and Discord’s growth trajectory.”

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

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