Discord story: from an unpopular game to a social hub for youth
Jason Citron created a video game that was unsuccessful. Therefore, he reduced its functionality, leaving only the chat. This is how Discord was born – once a product for gamers, and now a communication platform where everyone can find like-minded people.
In 2015, programmer Jason Citron struggled to break into the video game industry. The new multiplayer game he created with his development studio Hammer & Chisel didn’t catch on.
Therefore, Citron decided to abruptly change the direction of his activities. He fired the developers, left only the chat function for the product and gave it a mysterious name – Discord.
“I think at that time we had maybe six users,” says Citron in an interview. “It wasn’t clear it would work.”
At first, Discord was only popular with other gamers. But more than six years later, thanks in part to the pandemic, it has exploded into the mainstream. While the adults working from home gathered at Zoom, their children downloaded Discord to communicate with peers via text, audio, and video calls in groups known as servers.
The platform has more than 150 million monthly active users, although back in 2019 there were 56 million of them.At the same time, almost 80% are registered outside North America. Discord is now used by gamers and music lovers, students and crypto enthusiasts.
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In September, San Francisco-based Discord said it was raising $ 500 million in funding, compared with a $ 14.7 billion valuation according to PitchBook. In 2021, the number of the company’s employees more than doubled, amounting to about 650 people.
The transformation of Discord into a mainstream tool was an unexpected turn in Citron’s career. He says that he grew up on Long Island and was fond of video games, almost graduated from the University of Full Sails in Florida because he spent a lot of time playing World of Warcraft, and even went on a first date with his future wife in the arcade.
“So many of my best memories come from this experience, so my entire career has been focused on empowering others to create those moments in their lives,” he recalls.
Prior to Discord, he ran the social gaming network OpenFeint, which he sold to the Japanese gaming company GREE for $ 104 million in 2011. Citron was seen by other members of the gaming community as an innovator because he tried to get players’ attention through social interaction with their friends. It was then a new strategy in the nascent mobile games market.
“At least he’s trying to bring something new to the market,” said Serkan Toto, game analyst from Japan at the time, adding that Mr. Citron’s reputation was “like a geek in a good way.”
Citron now runs a renowned communications platform and calls this change “amazing, wonderful and overwhelming.”
Discord is divided into servers – essentially a series of chats similar to Slack tools – where you can have casual, free conversations about games, music, memes, and everyday life. Some of the servers are large and open to the public; others are available by invitation only.
The service has no ads. It makes money from a subscription that gives users access to features like custom emoticons for $ 5 or $ 10 per month. Discord also began experimenting in December, allowing some users to charge up to $ 100 a month to access their server, of which the company charges itself 10%.
A New York Times source familiar with the company’s finances pointed out that Discord made $ 130 million in revenue last year. However, officials have not said if the business was profitable.
The biggest change in business came at the start of the pandemic.
In June 2020, Citron and his co-founder and CTO Stanislav Vishnevsky wrote a blog post acknowledging that Discord has moved beyond video games and is working to become more accessible to everyone. A few months earlier, the company changed its slogan from “Chat for Gamers” to “A New Way to Communicate with Your Communities and Friends” as a welcome gesture to a wider audience.
main page with the slogan discord
Photo in text: Postmodern Studio / Shutterstock
This transition was not easy. Discord faced the same thorny issues as other social platforms: regulating speech, protecting against harassment, and keeping young people safe.
Discord allows people to chat using fictitious names, and it is largely up to the individual server organizers to enforce community standards. This gives the platform a ‘Lord of the Flies’ feel as groups of young people form online communities and set their own rules.